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Observations from New Orleans Saints training camp | Sunday, Aug. 21

Saints wide receiver Kirk Merritt  gets some reps at running back

1. Back in the Dome: For the first time since the New Orleans Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers 18-10 way back on Jan. 2, the Saints took the field on Sunday afternoon at the Caesars Superdome in front of their fans in what will be the final open practice before the start of the regular season on Sep. 11 in Atlanta. As the Saints filtered in sporadically, they were greeted by cheers from the people seated in the plaza level. The turf, as is the custom before every Saints season, is new and has been down for 10 days, so not only was this a practice for the team in front of the fans, but also their first test to see if any adjustments need to be made to the playing surface prior to the regular season opener on Sept. 18. Coach Dennis Allen was walking around the field prior to practice and checking out the footing and making mental notes as to how he wants the surface (there are rubber pellets and sand underneath) to eventually play, but until the team is actually out there and participating in drills and practice, we won't really know the results of his evaluation. In any event, it was great to just see the team back out there in their home. As an aside, the Tulane football team also practices in the Dome every year around this time to help break in the turf.

2. Position change? Saints wide receiver Kirk Merritt has really turned some heads during training camp. He has drawn praise throughout camp for his pass-catching ability and special teams prowess. That came to a head in Green Bay after grading out well during the week's joint practices, Merritt got his first shot as a kick returner and promptly made the coaches decision a good one, returning a kick 59 yards late in the first quarter setting up Wil Lutz's 59-yard field goal. On Sunday night in the Dome, however, Merritt was seen during individual drills with the running backs. Playing running back is nothing new to Merritt, as the former Destrahan High standout combined for 1,058 rushing and receiving yards his senior year before committing to the University of Oregon. After practice, Allen confirmed to the media post that he was going to give Merritt a look at running back, made a little less coincidental with the waiving of running back Devine Ozigbo earlier in the day (also waived were quarterback K.J. Costello and kicker John Parker Romo). Merritt should be able to get plenty of reps at the spot as we head to the final preseason game Friday night in the Caesars Superdome.

3. Plays of the Day: Both occurred on 7-on-7 drills and both drew loud cheers from the approximately 10,000 in attendance Sunday. In the last rep of the regular 7-on-7 in the middle of the field, quarterback Jameis Winston tried to hit receiver Tre'Quan Smith in the middle of the field. But linebacker Demario Davis played it perfectly, intercepted the pass in full stride and took it 60 yards into the Girod Street end zone. As usual, the convoy of fellow defenders followed Davis into the end zone, and the lucky fans sitting in that area were treated to Davis tossing the football into the seats for a souvenir. The next play occurred later in 7-on-7 red zone work with Andy Dalton at quarterback and the ball at the 3 yard line heading into the Poydras Street end zone. Dalton threw a perfect fade pass into the back right corner intended for receiver Jarvis Landry. Well, Landry did not disappoint. Despite being covered tightly and possibly held by defensive back Vincent Gray, Landry came down with a spectacular one-handed catch getting both feet in bounds in the process, again drawing loud cheers from the Saints faithful. Landry regularly practices one-handed catches during individual work, and practice in this instance, certainly made perfect.

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