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New Orleans Saints enter training camp with veteran talent, but in search of cornerback

'There's still at player there that we need to find'

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The New Orleans Saints will enter their first training camp since 2005 without Drew Brees as the starting quarterback knowing that his replacement is on the roster. But they'll still be looking for another cornerback, likely one that plays outside.

Even with the addition of Brian Poole – who mainly has plays in the slot – the Saints, who have won four consecutive NFC South Division titles, remain in the market to find an outside corner to play opposite Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore.

"We're familiar with (Poole)," Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday afternoon. "He's a good competitor, he's tough. I think he's a really good tackler and he's played at a high level on some pretty good teams."

Poole played three seasons with the Falcons (2016-18) and the last two with the New York Jets. In 38 starts over 70 games, he has 298 tackles, six sacks, seven interceptions, 33 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a special teams tackle.

But Payton said New Orleans still is on the lookout for a corner.

"There's still a position there," he said. "There's still a player there that we need to find. We'll continue looking and looking at everyone that we think might be a candidate to fill that 'must.'

"Brian certainly has been a slot player, a position he excelled at. I think it's important to narrow that focus down to an outside player."

While that position might require some urgency, receiver might not, even after Michael Thomas – the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 – was placed on PUP list following ankle surgery in June.

Payton said the ankle injury, which Thomas suffered in the 2020 regular-season opener against Tampa Bay, was one that should have been addressed earlier this offseason.

"It appears we're going to have to spend some time without him," Payton said. "It's disappointing, and we'll work through it with the other players that are here. But the surgery took place; obviously, we would have liked that to have happened earlier than later. And quite honestly, it should have.

"I'm going to leave it at that."

Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis said the team likes the receivers it has in the building. Tre'Quan Smith will be entering his fourth season and has 23 starts, Marquez Callaway started three games last year as an undrafted rookie, Deonte Harris – an All-Pro punt returner in 2019 – has shown promise as a receiver, and the Saints added veteran Chris Hogan to the roster Wednesday.

"(Thomas' injury) was treated conservatively during the season, he came back, he played in the last two postseason games," Loomis said. "Still had a few issues after the season, it was decided that he was going to treat that conservatively.

"I think we all had an expectation that that would heal and he would be fine coming into camp this year, but we get to the minicamp and it wasn't quite right. So we have to make the call and collectively made the call to have the surgery in June.

"Obviously, with hindsight, we would have preferred that surgery to be earlier, in February or March. But it wasn't. It is what it is. He's had a good result so far and hopefully we'll get him back sooner rather than later.

"I think we like our crop of receivers, probably more than some of the media guys do. But we'll adjust accordingly."

Payton said there are more pressing needs than receiver.

"The guys we have, we've got a number of guys that have played quite a bit," he said. "We'll always pay close attention to the roster and kind of go from there, but…there's other pressing positions ahead of that position."

VACCINE NEWS: Loomis said New Orleans is at a 90 percent vaccination rate, though he and Payton clearly would like to see it rise to 100.

"I don't know if 'happy' is the word," Payton said. "I still struggle with the balance of an overall understanding of where we're trying to get to. But clearly, there are other teams that are behind where we're at and hopefully we can get to that 100 percent mark.

"I'm just one of those guys that prefers to look at the science, as opposed to some other things."

"We're lucky enough to have a real high percentage of vaccinated players," Loomis said. "At least within the building, we can operate relatively normal. There are some protocols that apply to the unvaccinated players, we have a few of those. We've got a number of guys that are in the process of being vaccinated and so, I expect those effects within the building and during training camp to be relatively easy to handle.

"Hopefully, we'll get to 100 percent at some point. As for me, I believe in the vaccinations, I think we should all get them and I think it's for the greater good."

OUT: In addition to Thomas and offensive lineman Derrick Kelly (Reserve/NFI), kicker Wil Lutz and defensive back P.J. Williams also will miss the beginning of training camp with injuries. Loomis said the injuries were soft-tissue issues for Lutz and Williams, and should be resolved in a few days. Payton said no kicker would be added.

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