Associated Press photos of new Saints OLB Hau'oli Kikaha.
1 Perhaps it's not fair to have a rookie headline this list. But second-round draft pick Hau Kikaha isn't just any rookie anymore, not after outside linebacker Junior Galettewas released by the Saints on Monday. Kikaha, a second-round pick, was an elite pass rusher at Washington who led the nation with 19 sacks last season. The New Orleans Saints, who have their first training camp practice Thursday, won't be expecting that kind of production, but they'll need someone to fill the void left by Galette, whose 22 sacks over the last two seasons led the team. Kikaha will have every chance to earn snaps as a pass rusher and what he shows during Saints training camp presented by Verizon will have a large say into how early, and often, he plays.
- For two seasons Tim Lelitohas played apprentice on the offensive line, filling in as a backup center and right guard. And while he played admirably when called upon at right guard for Jahri Evansand at center for Jonathan Goodwin– starting two games each at those respective positions in 2013 and '14 – the third-year player is back in his comfort zone at left guard, filling the spot that previously was occupied by Ben Grubbs. The confidence in Lelito at left guard appears to be warranted (teammates noted the increase in physicality from the center position when he played last season), and the transition apparently has been seamless. That's important, because he's the least experienced among the five starters. Still, this is the scenario that he has prepared for since signing with the Saints as an undrafted rookie from Grand Valley State. He'll get a chance to become the latest late-round-pick/rookie-free-agent gem to be picked and developed by New Orleans under Coach Sean Payton.
- Speaking of former rookie free agents, it just so happens that tight end Josh Hillentered the league in the same undrafted class as did Lelito. And, like Lelito, Hill is primed to make a name for himself. Actually, the former Idaho State star already should have some name recognition among Saints fans – he caught 14 passes for 176 yards and five touchdowns last season. But with Jimmy Grahamgone via the trade to Seattle (which yielded center Max Ungerand a first-round pick), Hill has a chance to really show the skills that, Payton is convinced, would have made Hill a draft pick if he'd been invited to attend the NFL Combine. Don't be surprised to see him giving safeties the blues during training camp. Yes, he's a valuable contributor on special teams – he plays on all of them – but he's ready to make a more significant contribution on offense.
- There has been nothing to suggest that Delvin Breauxcan't play in the NFL, and maybe even excel at cornerback. Now, it has to be noted that he hasn't done anything in an actual NFL regular-season game, and I always have been one to caution against putting too much stock in any accomplishments achieved during OTAs and minicamp. The stress level isn't the same, the stakes aren't the same and game conditions simply can't be comparably simulated. But all that said, Breaux looks like he can cover and when the ball is in his area, he can get his hands on it. He has made himself easy to spot on the field and training camp will be his chance to separate from the competition.
- There are some significant question marks at the receiver position. I believe that Seantavius Jonesis going to provide one of the answers during training camp. We know that the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder is highly regarded by the Saints – he was an undrafted rookie last season, added to the practice squad after training camp and then a late-season addition to the roster. But with the Saints trading Kenny Stillsto Miami and not re-signing Robert Meachem, opportunities abound. Jones and his fellow undrafted classmate, receiver Brandon Coleman, are best buddies but one has to nudge ahead of the other in their friendly competition. Coleman is the more imposing physical specimen (6-6, 225) but Jones could show he's the better receiver during camp.
- By all accounts last season, defensive tackle John Jenkinshad a disappointing second year. He entered training camp rehabbing from surgery and never really rounded into the form he displayed as a rookie. He should be properly motivated this year, not only because he'll enter training camp healthier, but also the Saints signed veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williamsduring the offseason. He'll need to be dominant when he's on the field and since he has shown he can be much more than serviceable, the guess is that he'll be more than he was in '14.