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John DeShazier: Five Saints training camp position battles to watch

Posted Jul 24, 2014

Center, cornerback and wide receiver are some to watch

1. Keenan Lewis has the right cornerback position locked down for the New Orleans Saints. But left corner is a bit more unsettled, in a good way. The Saints likely will go with either Patrick Robinson, a former first-round pick who opened last season as a starter before tearing his ACL, or Champ Bailey, a 36-year-old future Hall of Famer who appears to be recovered from a foot injury that caused him to miss 11 games last season. Each is capable and will be able to play nickel if he’s not a starter at left corner. It’s a good problem to have because there’s no such thing as a team having too many good cornerbacks.

2. It wasn’t a slight against center Tim Lelito that the Saints went out and signed veteran Jonathan Goodwin. Goody was the starting center for the Super Bowl-winning Saints in 2009 and had three productive seasons in San Francisco, so it won’t be a surprise if he opens the season as the starter. But Lelito, who’s entering his second season, is highly regarded and the Saints suggested that they wouldn’t have a problem if Lelito wins the position. The two will battle it out to see who snaps the ball to Drew Brees.

3. Let’s assume the Saints will keep five receivers on the 53-man roster. Let’s further assume that Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks are locks. That would leave two positions to be decided from among Robert Meachem, Nick Toon and Joe Morgan. And, further, if the veteran Meachem is in safe territory, it might just be that one position will be decided between Toon, who had an opportunity to impress last season but couldn’t capitalize on it, and Morgan, a speedster who missed last season with an ACL tear. Training camp 2014 could be where one separates from the other, so each has to make the most of his reps and his chances.

4. It might not be wise to hand over the starting running back position to Mark Ingram just yet, even though he closed out the season with a four-game stretch (44 carries for 249 yards) that likely was his best in the NFL. Second-year back Khiry Robinson is just as hungry and as eager to shine in the Saints’ offense. They’re fairly similar as runners, so it may not make much difference which starts. In this offense, each will get his share of carries and touches. But Robinson, an undrafted rookie last season, isn’t going to concede the position to Ingram, a former first-round pick. The competition should make each better.

5. The numbers say that the Saints defense got along fine in 2013 without Victor Butler, the outside linebacker who was signed as a free agent. So Butler, who’s healthy after tearing his ACL last year, will have to earn a spot in the rotation, and that doesn’t figure to be easy. Even if he’s able to surpass linebackers Ramon Humber and Parys Haralson, there remains the fact that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan often started three safeties and two linebackers – Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne – to get his best 11 defenders on the field last year. Butler impressed the staff enough to get pursued and signed as a free agent; he’ll have to do it again if he’s to become a starter.

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