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Key observations from New Orleans Saints Training Camp: Day 19

Tight end Jimmy Graham returns to practice Wednesday

1. Jimmy Returns: It's been an eventful last few days for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. What happened has been well documented since the team reported he experienced a medical episode in Southern California on Friday night. Graham remained with the team after his release from the hospital and was able to watch the Saints preseason win over the Chargers from the locker room. The next question (after successfully clearing all medical tests) would be when would Graham come back to the practice field. That question was answered on Wednesday when Graham participated fully in the two-hour indoor practice at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Graham had one of his best practices of training camp, and that was confirmed post practice by Coach Dennis Allen. Graham caught a touchdown from quarterback Jameis Winston on a slant route during 7-on-7 red zone drills. As practice was nearing the end, and during the final 11-on-11 session, Graham was able to convert big chunk plays for first downs. The first was a crossing route as Graham went from right to left, and Winston led him perfectly for the catch and run for 15 yards. Two plays later, Winston executed a perfect play action pass, faking a handoff and just sat back in the pocket as he was very well-protected. A second later Winston threw deep over the middle to a wide open Graham who again moved dem chains for at least a 20-yard gain. After Friday night, it had to be such a relief in so many ways for Graham to get back on the field with his teammates, and it was especially good to see him show out in his return.

2. Crowd Noise Simulation: As we head toward the final preseason game on Sunday vs the Texans in the Caesars Superdome, the coaches continue to ramp toward the regular season opener on Sep 10 as well. On Wednesday, for the first time in 19 practices, loud crowd noise simulation was blared out of the big sound machine located on the sideline. Noise was piped in as crowd AND loud techno/club type music simultaneously as it was nearly impossible to hear even standing on the other sideline, far away from the sound system. For six 11-on-11 segments the noise was there, and as Allen mentioned post practice, this was to try and help the offense AND defense in what will most certainly be noisy environments in the regular season. Defense has to practice its hand signals, especially on third downs in the Caesar Superdome, where as anyone knows who has ever been in there, makes it impossible to communicate verbally when the decibel level gets high. On offense, you have to work on your silent counts and calling plays in the huddle when the level gets loud. After practice ended Allen told the players that "in the Dome it's gonna be loud" and they needed to get that type of work in, and allow themselves to operate in those environments and not beat themselves execution wise when it's so difficult to hear.

3. Play(s) of the Day: Two on Wednesday stood out to me. The first came at the end of 7-on-7 red zone drills with Jake Haener at quarterback.. Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood ran a route from his left side to the right to the goal line, then cut back left toward the front left pylon of the end zone. Haener put a little air under the ball as he lofted it toward Kirkwood, who was guarded tightly by safety Jordan Howden. Kirkwood is listed at 6 feet 3 while Howden is at an even 6 feet. In this case, taller man won, as Kirkwood leaped in the air and came down with a spectacular one-armed right-handed grab for the touchdown, as basically everyone who was able to see the play up close (players included) let out an exclamation of "WOW!!" Kirkwood has had a big 10 days, starting with the touchdown catch against the Chiefs, and continued to make plays against the Chargers in the joint practices last week. Catches like Wednesday won't hurt his cause at all as training camp winds down. The other came on the final 11-on-11 drill session with Winston at quarterback. On third-and-short, Winston threw a deep ball down the right sideline where wide receiver Shaq Davis was one-on-one with cornerback Isaac Yiadom. Davis was able to get a bit of separation and Winston's pass was on target, dropping into the soft hands of the rookie from South Carolina State for a huge gain of 30-plus yards. Davis had an overall solid day, as he tries to build on his three-catch, 63-yard performance (with a touchdown called back due to penalty) on Sunday against the Chargers. These will be a huge next few days for Davis as he tries to make the final 53-man roster or at minimum the practice squad.

Full coverage of the New Orleans Saints workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Tuesday, August 22.