Luckless Saints Marching In Wrong Direction

New Orleans Saints v Washington Redskins

The first pass has yet to be thrown in training camp, but the New Orleans Saints will need to fix several glaring problems on both sides of the line of scrimmage when they hit the practice fields for the first time on July 27.

For a team that stumbled to a 7-9 finish for a third consecutive season and had 17 players on the various reserve lists at season's end, the off-season has been anything but kind to the Saints as they attempted to rebound and get back on track in the NFC South for a run at their first playoff berth since 2013.

The bad news came early and often for the Saints in the first couple of months after coach Sean Payton, the subject of ample speculation concerning his job status a second year in a row, squashed the talk and rolled up his sleeves to prepare for his 11th season with the club.

First, steady center Max Unger had to undergo surgery in April when a foot injury that he played with the latter part of the 2016 season didn't heal on its own. If all goes well, Unger, the leader of an offensive line that has protected Drew Brees so well for years, could be back toward the end of the exhibition season.

But the rest of the news wasn't so positive.

The Saints lost defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was coming off a breakout season in which he earned a four-year, $28 million contract. A heart condition discovered after Fairley took his physical when he signed his new deal landed him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list for the season.

That was a hard one for the Saints to swallow considering the season Fairley had and the fact that they were expecting him to do even better things as they try to steady a defense that has been anything but stellar during their three straight losing seasons.

Finally, left tackle Terron Armstead, who protects Brees' blind side, went down with a shoulder injury in their veteran minicamp in June and could be sidelined until early December if early estimates are accurate.


Improve in the secondary. The Saints are always looking for help in the secondary and this off-season was no exception after they ranked 32nd last season in allowing 273.8 passing yards per game. Part of that can be attributed to injuries to starting cornerbacks Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams, who played in just six and two games, respectively. Getting them to mesh with first-round draft pick Marshon Lattimore, the top cornerback coming out this spring, will be a major key for the Saints as they search for ways to stop the big and talented wideouts they'll see in the NFC South for at least six games -- namely Atlanta's Julio Jones, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans.

Get the offensive line in sync early. The Saints will be without one of the league's top young left tackles in Terron Armstead, who could be out until December with a shoulder injury, and center Max Unger, who may return during training camp after having foot surgery in April. The Saints are also working with a new right guard in Larry Warford, who was signed in free agency to replace Jahri Evans. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk, the second of their two first-round draft picks this spring, could slide in at left tackle for Armstead despite coming off hip surgery in January, and Josh LeRibeus, who started 11 games for the Washington Redskins two years ago but was out of football last season, will likely get a shot at stepping in for Unger early on.

Replace defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley was a rock last season against the run and pass with 50 total tackles and 6.5 sacks, which ranked second on the team behind defensive end Cameron Jordan's 7.5. But after being rewarded with a new four-year contract this spring, Fairley won't be able to play this season because of a heart condition that he played with for the first six years of his career. The Saints will likely rely heavily on 2016 first-round draft pick Sheldon Rankins, who showed positive signs after missing the first half of his rookie season with a fractured ankle, and Tyeler Davison, a former fifth-round draft pick who excelled in his second season and started 15 games. The Saints also signed veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel to help out.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Drew Brees. Backups - Chase Daniel, Ryan Nassib, Garrett Grayson.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Mark Ingram, FB John Kuhn. Backups - Adrian Peterson, Travaris Cadet, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco, Marcus Murphy, Trey Edmunds, FB John Robinson-Woodgett.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Coby Fleener. Backups - Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui, John Phillips, Clay Harbor, Garrett Griffin.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Michael Thomas, Willie Snead IV. Backups - Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis, Jake Lampman, Corey Fuller, Travin Dural, Justin Thomas, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Rashad Lawrence.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ryan Ramczyk, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, RT Zach Strief. Backups - T Terron Armstead (injured), G/C Senio Kelemete, T Khalif Barnes, C Josh LeRibeus, T Bryce Harris, OL Landon Turner, C Jack Allen, OL John Fullington, C Chris Watt, C Cameron Tom.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Cameron Jordan, DT Sheldon Rankins, DT Tyeler Davison, DRE Alex Okafor. Backups - DE Darryl Tapp, DE Hau'oli Kikaha, DT David Onyemata, DT Tony McDaniel, DE Obum Gwacham, DE Trey Hendrickson, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DT Ashaad Mabry, DE Mitchell Loewen, DT Devaroe Lawrence, DT Justin Zimmer.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Dannell Ellerbe, MLB A.J. Klein, SLB Manti Te'o. Backups - MLB Craig Robertson, OLB Nate Stupar, OLB Stephone Anthony, OLB Alex Anzalone, MLB Sae Tautu, OLB Adam Bighill.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Delvin Breaux, RCB P.J. Williams, FS Vonn Bell, SS Kenny Vaccaro, Backups - CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Sterling Moore, S Marcus Williams, CB Ken Crawley, S Rafael Bush, CB Damian Swann, CB De'Vante Harris, S Chris Banjo, S Erik Harris, CB Taveze Calhoun, S Robenson Therezie, CB Arthur Maulet.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Wil Lutz, P Thomas Morstead, LS Thomas Gafford, LS Chase Dominguez, KOR/PR Ted Ginn Jr., KOR/PR Tommylee Lewis.

Copyright © 2017 TTWN Media Networks Inc. Photo: Getty Images

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