Photos of Hau'oli Kikaha from the 2015 regular season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos
Rookie minicamp is this weekend, but we won't see them on the field. So you can ask, but we won't be able to tell, how good (or bad) the Class of '16 looked in their first days on the field as New Orleans Saints. But we will encourage you to keep the questions coming, and we'll try to do the same with the answers.
@Sco0BaRo0: With Hau'oli Kikaha moving to defensive end, I keep hearing there is a hole at defensive end. I think guard is the biggest question mark. What do you say?
@rain225222: Do you see the Saints bringing in veteran help at guard?
JD:We'll try to kill two birds with this one. Actually, Kikaha hasn't moved to defensive end. He's still a linebacker, though (presumably) he'll continue to rush the quarterback. And I'm theorizing that the Saints feel solid about the defensive end position, in part due to the influence they believe will be wielded by their defensive tackles (including first-round pick Sheldon Rankins). Yes, guard could be the biggest area of concern. The solution already could be in the building (Andrus Peat, Senio Kelemete) or it could be among the undrafted rookie class (Jack Allen, Landon Turner). If not, then I'm sure they'll look at the remaining veteran pool in order to solidify the position.
@TheLoveJones1: Why such weak first- and second-round picks? We need defensive backs, not Vonn Bell.
JD:Well, first, I'm sure the Saints coaches and front office don't believe their first- and second-round picks (defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell) are weak. Second, Bell is a defensive back (and, from most accounts, a pretty good one). Now, if he's not the defensive back you prefer, cool – not everyone is going to be happy with a team's draft picks. But the Saints picked the players in the draft who they felt best can help the team, and for specific areas of need. If you want to judge the picks as weak before they play a single down, without having done quite as much work as the Saints in researching their background or watching their game film, and having no clue about how they'll be used, that's the beauty of free speech and thinking. But I'm going to give them a little more time before giving them a grade or a label.
@lowpro4: Do you think this may be the most offensive weapons the Saints have ever had?
JD:Respectfully, no. The 2011 Saints set a league single-season record for yards (7,474) and scored a team-record 547 points, including 62 offensive touchdowns. Four backs ran for at least 374 yards, two receivers posted 1,000-yard seasons and six players totaled at least 503 receiving yards, five Saints caught at least six touchdowns and the team scored 30 or more points in 10 games. It'll take some doing for any Saints team – any team, period – to match those numbers.
@datwhodat1965: I truly think we may have found some gems in the draft and undrafted rookies. But running back Daniel Lasco may be that missing piece. What do you think?
JD:I think that's expecting a lot from a seventh-round pick who plays one of the deepest positions on the team. Lasco's route to this roster, barring injury, is via special teams. That's the vision for him at present, with the hope that he also displays some skill as a third-down back. Even then, he has C.J. Spiller, Travaris Cadet and Marcus Murphy listed ahead of him in the pecking order.
@AdrianOctavious: What do you think Dennis Allen will do different with the Saints new defense?
JD:I'd love to be able to tell you definitively that he'll blitz more, or employ more zone coverage, or strictly play man-to-man in the secondary. But I'd be lying. I know this sounds generic, but Allen's job as defensive coordinator is to identify the strengths of his players, then put them in positions that maximize their strengths. His life (and the Saints') will be a lot easier if the front four can apply pressure on the quarterback without extra help, but given the quickness with which quarterbacks are throwing, there isn't much time to get to them. But Coach Sean Payton believes that Allen better will be able to put players in position to make plays; from there, players simply have to execute the plan.
@KCGordon: Why don't the Saints run plays with Brandin Cooks trailing either a running back or wide receiver, to take a pitch in one-on-one situations against defensive backs?
JD:You don't think the offensive coaches exhaust every logical thought they have in order to find ways to get Cooks the ball? Or that part of what they're doing during the mornings when they arrive before players, and in the evenings after players have gone home for the day, is to devise new and creative ways to get the ball into the hands of the team's best play-makers? Last year, the plays they called helped Cooks catch 84 passes for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns, all team-leading numbers. He had at least 10 catches of at least 26 yards and five catches of at least 46 yards, so whatever they're calling seems to be working OK.
@GeeBee024: Why wouldn't the Saints have an all-defensive draft, when defense clearly was our Achilles heel?
JD:No team would pick a player just because he plays a position, knowing he probably doesn't have a chance to make the team at that position. A receiver who has a significantly higher grade than a defensive end is the better pick, because the receiver has the best chance of making the team and contributing, rather than the defensive end that isn't an improvement of what you already have in the locker room. For example, the Saints drafted Deuce McAllister when they already had Ricky Williams, and there wasn't an imminent need for a running back and there probably was more of a need for defensive help, because Deuce was the highest rated player (by far) on their board at the time. Deuce went on to become the all-time leading rusher in franchise history. In other words, sometimes one guy sticks out among the others in the draft pool, regardless of position.
@TmanAmongBoys: If I'm getting tickets to one home game this year, which one should it be?
JD:Sept. 26, against Atlanta, "Monday Night Football." The game will be played almost 10 years to the day of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome re-opening after Hurricane Katrina – Sept. 25, 2006, against Atlanta. It should be a memorable, emotional night.
@GavBurl: Are you expecting a breakout year from Stephone Anthony?
JD:I won't say "breakout" so much as I'll say "improved" or perhaps "more productive." Likely, he won't be starting at middle linebacker (that'll be James Laurinaitis), so his play-calling responsibilities will be lessened. But that could free him up to be more of a play-maker (maybe his tackles will decrease, but sacks and fumbles caused could increase). We saw extended examples of his talent last year, when he was a rookie, but I think his breakout year is on the horizon when his physical talents and knowledge of the game evenly are balanced.
@AyeronAlvarez:Which rookie will have the biggest impact this season? And do you believe more than one could start?
JD:Sheldon Rankins will, because he's playing a position of need (defensive tackle) and because he's talented enough to do exactly what the Saints have in mind for him. If he applies interior pressure on quarterbacks the way the team believes he can, he'll be a huge asset. And yes, more than one could start – Rankins could start, safety Vonn Bell could start in the sub packages on defense, receiver Michael Thomas could open some games in the starting lineup and there's a possibility that a rookie can open at right guard.
@_EManWilsonLOL: Are you guys going to draft Leonard Fournette next year?
JD: Yes. The Saints received a special waiver from the NFL just today, which states that they will be allowed to draft Fournette regardless of their draft position. PS – I have several bridges for sale, at a bargain cost.
@BarbaraNsgstud: Can I please have two tickets to a home game in October?
JD: Can I have your credit card number?