Some but not much has changed for the Saints as training camp ends
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints officially concluded training camp Thursday morning.
After 19 practices and two preseason games they move into a new phase of preseason preparation for the final 18 days before they begin the season against the Houston Texas in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday Night Football.
There’s still much to be done – play the final two preseason games (at the New York Jets on Saturday night and at home against the Miami Dolphins five days later) and reduce the number of players on the roster from the preseason maximum of 90 to the regular-season maximum of 53.
The cutdown deadline is 3 p.m. CDT on Aug. 31, which is also the deadline for deciding whether to carry defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins on the active roster as he works his way back from January Achilles surgery.
We don’t know any more about a timetable for Rankins’ return than we knew when training camp began.
In fact, there isn’t a whole lot we have learned in the 29 days since the team reported for training camp. But a few things have changed.
We do know that rookie second-round draft choice Erik McCoy is the presumed starter at center, the only starting position that was ever really in doubt. Though head coach Sean Payton wasn’t prepared to name him the starter when asked about it after practice Thursday, McCoy has separated himself from Cameron Tom and Nick Easton, who remain in a battle with former Brother Martin and LSU lineman Will Clapp for the backup interior spots.
There might be room for all three backups. Then again there might not. The line depth is still a work in progress as no one has emerged as a lock to be the third tackle – behind starters Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Two candidates – Ulrick John and former McDonogh 35 star Chris Clark – have gone on injured reserve.
It’s quite possible that the primary – and perhaps only – backup tackle for the regular season is not yet on the roster.
The third tight end position – behind Jared Cook and Josh Hill – remains wide open among Garrett Griffin, A.J. Derby, Dan Arnold and rookie seventh-round draft choice Alize’ Mack, who has been sidelined by an undisclosed injury.
Dwayne Washington seems to have the lead in the battle to be the running back behind Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, but there’s still time for him to be caught.
The wide receiver spots behind Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. are still wide open, though Tre’Quan Smith is most likely next in line. Austin Carr has had a strong camp and preseason, undrafted rookie Emmanuel Butler has opened eyes but was slowed for a while by injury and second-year player Keith Kirkwood just returned to practice this week after being sidelined.
Throw in Cyril Grayson Jr. of Rummel and LSU as well as undrafted rookie Deonte Harris and there’s still a logjam that won’t be broken until the preseason schedule runs its course.
On the defensive line, third-year end Trey Hendrickson, who Payton said has benefited from adding about five pounds since last season, has taken advantage of added reps while Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan has rested the first two preseason games. Otherwise the line is as muddled as it was when camp began.
Injuries have clouded the picture at linebacker where Alex Anzalone, the starter in the middle, has not played since the preseason opener and Craig Robertson, the primary backup, played just five special teams snaps against the Chargers before leaving the game.
The absence of Anzalone and Robertson prompted the team to sign former Redskin and Titan Will Compton on Wednesday.
Rookie seventh-round pick Kaden Elliss has impressed the coaches with his intelligence, athleticism and versatility. He has played the most defensive snaps in each of the first two preseason games, starting in Anzalone’s absence against the Chargers. He looks like a keeper.
There are still 16 defensive backs on the roster. The only preseason development is that CB Marcus Sherels, signed as a veteran free agent primarily to return punts, has yet to play in a game because of an un undisclosed injury.
This much we do know – Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill are the quarterbacks, Wil Lutz is the place-kicker, Thomas Morstead is the punter and Zach Wood is the long snapper.
There are still many positions up for grabs with two games to be played in a six-day stretch.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…