With talented and balanced roster, Saints look as advertised in training camp

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Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Jameis Winston
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

After a week and a half of training camp, the New Orleans Saints are who we thought they are.

The team appears to have a top five NFL defense, a potentially stellar special teams unit and an offense that appears to be middle of the pack in the NFL.

After what could be a subpar draft in 2020, the Saints appear to have put together two classes since then that have a chance to be really good.

The Saints’ first pick, wide receiver Chris Olave, is as advertised. He’s a player with outstanding speed and hands.

There’s also a lot to like about the way Olave handles his business.

When asked what he needed to improve, Olave told reporters he needed to do a better job against bump and run coverage. It was a frank assessment.

It is easy to understand why the Saints were so aggressive in the first round to trade up to get Olave, who appears to not only be as advertised as a talent, but a young man who is mature beyond his years.

Their other first round pick, offensive tackle Trevor Penning, has had an interesting camp, living up to his billing as well.

He’s mixed it up with several of his teammates,, showing himself to be the type of player who will compete to the echo of the whistle.

Amid the reports of his aggresssion pushing the limits, here’s what is not getting enough attention about Penning.

The man can play.

Penning has a chance to be a dominant run blocker and has more than held his own in pass protection. Remember, the defensive ends he blocks in New Orleans are as a group as talented as any in the NFL. Iron will sharpen iron over time.

Second round pick cornerback Alontae Taylor has also shown flashes of real potential. It is easy to see why the Saints like him. Taylor is physical against the run. He has the tools to be a solid-to-excellent pass defender.

Which brings us to C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who talent is not in doubt. Neither is his reported unhappiness over the his contract.

Gardner-Johnson has out-performed his rookie contract considerably. What is unclear is just how far the Saints will go in agreeing to a deal that is a winner for both sides of the table.

The fact the Saints are already $58 million over the cap for next season make the negotiation potentially tricky.

It is hard to say how much leverage Gardner-Johnson has, despite his excellent production.

Without him, the Saints still have Marshon Lattimore, Bradley Roby (who has been praised by head coach Dennis Allen), Taylor and second year cornerback Paulsen Adebo, who has had a stellar camp by all accounts.

The jump Adebo has made from his rookie year to year two is significant. He has the potential to be very, very good.

On the offensive line, the Saints have two stellar veterans to lead the way starting wwith center Erik McCoy, who according to Football Outsiders missed just one percent of his pass blocks last season, second best at his position in the league.

Signing McCoy to a long term extension before he hits free agency next March is a huge priority.

Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, according to ESPN, had the league’s highest win rate in pass blocking last season. He also played 613 snaps without a penalty.

The Saints do have their question marks.

Can Jameis Winston be even more productive that he was before the veteran quarterback was lost for the season in his seventh game with a major knee injury? The team was 5-2 in those starts.

Will running back Alvin Kamara’s murky legal status be cleared, and will the NFL take action against the Saints most valuable player? The team last year went 9-4 with him and 0-4 without him.

And will defensive end Marcus Davenport, productive when healthy (21 sacks in 48 games), be able to stay on the field for an entire season? He has played in 22 of 33 games last two years.

Of course, there’s the change in head coaches.

Sean Payton did perhaps his best job last season, leading the Saints thru a myriad of difficulties to a winning record. Dennis Allen gets his second chance to be a head coach in the NFL.

My guess is, there’s a chance the Saints could play against Payton next season. That not all bad. If Payton coaches, New Orleans should ask for a shopping cart full of draft picks as compensation.

Last year, we learned just how difficult it was to replace Drew Brees. Now we find out just how tricky it will be to replace the Saints former coach.

Fortunately, the talent is in place for success to follow.

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Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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