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John DeShazier: Five players that have stood out at Saints training camp

P.J. Williams one of many making big impact

Photos of Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon on August 6, 2016 at The Greenbrier. Photos by Michael C. Hebert.

White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – An unexpected break in the New Orleans Saints schedule, with Sunday's practice being canceled and replaced by a Monday practice, provides an unexpected chance to assess some of what we've seen so far.

The Saints assembled in total in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., on July 27, and rather than endure the traditional conditioning drill, instead chose to contribute to the restoration and rebirth of Villa Park, which significantly had been damaged by floodwaters that rolled through the city in late June. That is, and will remain, the most impressive and lasting image of Training Camp 2016.

But there have been some performances and individuals who have stood out on the field, too, for various reasons.

  1. We had to wait a year to get a real, good look at cornerback P.J. Williams and, frankly, he has played to rave reviews. The absence of Keenan Lewishas given Williams, a third-round draft pick in 2015 who missed the season with an injured hamstring, a chance to show why he was drafted where he was, and how much he learned while sidelined. We've seen corroborating evidence of the former, and proof that his time off the field wasn't idly spent. Williams has been outstanding in coverage during OTAs, minicamp and now training camp. The Saints like his size and skills and Williams (wisely) has been picking the brain of Delvin Breaux, whose play he wants to emulate at the least, surpass at best. He hasn't surpassed Breaux, and he may have to yield the starting job to Lewis when/if he returns healthy from his surgically repaired hip, but Williams is off to a good start.
  1. Honest, when you saw that the Twitter handle for rookie receiver Michael Thomaswas @Cantguardmike, you had to think that was a little chesty, right? Well, so far, it's been warranted. Thomas has shone in camp on several days, sprinkling in highlight catches with routine ones. His consecutive-day entries of a diving, one-handed catch down the left sideline and a leaping, take-away-the-ball-from-a-defensive-back-who-was-in-front-of-him have been as good as any catches that have been made in camp. He's a big target (6 feet 3, 212 pounds) who looks ready to make an impact right now. It appears that the Saints receiving corps got a lot better with the addition of the second-round pick.
  1. New Orleans made two significant additions to the interior of the defensive line this offseason in tackles Nick Fairley(free agent) and Sheldon Rankins(first-round draft pick in '16). But Tyeler Davison, the team's second of three fifth-round picks in '15, has been a load to block in camp. The former high school wrestler knows the nuances of leverage and he possesses a ton of brute strength. He collapses pockets, occupies blockers, harasses quarterbacks and chases running backs. The Saints could have a formidable rotation at defensive tackle this season, and Davison could play as well as anyone on the team at that position.
  1. I could go with the combination of undrafted rookie defensive backs Ken Crawley, De'Vante Harris and Jimmy Pruittin this spot. No one is going to be surprised if a couple of them make the 53-man roster because each has shown that he has value in coverage, and possibly as a special team player (and the latter will be critical for them to make this team). But we'll roll with free agent linebacker Craig Robertson, who will be a key member of most special team units (if not all), and who appears to add the bonus of being really good in pass coverage against tight ends and backs. Considering how often NFL teams throw the football nowadays, that's an extremely valuable trait for a linebacker and to see Robertson making plays – interceptions, pass breakups – 10, 15 and 20 yards down the field is encouraging.
  1. Know how dialed in Drew Breesis on a daily basis, whether it's playing checkers or checking into a better play against a defense? Well, add the extra incentive of the Saints defense having been pretty successful against him so far in training camp, and you know his antenna is raised even higher. (Are antennas even used anymore? I digress.) Brees called Saturday's practice, in which the defense came up with four interceptions against him in various drills, perhaps his worst ever training camp practice. He's going to exact revenge against someone, whether it's his teammates on defense, or the Patriots defense in joint practices and the opening preseason game this week. But a displeased Brees routinely has been a good thing for the Saints to have, because his competitiveness always has assured a bounce-back performance. Expect better things from the Saints' quarterback in the coming days and weeks.
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