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Key observations from New Orleans Saints Training Camp: Day 6

Pass rush drill highlight of outside portion of practice

The New Orleans Saints took the field for workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Tuesday, August 1.

1. OL vs DL: As we discussed Monday, now that the pads are on at New Orleans Saints training camp, we"ll start to see more drills that aren't possible without full contact. One of those happened in the outside portion of Tuesday's practice and that's the pass rush drill. One-on-one and the task is simple, the defensive lineman is trying to get to the quarterback and the offensive lineman is trying to prevent that. Seems very simple, but the drill is very physical and one of the most anticipated parts of training camp, especially when the joint practices begin in two weeks. It's always interesting to see starters on both lines going up against each other because it is a one-on-one battle and there aren't any bodies in the way to hinder one position or the other. As you go down the individual battles defensive end Carl Granderson continues to be very solid in his ability to get to the quarterback, getting the best of tackle Ryan Ramczyk on a rep. Granderson started to really improve as last season went along and it appears he has picked up this year where last year ended. Defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd also had two wins going against Calvin Throckmorton. On the offensive side, second year left tackle Trevor Penning had two very nice stalemates, one specifically against the aforementioned Granderson, where Penning basically stonewalled him. Penning continues to get reps as the starting left tackle and days like Tuesday are only going to continue to give him more confidence.

2. Special Teams Ramp Up: As the second week of camp is two practices in, more and more installments are made as the team begins the slow climb to the regular season. A couple of new drills we got to see during the inside portion of Tuesday's practice, and those were on special teams, specifically punt team. One period had the returners deep catching punts from the Jugs machine while would-be tacklers sprinted up either sideline and trying to fight through two blockers while of course running at full speed trying to make a tackle. It's also very noticeable that regular starters on offense AND defense participate in these drills. The best play happened as running back Kirk Merritt sprinted up the right sideline and pretty much ran through the would-be blockers, broke down on the punt returner and made the stop with no gain, drawing loud cheers from his teammates. In another drill near the end of practice, the group worked on punt blocks in two separate drills. One consisted of leaping outstretched parallel to the ground trying to time the block perfectly. Of note, real footballs are not used in the drill, but round balls about the size of a volleyball. To wrap up the period, the same players would leap over a set of padding (simulating the line), then leap again trying to time the block at the apex of the players arm in the air. Good timing and hand-eye coordination are key during this period. These parts of practice might not seem important, but games are won and lost every week in the NFL because of special teams and getting these reps in camp is necessary and beneficial.

3. Stacked Tight End Room: It's been a while since the Saints offense has really featured the tight end. Sure, we've seen some flashes recently, but there hasn't been the consistency from that position that we saw when you go back to Jimmy Graham in the early 2010s or even Ben Watson, who resurrected his career in New Orleans when Drew Brees was the quarterback. Well, six practices into this training camp, I feel pretty confident in saying those days are over. This is the deepest tight end room quite possibly in more than a decade and as we've witnessed day after day, all are capable of making an offensive contribution. The real question is going to be how many eventually will be on the active roster. When you look at the list of Juwan Johnson, Jimmy Graham, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau, Lucas Krull and Jesse James, you've got big-time play-makers. In fact, the best plays of Tuesday's practice offensively were made by tight ends. Moreau made a tough catch from Jameis Winston 20 yards down the right sideline as Moreau was covered by J.T. Gray. The New Orleans native high-pointed Winston's throw, held onto the ball after hitting the ground, then pointed first down. Krull had a huge gain on a seam route in 7-on-7 from quarterback Jake Haener. On the last rep of practice, even Jesse James got into the act catching a deep out on the left sideline from Haener, then turned upfield for another chunk of yardage. With a quarterback in Derek Carr who we've already seen in mini camp and training camp he likes to use the middle of the field and can make any throw sideline to sideline, the tight end position should be one of strength for the 2023 version of the New Orleans Saints.

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