NOPF's Kenny Wilkerson: The Saints will hit the field Thursday, Friday and Saturday for their final work before training camp starts on July 27th.
The fans are expected to be in force on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. If the practices are even remotely close to what has been going on for the past four weeks in coaching sessions, then the fans are in for a real treat.
First, lets start with the Saints #1 draft choice Donte Stallworth. By all accounts the guy has what it takes and has had a solid spring. Whether he is called upon to go long or over the middle he does it. He catches the ball and he remembers his routes and runs them well. Of course he hasn't had an NFL safety or linebacker lay him out yet, so nobody really knows for sure what will happen with him.
The feeling at Saints camp is that this guy has what it takes. When a rookie gets rave reviews from everyone around here, then he usually works out. You start to worry about a guy when he comes to practice and you hear other players and coaches saying things like, "He'll be fine," or "We will take our time with him," or the oldie but goodie, "Once he gets the playbook down and our terminology, the sky's the limit." Nobody is saying things like that about Stallworth.
The most repeated quote on Stallworth is "this guy Donte can play." So keep an eye on the rookie from Tennessee, he'll be fun to watch.
Also tight end David Sloan has caught the attention of coaches and players. Sloan is a proven veteran, and as long as he stays on the field should be a huge addition. He already has gained the respect of his teammates and Brooks seems to be looking his way quite often.
Speaking of, it's a bigger stronger Aaron Brooks is behind center these days. He has somewhat changed his setup under center, and is keeping the ball higher to his chest as he sets up. Mike Sheppard is trying to get him away from that side-arm sling that he used to do on a regular basis. Sheppard should help Brooks grow as camp rolls on, but more importantly Sheppard should be a huge help during games. The feeling around the players and coaches is that we have seen Brooks come off the field smiling after an interception for the last time. Sheppard will be on the sidelines with Aaron as he goes on and off the field.
A no-show at the last minicamp, Joe Horn has been at the Saints headquarters working and will be there this weekend. Hollywood Horn has had his usual good practices for the past four weeks. All it takes for Joe is to have something driving him and he will take off for you. All that contract stuff a few weeks back was a bunch of baloney and Joe knows it. He has been a key player for the Saints in the past two years and he knows it. The team knows it as well, and that is why Horn has put over six million in the bank in 2 years. If he plays well and remains the #1 receiver he will be rewarded, and he finally has figured that out. It doesn't matter if his production numbers come down, because the team has put more weapons on the field with him. What will matter after this season is that he remains the #1 guy.
As far as the rest of the offense... Who knows about the offensive line. You can never really tell much till the heavy gear goes on. The running backs don't really tell you much till the pre season games and you get a chance to see if they can -and how often- they can break tackles.
Defensively, Airline drive is all a buzz over Dale Carter. The word is that if he stays clean he will be yet another huge addition. Carter has worked out for the past four weeks with no problems, and has made his job look easy. His cover ability is in a league of its own. Carter has routinely makes plays and should give the fans a lot to see this weekend.
Just about everyone feels good about the defense but many questions will be answered in Thibodaux:
Can Charles Grant be a starter? Can James Allen help? What about Kevin Mathis, will he be able to hit? Does Grady Jackson like burgers more than football?
One question that has already been answered is Norman Hand. Can he return to the slimmer, stronger form he had in 2000? Hand has already lost 30 pound and has five more to go. He has pretty much proven to his teammates that he's back. We certainly all hope so, because with Hand in the middle playing the best he can, the Saints are a completely different defense.
Another huge question is if anyone can step up and take Joe Johnson's place. Rookie Charles Grant and Whitehead will get a chance but odds are that they will split time.
Practices the past few weeks have had the usual Jim Haslett fast tempo and the team has worked at a tough pace. What the fans will see come Friday afternoon is a team that is far from polished, but even farther from a team that has gone through so many changes in the past six months.