The New Orleans Saints donned full pads for the first time in Training Camp 2018 presented by Verizon on Saturday. It was also the first time that Saints fans were admitted to the Ochsner Sports Performance Center to watch the team practice. The bleachers were sold out. And Coach Sean Payton was back with the team after missing Friday's practice to attend a funeral. Here are a few observations:
I don't often select a "player of the day." Saturday was one of those rare times as rookie wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith stood out catching nearly everything thrown his way. Smith is working with several of the different tiers of the depth chart. The Saints are also trying his skills from different locations in the formation. Smith has worked successfully in motion, lining up in single or multiple receiver looks on either side, and while exploding from the slot. It has been three solid days so far for the newcomer. He's reliable in the routine route packages and has struck for some big plays, too.
Saturday's padded practice gave us a first "real" look at rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport. He sure looks the part in his full gear. In one-on-one pass rush drills, Davenport recorded a mixed bag of results. He flashes, though, in a big way. One particular bright spot saw Davenport beat Terron Armstead on the edge for an eventual sack of Drew Brees during a full team period late in practice. For the foreseeable future, Armstead will get the better of Davenport more often than not. That competition will only hasten the development of Davenport.
Of note regarding Armstead; one of the best light tackles in the NFL is healthy at the start of training camp for the first time since 2015.
The battle to be the No. 1 punt returner is wide open. It's very, very early but there is no clear favorite for the job. It's been a bit shaky for several of the candidates. Tommylee Lewis, Ted Ginn Jr., and Boston Scott are among a group trying to get a firm grip on the job.