It's no secret that last season was a challenge for the New Orleans Saints. From having the first regular season game moved to Jacksonville due to Hurrican Ida to having a league-high 58 players start at least one game, the Black and Gold had to overcome adversity week after week. A few weeks in to a productive offseason, though, and that difficult season is in the rear window. With quarterback Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas poised to make a return in Week 1, the offense would have had a significant boost with those moves alone. Add Chris Olave and Trevor Penning to the mix following the NFL Draft, and the Saints could be building something very successful.
On the defensive side of the ball, recent free agency addition Tyrann Mathieu adds even more passion and talent to an already impressive backfield, and the front seven, led by Demario Davis and Cameron Jordan, seem set to remain a solid core for the team. And even on special teams, kicker Wil Lutz should be ready to return following a season that saw three different kickers suit up for a game at some point or another.
The pieces are falling in to place for new head coach Dennis Allen, and he is feeling good about where the team currently stands. Recently, Allen joined the "Rich Eisen Show" to talk about his new job, the progress made by Thomas and Winston, his first draft as head coach of the Saints, and more.
When Rich Eisen asked Allen about Jameis, he had this to say, "He's doing good. Jameis is probably one of the hardest workers I've been around. He's just got a tireless work ethic, and he loves football...He's working his tail off and really doing a good job in the rehab, and I like where he's at." With his new extension out of the way, Winston has been able to focus solely on getting back onto the field for Week 1, something coach is not worried about.
"(Winston starting Week 1) is certainly the plan. There's a lot of days between now and Week 1, but we like where he's at now, we like the progress he's making, and I really love a lot of the things that he did last year for us."
Winston is not the only offensive starter posied to see the field again this season. Wide receiver Michael Thomas has been working to return to the field after missing the entirety of last season due to an injury. Allen views Thomas' return as having another first round pick in the draft.
"We feel good about what Mike has done in the rehab process...We drafted Chris Olave in the first round, but I almost look at it as getting Mike back is like we almost had two first round draft choices at wide receiver, so I feel really good about that." In 2019, his last season unhindered by injury, Thomas hauled in 149 receptions for 1725 yards and 9 touchdowns. Thomas was taken in the second round of the 2016 draft, but his production thus far has far outweighed where he was chosen. Thomas will be catching passes from Jameis Winston for the fist time in his career as he looks to return to his productive play prior to his injury.
Add two new talented rookies to this offense in Chris Olave and Trevor Penning, and this offensive unit has the capability to skyrocket compared to last season. Allen was asked about trading up in the draft to take Olave, and he explained what they saw in the young receiver.
"We felt like we needed to add some playmakers to our offense, and we felt like that was an area where we could improve our football team. We're really all about 'what do we have to do to win games here?', and so I felt like he was the player that we kind of targeted. We knew we were going to get a great person, a tireless worker, tough, smart, highly competitive, one of the best route runners, I felt like, in this year's draft. He comes from an established winning program where we have had success getting guys out of Ohio State...I felt great about how it worked out."
Apart from the skill positions, the Saints also felt like they needed to draft someone capable of replacing Terron Armstead, who signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency. For Dennis Allen, Trevor Penning fills that gap perfectly.
"I think (Penning is) kind of a raw, tough, nasty, athletic talent...I really like the potential of this player a lot. Obviously losing Terron Armstead was a big loss for us, so trying to find someone to potentially be that replacement was something that we were looking at. I think my defensive mentality came out a little bit in that pick, and it's kind of that tough, nasty kind of player."
As Allen and the Saints gear up towards training camps and other offseason workouts, fans should be excited at the potential this team holds for this season and even beyond. As many weapons return from injuries, and new players are added to the mix, Dennis Allen can begin to put the pieces together and build a solid foundation in his first year at the helm.