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Five offensive players to watch during Saints training camp presented by Verizon

Posted Jul 23, 2014

Rookie Brandin Cooks an exciting player

  1. Well, we’ll begin with the obvious: We all want to see rookie receiver Brandin Cooks in action with the pads on. Teammates raved about his speed during offseason workouts, and we know it translated to the field in college (he was the most productive receiver in the nation last season at Oregon State). We just want to see it against NFL cornerbacks (like Keenan Lewis, Champ Bailey, Patrick Robinson, etc.) and see how he reacts to the physicality of the league.
  2. Just because center Jonathan Goodwin rejoined the Saints, after three seasons in San Francisco in which the 49ers advanced to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl, doesn’t mean he immediately will retake the position. He’ll have competition from Tim Lelito. However, Goody has the veteran intangibles that could help solidify the middle of the Saints’ offensive line, along with guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. If that’s the case, it’s highly unlikely that Drew Brees will be sacked 37 times again this season, and the running game may pick up where it left off in the playoffs (62 carries for 293 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia and Seattle).
  3. And speaking of the running game … Mark Ingram came on strong down the stretch last season, with 44 carries for 249 yards (5.7 yards per carry), a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the last four games (including playoffs). Carrying over that momentum won’t just be critical to his career, but it’d obviously help the Saints' offense be more balanced and dangerous. Ingram entered last season as the starter, got off to a rocky beginning, was slowed by a toe injury and then surged at the end. He’s looking to start the way he finished and he’ll have to be productive because there are others (Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson) capable of capitalizing if he’s not producing.
  4. It’s hard to not be excited by the potential of receiver Nick Toon. But that potential has to transform into production, and the clock is ticking pretty loudly for Toon. He’s in great position to turn the corner and become a valuable cog in the offense; Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Cooks are safe. Beyond that, Toon can vie for snaps with Robert Meachem and Joe Morgan, among others. We’ve seen him practice well and stand out in preseason games, so his next step is to be reliable on Sundays. But before that, he’s got to show that he’s ready for the responsibility, and he has competition that he’ll have to beat out and hold off.
  5. Kicker Shayne Graham only played four games with the Saints last season, after Garrett Hartley was released. But one of them was a playoff game, in which he made a team-record four of four field-goal attempts, on the road against Philadelphia to help the Saints win the first road playoff game in franchise history. He missed two field-goal attempts in the divisional playoff game against Seattle, but the conditions weren’t pristine and the previous week probably earned him a decent amount of goodwill. You figure the job is his to lose, but the leash probably isn’t all that long. He’s entering his 15th season, kicking for his eighth team – he knows exactly how expendable kickers can be if they’re not doing their jobs.
  6. We’ll toss this one in for lagniappe, just because we haven’t seen him (except on Twitter) all offseason: tight end Jimmy Graham. Now that his contract situation is settled and he’s set financially, Graham should have the kind of peace of mind that goes along with being the best in the league at his position, playing in an offense that best knows how to utilize his unique skills, catching passes from a quarterback who has ultimate confidence in him. It’ll be hard to top last year’s numbers (86 catches, 1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns) and he may not have to in order for the Saints to maintain a top-level offense. But if anyone can, it’s probably Graham.

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