New Orleans Saints fans check out practice at 2023 Saints Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Monday, July 31 at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
1. Pads Are On!! After four practices in which defensive end Cameron Jordan deemed "running around in pajamas," the Saints took the field Monday at the Oschner Sports Performance Center in full pads. This is when you can really evaluate what's going on at practice because of the energy and intensity, and, most important, the physicality. Since Monday's practice was an NFL mandated one hour and 45 minutes, we didn't see the straight offensive line vs defensive line one-on-one matchups which we probably will the next couple of days. What we did see though were the receivers vs defensive backs one-on-one drills, which as Coach Dennis Allen mentioned after practice, are really slanted in the offensive player's favor. We'll get in to some specific plays during those drills in our next Key, but a fan highlight without question was during 11-on -11 drills. With Jameis Winston at quarterback and the team moving left to right on the Airline Drive side of the two fields, Winston was able to drop one off to tight end Jimmy Graham on the right side about 10 yards down the field. As he turned up to gain more yardage, cornerback Troy Pride (listed at 5 feet 11 and 193 pounds) tried to make the stop on 6-7 265-pound Graham. Well, I'm not a mathematician, but those numbers really don't equate, and it showed on that play. Graham basically ran over Pride and gained another 10 yards before finally being brought down. Again, this play couldn't have happened the first week because of the lack of contact. That play also drew without question the loudest cheers of the day from the hearty fans that were in attendance and Graham definitely played up to the crowd after delivering the blow.
The New Orleans Saints took the field for workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Monday, July 31.
2. WR vs DB: The most entertaining part of practice Monday was the wide receivers vs the defensive backs. It plays out exactly how it sounds. A quarterback throwing to a receiver who is being covered by a defensive back with various routes being run and various yardages. Some highlights: On the very first play, Winston attempted a 10-yard pass to receiver Michael Thomas. Cornerback Paulson Adebo had other ideas, coming from over the top, adjusting on the ball as Thomas reached back to his right, and picked it off after a slight bobble and raced down the left sideline for a pick-six. Thomas would exact a little revenge a few plays later with a VERY tough grab on the left side from Winston while Adebo had tight coverage. One of the hallmarks of Thomas is the ability to make the contested catches in traffic, and he certainly made one there. Receiver Chris Olave was able to get deep down the left sideline and raced paced safety Marcus Maye for a long touchdown after a perfectly thrown ball by Winston. Finally, receiver Rashid Shaheed continues to impress (more on him in a bit) as he ran a deep cross 20 yards down the field from left to right with cornerback Alontae Taylor in tow. Shaheed was able to get some separation from Taylor, Winston hit Shaheed in stride and that was it, as the afterburners were turned on up the field for the touchdown. These matchups will continue to be intriguing and entertaining as long as the pads are on, and will REALLY ramp up during the joint practice sessions in a couple of weeks against the Chargers and Texans.
3. Play of the Day: It happened on the last play of 11-on-11 drills right before our honorable mention play of the day. With Jake Haener at quarterback, Shaheed sprinted down the left sideline headed for the east end zone. Covered by cornerback Adrian Frye, Sheed made a subtle right inside move towards the middle of the field, just enough to get Frye off stride, then stepped back left straddling the sideline vertically, with the move clearing plenty of space. Haener delivered the ball perfectly, as Shaheed hauled it in at the 5-yard line for a 45-yard touchdown catch, drawing loud cheers from the fans. Shaheed continues to improve every practice with his route running and combined with his blazing speed, he could be positioning himself to have a really big impact in the passing game. I couldn't end this column though without mentioning kicker Wil Lutz. Allen has stressed competition at every position this training camp, with kicker no exception. After rookie kicker Blake Grupe made all six of his kicks during Saturday's practice, it seems Lutz was extremely motivated after the off day on Sunday to tell the rookie that he was still the man to beat. Lutz converted all eight attempts Monday, including kicks of 52, 56 and 59 yards (the final rep of the day), made even more impressive there was a stiff cross wind from left to right (out of the north). Lutz without question made a loud statement that he isn't about to lose his job without a serious battle.