With the Saints opening up training camp today, below are five position battles for fans to take a look at
Backing up Brees
The spot to back up Drew Brees will feature last year's returning third stringer in Chase Daniel, free agent pickup Patrick Ramsey, who has started 24 games in his eight-year career and seventh round draft pick Sean Canfield.
Although Ramsey is the most experienced of the backups, he has not seen significant playing time since he was with the Denver Broncos in 2007. Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis stated that Ramsey was the best fit of the available veteran quarterbacks.
Second-year slinger Chase Daniel showed shines of potential last season on the practice squad and as an understudy to Drew Brees but he didn't take a snap in the regular season. Head coach Sean Payton made it clear that Daniel and Ramsey would each get a fair chance for the backup position.
"(Chase's) going to compete, and I'm sure it's a goal of his, so we'll see once we get ready to start that competition," said Payton. "I couldn't put a percentage on it now, without seeing how those two guys handle our system full speed ahead. We've had a chance to look at Chase now in the offseason more than just a guy running the scout team."
The underdog in the backup race is the squad's seventh-round pick Sean Canfield out of Oregon State. Canfield earned First Team Pac-10 honors after leading the Beavers to an 8-5 record and completing 303 of 406 attempts (67.3%) for 3,272 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his senior year.
Payton has held between two and three quarterbacks on the final 53-man roster during his tenure with the Saints. When asked how many quarterbacks the squad would keep on Wednesday, Payton suggested all options are on the table.
Jenkins Moves to safety
2009 Saints first-round selection Malcolm Jenkins has moved to safety after being drafted as a cornerback. Jenkins will have a prime opportunity to showcase his skills to start training camp as Pro Bowl free safety Darren Sharper will be on the active physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Jenkins and four-year pro Usama Young, another converted corner, will be splitting first-team duties at free safety while Sharper is out to start camp.
Jenkins said on Tuesday that he feels comfortable in his new role and credits Sharper with mentoring him during the transition.
"It has been good and I had a good offseason with just learning the position and transitioning over," said Jenkins. "It has been very helpful with having a guy like Darren Sharper helping me along the way. He has approached me and told me 'I am going to teach you everything you know but you just have to trust me.' I am definitely trying to learn as much from him as I can."
Additionally, Jenkins and Young will compete for playing time in the nickle and dime packages.
When Payton was asked Wednesday to name players who improved over the offseason, Jenkins was the first one he mentioned. Payton said he was impressed with the former Ohio State Buckeye's maturation from his rookie season.
Arguably the biggest free-agent loss for the Saints this offseason was former team captain and fan favorite Scott Fujita, who signed with the Cleveland Browns. Fujita was a consistent starter at strongside linebacker and was one of the team's leaders since he was the first free agent to sign with the Saints after Sean Payton took over.
The leading candidates to replace Fujita are free agent acquisition Clint Ingram, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Troy Evans.
Ingram joins the black and gold after spending the past four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and is known as a hard hitting run-stopper. Ingram was sought after by Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams who worked with Ingram when they were both with the Jaguars in 2008.
The coaching staff was not able to get as good of a look at Ingram in the offseason as they would have hoped as he was unable to participate in the Organized Team Activities (OTAs) after an offseason knee surgery.
Dunbar and Evans each started multiple games at strongside linebacker last season. They each saw significant reps with the first team in the OTAs with Ingram sidelined.
Dunbar has earned five starts the past two seasons and has been a force on special teams.
He made his presence known in the first nine games of the 2009 regular season. He earned three starts and registered 16 tackles on defense and 12 starts. A hamstring injury he suffered at Washington on Dec. 6 sidelined Dunbar for the season.
Evans was voted a special teams captain the past two seasons and has recorded 123 coverage stops during his career. Evans started the first two games of his nine-year career in 2009.
Left Defensive End
The Saints released veteran left end Charles Grant in the offseason, who had spent his first eight seasons in the NFL at New Orleans. Grant started all 16 regular games last season, but suffered a season-ending arm injury in the final regular season game against Carolina.
Fifth-year pro Bobby McCray started at left end in all three postseason games last season. The Saints released McCray in the offseason but re-signed him on July 22 to a one-year contract. Payton said he's glad to have the seven-year veteran and his pass rush abilities on the roster.
Two other veteran free agents that will compete for the position are former Chicago Bear Alex Brown and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Jimmy Wilkerson. Brown has been a consistent starter throughout the nine years he spent in Chicago but Wilkerson just became a full-time starter last season.
Brown recorded 36 tackles and six sacks last season and spent most of his time in Chicago playing on the right side.
Wilkerson racked up 29 tackles and six sacks in 15 games for the Buccaneers last season before his season ended due to a knee injury.
Despite the heavy competition for the left end position, Wilkerson said the defensive linemen have helped him a lot in his transition.
"The players have really been friendly and have helped me out a lot," said Wilkerson. "They give me as much knowledge as they can, especially the defensive linemen. This team is all about getting back to the Super Bowl. Sometimes, you deal with guys that don't want anything to do with you because they think you are just there to take their spot. These guys aren't like that. We all have the same goal."
Mixing Up Return Game
Payton expressed his desire see some guys get more reps at punt returning in training camp, including cornerback Tracy Porter and wide receiver Rod Harper.
Porter has not returned a punt in the pros but was a talented return specialist at Indiana University as he returned 35 punts for 477 yards (13.6 avg.), including an 86-yard touchdown.
Porter showcased his flair for big returns last season. Porter scored his first career touchdown when he sealed the biggest comeback in Saints history with a 54-yard interception return for a score against the Dolphins on Oct. 25. Just four months later in Super Bowl XLIV on the same field as his first score, Porter entrenched himself in Saints lore when he read a Payton Manning pass perfectly and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown to increase New Orleans' lead to 31-17 with 3:12 remaining in the contest.
Harper proved to be a special teams spark in the 2009 preseason by returning two punts for scores but a foot injury sidelined him for the regular season.