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John DeShazier: Six observations through eight days of Saints training camp

Brandon Browner has been impressive

Photos from the 2015 Black and Gold Scrimmage at The Greenbrier in White Sulpher Springs, WV. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

  1. It'll be impossible to say with certainty until the New Orleans Saints are maybe midway through the regular season, but Brandon Browner appears to be everything they hoped he'd be, and perhaps more. Yes, the free agent signee is a bear of a cornerback (6 feet 4, 221 pounds) that, once he gets his hands on a receiver at the line of scrimmage, can be all but impossible to shed. His deflection count is impressive considering the number of times he has been challenged, a testament to his mastery of bump-and-run and his intricate knowledge of angles. The times he has been beaten, it has been more about the throw and reception than it has been about any failing of Browner's, who appears to be the compliment to Keenan Lewis that the Saints have lacked since Jabari Greer was injured in 2013. But just as important, Browner's leadership skills have been on display. When he isn't tutoring the Saints' young cornerbacks or working with Lewis as the two seek ways to fine-tune their skills, he has been the consummate I'm-no-better-than-you teammate. He's lining up on special teams as a blocker for gunners, a duty that he probably could beg off if he wanted to. And when Brian Dixon returned from the PUP list to practice, Dixon's welcome-back moment was a series of up-downs. Browner, who's entering his sixth season and was a member of the last two Super Bowl winners, did the up-downs with his second-year teammate. Those are the kinds of things that teammates notice, and appreciate.
  1. Another guy who appears to be living up to the hype, and perhaps beyond: center Max Unger. Unger, the centerpiece of the Jimmy Graham trade, appears to have solidified the middle of the Saints' offensive line. The next time he loses in a pass-rush drill could be his first, and every day he's with Drew Brees is another day where their chemistry is enhanced. If Jahri Evans returns from injury to form at right guard – a high standard, considering Evans is a multiple time All-Pro – and if Tim Lelito or Senio Kelemete can hold it down at left guard, Unger will anchor a middle that can give Brees a clearer sight line than last year.
  1. Benjamin Watson looks like he found a fountain of youth, and not just in terms of football. The tight end, who's entering his 12th NFL season, has maintained a physique (6-3, 255, chiseled) that players with one-fourth of his experience would love to have. But since this IS about football, Watson could be poised to have one of his better seasons, if his work at The Greenbrier is an indicator. Seems that every time you turn around, he's making another catch. Doesn't matter if it's team or individual drills, Watson is getting open down the field and making it look a bit easier than it probably should look. Now, we know the Saints won't be asking him to approach Graham-like numbers. They might not even require him to sniff 50 catches, which would be the most he's had since he caught 49 passes with the Browns in 2012. But Watson looks ready for a heavier workload in the passing game. Lest we forget, during a seven-year stretch of his career he averaged 41 catches for 474 yards, significantly more than the 20 catches for 181 yards per season he has averaged in two years with New Orleans. He may be called upon to do a little more of the former this season.
  1. Ten years in, and anyone who thinks Coach Sean Payton has mellowed didn't have a chance to see him Friday morning. He wasn't openly livid, but "steaming" seems to be an appropriate tag to affix after he watched the defense commit several substitutional busts in the Black and Gold scrimmage. Twice, Payton said, the defense lined up with 12 men on the field and once, with 10. True, those correctable errors occurred with reserves and, obviously, it's better that the mistakes occur on the field at The Greenbrier instead of inside a stadium in Arizona or Atlanta. But to say that Payton was bothered by the inability of the defense to do the basic – line up with the correct amount of defenders – would be the understatement of training camp. The guess here is that substitution problems, or the players responsible for them, will vanish because Payton isn't going to tolerate it.
  1. It's not always the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it's OK to trust the process. The Saints entered training camp with a clear vision of how Marques Colston would be managed in terms of his workload. And the franchise's all-time leader in touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards and yards from scrimmage seems to have responded well to it. He'll be ready when it counts most, at the beginning of the regular season, rather than during OTAs, minicamp and the beginning of training camp. Likewise, the Saints have a plan of preparation in place for safety Jairus Byrd, who has yet to partake of training camp practice but who is on track to return soon. Like Colston, Byrd's return won't be rushed so that when he returns, it hopefully will be for the long haul.
  1. Possibly, Rob Ryan and Dennis Allen could be cats-and-dogs fighting behind the scenes. More likely, though, the senior defensive assistant (Allen) and defensive coordinator (Ryan) are doing exactly what they say they are: Working, along with the rest of the defensive staff, to find solutions for a defense that lacked them last season, when it finished No. 31 in a 32-team league. So the narrative that Ryan and Allen might engage in a turf war because Allen, a former Saints secondary coach under Payton, was brought in as another set of eyes and ears for the defense, isn't all that sexy right now. In the quest to win, stones can't be left unturned and if Allen's input helps the defense improve, then it'll be exactly something the Saints need and that Ryan welcomes, which appears to be the case.
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