New Orleans Saints senior writer John DeShazier answers some fans Twitter questions:
Will the team run more without Jimmy Graham as a steady target? Could Marques Colston's numbers jump up? (via @King__Bias)
Short answer to both questions? Yes. First, it makes sense for the Saints to run more not only because Graham is gone as a premier receiving threat, but also because the team has been best offensively when it has been balanced. And after Mark Ingram had his best NFL season last year (964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 226 carries, all career highs), and with the continued improvement of Khiry Robinson and addition of C.J. Spiller, it makes all the sense in the world for the Saints to run a bit more often. Now, that doesn't mean that game situations and defensive schemes won't produce a few 45-pass, 20-run games. But for maximum offensive success, expect the pass-run ratio to be closer than that. As for Colston, his numbers last year (59 catches, 902 yards, five touchdowns) actually were more than respectable by most standards. But we're not accustomed to seeing less than 1,000 yards and we certainly weren't accustomed to seeing the drops and a critical turnover or two. Colston is as prideful as any athlete you'll find, and he wasn't happy about last year. With a young receiving corps around him, it wouldn't be surprising for Drew Brees to look in the direction of the franchise's all-time leading receiver a bit more often.
What's the word on my man @BreauxShow24 ? So far, I've heard good things. (via @GCRedWing)
What you've heard is true. New Orleans native Delvin Breaux has been everything the Saints had hoped he'd be as a cornerback, if not more. He has exhibited the ability to cover and has shown good ball skills – whether it's a leaping interception or a diving deflection. Now, conservatism dictates that we not place too much emphasis on what we've seen during OTAs and minicamp. It's early, there's no tackling and performances can dip during training camp. But the jump from the CFL to the NFL hasn't appeared to be too big for Breaux to bridge (couldn't help myself, I had to go there). He looks like a keeper; we'll know a lot more after a couple of weeks at The Greenbrier.
Do you think The Saints will have a chance to be in another Super Bowl in the near future? (via @OutSpelI)
Of course, I do (but then, I'm on the payroll). Seriously, that belief is realistic for as long as Drew Brees is an elite quarterback, because that's the first step to having a contending team – a quarterback who's capable of elevating the performances and confidence/swagger of teammates, capable of turning around games and capable of producing a five- or six-week stretch that compares with all-time, great five- or six-week stretches in NFL history. Brees has shown he can do that. What the Saints are seeking is to field a corresponding defense to their offense, which has shown since 2006 that it will move the ball and score regardless of who is or isn't on the field (the one constant being Brees, of course). If this year's defense can lower the third-down conversion rate against it and produce a few more turnovers (only 17 last season; the team finished minus-13 in turnover ratio last year, second-worst in the league) then there's no reason to believe the Saints won't be serious contenders again.
I'm not hearing Jalen Saunders' name mentioned much. With C.J. Spiller coming on board, will Jalen make the 53-man roster? (via @dd992emo)
That's a really, really good question, and it's going to depend on a couple of things. First, how much (or little) will the Saints use Spiller – and Brandin Cooks, for that matter – on special teams as a returner? We know that Spiller can and has returned kicks and punts before, and that that quality made him appealing to the Saints as well as his ability to gash a defense for home runs. But his inclusion in the offensive gameplan possibly could affect his special teams usage. Second, Saunders has to show that he's more than a returner – unless, of course, he shows that he's a game-changing returner. It'd help his cause to show value as a receiver, but cracking the rotation at that position is going to be difficult behind Marques Colston, Cooks, Nick Toon, Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman. Saunders looked good – actually, a lot better than good – at the end of last season. But if the combination of Spiller, Cooks, Khiry Robinson and others prove they can handle the return duties, and they also are valuable rotation players, then the roster spot that Saunders possibly could occupy might be devoted to providing depth to another critical position.
Who will the Saints play at tight end? (via @melvinto1)
Josh Hill, and he's going to have an excellent year. No, he won't have the position all to himself (Benjamin Watson, entering his 12th season, looks like he has taken a dip in the Fountain of Youth). And Hill won't produce "Jimmy Graham" numbers – 80-plus catches, 1,100-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns. But he won't have to as the Saints spread the wealth on offense (there may be more rushing attempts for the backs, receiver Brandin Cooks could have a big sophomore season, Marques Colston is looking to return to form at receiver and running back C.J. Spiller needs touches in the passing game). Still, Hill looks like he has the goods. He's more athletic than people think and he'll surprise a few defenses.
What's a name of a player most fans don't know now, but will by the end of training camp? (via @Tonya1NYC)
Kyle Prater. He's a receiver, he didn't have an overly productive career at Northwestern, he doesn't have defense-busting speed and it's going to be an uphill battle for him to make the team. But at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, he's an imposing physical specimen. He appears to have good hands and if all that physicality can translate to when the team puts on pads, then Prater is a guy who could find himself on the Saints' practice squad, or someone else's.
Are you as excited about C.J. Spiller as the Who Dat Nation is? Can he honestly be better than Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush? (@thegutsysleeper)
Well, Sproles set the NFL single-season record for all-purpose yards as a Saint, and Bush was a vital part of New Orleans' Super Bowl-winning team. So Spiller has big cleats to fill if we're going to compare him to them, let alone say that he'll be better than them. But every indication is that he's as explosive, if not more so, than they were. You can almost see the wheels churning in mind of Coach Sean Payton when he talks about the ways the Saints will look to utilize Spiller's skills; mainly, get him the ball in space and watch him create magic. Too, the thought of him turning the corner or finding a lane is one that Payton and his staff envisioned when the Saints signed Spiller in free agency. The expectation is that he'll impact the defense with or without the ball, and he also can be a special asset in the return game. I don't want to say that he's going to be better, but I'm looking forward to watching him try because he has similar skills.
Can you arrange it for me and some of my friends to have a cold beer with Coach Payton and/or Rob Ryan? (via @tomdda)
Brokering cocktail hour? Hmm. Gonna hafta pass on that one. If you've been following the team for the past couple of seasons, you may have an idea where RR might be found from time to time, after games. But you didn't hear (or read) that from me.
Photos of Josh Hill from the 2014 season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)