Camp Opens: Saints Put Payton, Peterson On Public Display

New Orleans Saints Media Availability

When the New Orleans Saints gathered their full roster for training camp Wednesday (July 26), it will not be at plush Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia for the first time in four summers.

Instead, they are camping here in their suburban New Orleans headquarters. And the summer show, featuring head coach Sean Payton and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson fighting for their jobs, will be on public display for free.

The team will have 11 practices open to the public, but for the first time, free tickets will be required to gain entrance to the sessions. The practices from July 29-31, Aug. 2, Aug. 5-7, Aug. 12-14, Aug. 17-18, and a joint practice with the Houston Texans on Aug. 24 are open to the public.

The team will also hold practice sessions with the Los Angeles Chargers on Aug. 17-18 in California in advance of their Aug. 20 exhibition game.

After the team stumbled to a 7-9 finish for the third consecutive season last year, Payton is the subject of constant chatter about his job status. And 32-year old Peterson, one of the best running backs in NFL history, will battle for playing time against 27-year-old Mark Ingram, whose career suddenly blossomed last season with 1,043 rushing yards, 1,362 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. He tied Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys for fifth in the NFL with a career-high 5.1 yards per carry.

A year ago, Peterson was ranked as the fifth best player in the league by NFL Network. Then he missed 13 games last season (torn meniscus in knee) and became disposable by the Minnesota Vikings. He settled for a two-year contract with the Saints with only $3.5 million guaranteed.

But nobody expects Peterson to give up. He came off a torn ACL in 2012 and ran for more than 2,000 yards to win the league MVP award. In 2015, he led the NFL with 1,485 rushing yards at 30 years old.

 Peterson gets all the headlines, but Ingram will be hard to supplant because this is a team still driven by the passing talents of quarterback Drew Brees. Ingram has the advantage there. Ingram caught 96 catches over the past two seasons for a total of 724 yards and catching the ball is not considered one of Peterson's strengths, with his high point of 43 catches back in 2009, when he was only 24 years old.

Top Summer Battle

The Saints must improve against the pass after ranking dead last in the league in that category a year ago, which is why they used the 11th overall pick in the draft to grab Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

He will get a chance to make an impact early and will likely engage in a training camp battle with incumbent P.J. Williams on the right side while Delvin Breaux mans the left.

Williams missed his entire rookie season in 2015 with a hamstring injury and then won the starting job last summer in camp. But Williams suffered a severe head injury in Week 2 and landed on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

The Saints hope that Lattimore, the top cornerback available in the draft who was expected to go in the top five or six picks, will display his considerable talent and make a strong run at the starting job. The loser of the battle could be in line to be the No. 1 nickel back.


Saints Training Facility; Metairie, La.

Sean Payton
11th season as Saints/NFL head coach
100-70 overall; 6-4 postseason

2016 finish: 3rd NFC South (7-9)

TOTAL OFFENSE: 426.0 (1st)
RUSHING: 108.9 (16th)
PASSING: 317.1 (1st)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 375.4 (27th)
RUSHING: 101.6 (14th)
PASSING: 273.8 (32nd)

2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE - All times Central
Aug. 10, at Cleveland (Thu), 7:00
Aug. 20, at L.A. Chargers, 7:00
Aug. 26, HOUSTON (Sat), 7:00
Aug. 31, BALTIMORE (Thu), 7:00 


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Drew Brees. Backups - Chase Daniel, Ryan Nassib, Garrett Grayson. Entering the final year of a contract extension he received just before the start of the 2016 season, Brees is primed to have another solid year and prove he hasn't lost anything at the age of 38. Brees led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards a year ago and now needs just 5,829 yards to jump Peyton Manning as the league's all-time leader. He also threw 37 TDs to just 15 interceptions and compiled a passer rating of 101.7. Daniel returns after four years away and will likely be the backup with Nassib and Grayson, a former third-round draft pick, fighting for the third spot if Sean Payton keeps three on the roster -- which he has rarely done.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Mark Ingram, FB John Kuhn. Backups - Adrian Peterson, Travaris Cadet, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco, Trey Edmunds, FB John Robinson-Woodgett. Even though Ingram had his best season as a pro with 1,043 rushing yards and six TDs, not to mention his 319 receiving yards and four scores, the Saints had a chance to beef up their backfield even more when signed Peterson. While the compactly-built Ingram runs hard and aggressively, the Saints believe Peterson will bring a different dimension to the offense and the competition will be a big plus for the league's top offense last season. Cadet has been a handyman out of the backfield, but Kamara, a third-round draft pick, could give the Saints the wiggle they haven't had since the days of Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles. Lasco was a valuable special teams performer a year ago as a rookie.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Coby Fleener. Backups - Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui, John Phillips, Clay Harbor, Garrett Griffin. Despite being one of the Saints' top acquisitions last spring, Fleener didn't have the season many expected with 50 receptions for 631 yards and three TDs, but he'll likely have an expanded role after getting a taste of the high-powered offense he now is a part of. Hill and Hoomanawanui, who are both valued for their blocking ability, were plagued by injuries last season. Hill, who is a solid receiver as well, played in just nine games and Hoomanawanui spent the entire season on injured reserve. Phillips was also a capable reserve after being signed at midseason as a fill-in for Hill.

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. The Saints were so well-stacked here that they traded away their top field stretcher in Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots for a first-round draft pick. The decision to do that was made easier by the emergence of Thomas, a rookie second-round find who caught 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine TDs. Snead had a second consecutive solid season with 72 receptions and the Saints brought in Ginn to add a veteran presence to the group. Coleman and Lewis are good options as well, while Fuller has impressed since being snatched off the Detroit Lions' practice squad last December.

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 Cameron Tom, G Kristjan Sokoli, T Martin Wallace. Even though there is some concern here because of injuries to Unger (foot) and Armstead (shoulder), the Saints usually put together a solid group to protect Brees. That could be the case again with Ramczyk, the second of their two draft picks, ready to step in for Armstead and LeRibeus getting a chance to fill in for Unger until he returns late in training camp. Now in his third season, Peat seems to have found a home at left guard. Warford, a former Lions' standout, is a solid technician who will team up with Strief, a seven-year starter, to form a solid duo on the right side. Kelemete, Barnes and Harris provide veteran backup help along with LeRibeus.

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. The Saints were stunned by the loss of defensive tackle Nick Fairley for the season to a heart problem, but they still have a good group of players to plug into the rotation. It starts with Jordan, their best pass rusher with 46.5 sacks in his first six seasons, and Okafor, a pass-rusher who is getting a fresh start with the Saints after some good years with the Arizona Cardinals. Rankins, a 2016 first-round draft pick, and Davison, who came on last season to start 15 games, will have to hold down the middle along with Onyemata, a promising second-year pro, in Fairley's absence. Tapp and McDaniel are seasoned veterans and Kikaha, who is valued for his pass-rushing ability, is trying to come back after sitting out the 2016 season a torn ACL. Hendrickson and Muhammad will also get opportunities to help generate some pressure from the edge after the Saints recorded just 30 sacks a year ago.

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. Robertson and Stupar came up huge for the Saints last fall, but the need to beef up the position brought the team two quality UFAs in Klein and Te'o. Klein, a former Carolina Panthers' player, caught the eye of Saints' officials last year when he capably filled in for All-Pro Luke Kuechly when he was dealing with concussion issues. Te'o is coming off an injury-filled season with the Los Angeles Chargers and will get a chance to win the strong side spot opposite Ellerbe, who has sparkled when he can avoid the injury bug that has plagued him the past two seasons. Anthony will try to redeem himself after a poor season, while Anzalone hopes to make his mark as a third-round draft pick.

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. Even though they ranked 32nd against the pass, the Saints showed some improvement in not giving up as many explosive plays and touchdowns last season. It didn't help that Breaux and Williams combined to play in just eight games and Vaccaro, a hard-hitting player who can line up in multiple positions, missed the final four games because of an NFL suspension. The Saints used the 11th overall pick in this year's draft on Lattimore to help cover the dangerous wideouts they'll face in the NFC South. They're hoping they can stay injury-free in the back end and get more help from Bell, another hard hitter and Williams, a ball hawk whom they picked up in the second round. Moore was solid as an early-season pickup, while Crawley impressed as an undrafted free agent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Wil Lutz, P Thomas Morstead, LS Thomas Gafford, LS Chase Dominguez, KOR/PR Ted Ginn Jr., KOR/PR Tommylee Lewis. Lutz, a rookie, sparkled when he was signed shortly after the final cuts were made when he connected on 28 of 34 field-goal attempts despite having a few problems with some low-trajectory kicks. Still, Sean Payton loves Lutz's leg strength and stuck with him through some rough patches. Morstead had another solid season with a 48.3 gross average and 42.4 net average with only five touchbacks. Lutz and Morstead will have to work with a new snapper after veteran Justin Drescher was not re-signed, but Gafford, a 10-year veteran, could be the answer there. The Saints hope Ginn can give their anemic return game a lift after they averaged just 9.6 yards on punt returns and 16.5 yards on kickoffs last season even though Lewis gave them a spark here and there on punts.

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

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