The New Orleans Saints took the field for workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Thursday, July 27.
1. Hot Hot Hot It: seems we talk about the heat of south Louisiana when New Orleans Saints training camp presented by Rouses Markets starts every season. With the heat wave the entire country is under the last month, that storyline will continue to be a part of the equation. When training camp began at the Oschner Sports Performance Center on Wednesday, heat and humidity were really not a factor. The temperatures were tolerable, with a north wind and cloud cover. On Thursday, however, that was not the case. Despite starting the practice at 9:25 a.m. (30 minutes earlier than Wednesday) temperatures climbed to 88 degrees with a heat index of 98 as practice wrapped up around 11 a.m. There was some attrition as well, as defensive tackle Khalen Saunders left the practice field early in the workout with what Coach Dennis Allen called an "illness." Also leaving practice early were wide receivers Keith Kirkwood and Shaq Davis, which were deemed heat related. Allen has stressed very early in camp that the training staff is taking heat related issues VERY seriously and will monitor accordingly. With the next two practices scheduled to be outside and open to the public, we'll keep a close watch on any other heat-related instances, but hopefully there won't be any.
2. Early Turnover Dividends: For the last several seasons, the Saints defense has been a pretty darn good one, and one could argue was the stronger side of the ball the last two seasons. Unfortunately last year, despite the good numbers, what they did NOT excel at was forcing turnovers. After the 17-game regular season numbers were tallied, the Saints defense was second to last in the NFL in takeaways with just 13 (seven interceptions) and were a minus-11 in turnover differential. As the 2023 Saints training camp has commenced, it has been stressed from Allen's opening press conference, to every defensive player that has been made available to the media the first two practices, that this defense MUST force more takeaways. Well, so far, the message has been received. Specifically by fourth-year linebacker Andrew Dowell. On Wednesday, he punched the ball out of the grasp of tight end Juwan Johnson who had just made a reception in the right flat and was about to turn up field. Dowell not only caused the fumble, he also recovered it and raced back the other way for at least 15 yards. On Thursday, rookie running back Kendre Miller fell victim to the Dowell punch out after a short reception in the right flat, as Dowell again picked up the fumble but this time ran it back for a touchdown. Two days, two forced fumbles by a linebacker who is trying to earn valuable playing time. If this keeps up, it will be awfully difficult to keep him off the field. Quick note, there have been two other forced fumbles the first two days, one by cornerback Isaac Yiadom on Kirk Merritt that would've been a safety, and safety Smoke Monday ended the team portion of Thursday's practice with a strip sack (never touching quarterback Jake Haener, who is wearing the red non-contact jersey), taking the ball away from Haener as he was about to throw a pass. So far, so good in forcing takeaways, but that will continue to be a point of emphasis the next month of camp.
3. Buckeye on Buckeye Crime (Play of the Day): On the third play of the final 11-on-11 drill of practice, quarterback Derek Carr unleashed a deep ball 30 yards down the left sideline. Racing underneath it was wide receiver Michael Thomas who had a step on fellow Ohio State product Marshon Lattimore. The ball was placed perfectly and Thomas appeared to bring the ball in with both hands. As he was falling toward the ground however, the star cornerback was able to get his hands in there and separate the ball from Thomas' grasp and in a tangle of arms and legs the ball trickled away harmlessly for an incompletion. This sparked a mini-celebration from the defensive players who were on the sideline and immediately surrounded Lattimore and yelled their encouragement. Even though the pass was ultimately incomplete, if you analyze the play, there was so much positive to take away if you're a Saints fan. You had two All-Pros going at it one-on-one, with Thomas showing no ill effects speed-wise from last season's toe injury, a perfectly thrown ball by Carr, and a tremendous defensive play by a great shutdown cornerback in Lattimore. Knowing the competitor that Thomas is, you would think he cannot wait to get another opportunity to go one-on-one with Lattimore, and we will all be waiting for that matchup all camp.