August 5, 2003

Training Camp So Far

Training camp 2003 so far has to be a success for the New Orleans Saints: no major injuries, no major disappointments, a few pleasant surprises and a victory over the elements.

Thanks to the indoor training facility, which has been one of the top performers of camp so far, the Saints have missed several minutes of practice time, instead of several practices. The new artificial surface, FieldTurf, provides the Saints a preview of what will be in the Superdome some time in the next calendar year.


As they come to mind from what I have seen and heard...

QB Tory Woodbury will likely win a spot on the team. It may not be at the expense of JT O'Sullivan's job, because Woodbury is a weapon on special teams. The best thing for Woodbury, a third year player out of Winston-Salem, would be to concentrate on being a passer and work on the accuracy issues that has haunted him since his college days.

Rookies TE Zachary Hilton and G Chad Setterstrom will at least make the Saints' practice squad, if not some other team's 53-man roster. The only things standing in their way is injury, which has been an issue for Setterstrom.

If only Derrick Lewis, Kareem Kelly or Talman Gardner would step up, the decision on which ones to keep would be so much easier. One of them will be the Saints' fifth receiver, and another could force the team to keep six wideouts. That would happen if that player the Saints want to keep wouldn't stay on the practice squad. Other teams may sign a practice squad player to their active roster at any time, and a player like Talman Gardner wouldn't likely be overlooked by the other 31 teams again, especially now that his criminal past is much more clear than it was in April.

KR/WR Michael Lewis has a lot to play for in terms of his 2004 income, but not as much as people think. Another Pro Bowl kick returning Lewis, former Baltimore Raven Jermaine, received only $1 million over three years from the Jaguars. As good as he is, Lewis shouldn't expect much more than that. It is likely that Lewis will hit the open market next spring, and why shouldn't he? An agent would be foolish to accept a deal right now from the Saints, because barring a disastrous return to his fumbling ways, Lewis would be in a position to be richly overpaid by a team desperate for a return game in 2004.

The Saints had $10 million in signing bonus money on the table to #6 overall pick DT Johnathan Sullivan before training camp, and the rookie was wise to refuse. A day later, a source close to the negotiations tells me, Carolina gave #8 overall pick T Jordan Gross in the neighborhood of $10.4 million up front.

Before the draft, Jim Haslett said that he wouldn't want to trade up because signing a top 10 overall pick would be more expensive than signing two late-teen picks. He was right. For example, Sullivan received $11.4 million in guaranteed money. #17 and #18 overall picks to Arizona, WR Bryant Johnson and DE Calvin Pace, received $5 to $5.5 million in guaranteed money each.

Not that I'm implying that Arizona got the better end of the deal. Johnson and Pace would have likely been around when Arizona picked in the second round, where they would have demanded roughly $2 million in guaranteed money each. The Saints also moved up in the second and stole a fourth round pick in the deal, which turned into a pair of future starters on the offensive line in Jon Stinchcomb and Montrae Holland. Of course, we'll know who really got the better end of trade in three years.




Brutus writes... Will the saints be adding any more players before the season starts? Love your column, just wish you'd write more often. -brutus

William: I am still surprised that the Saints didn't make a move for a veteran strong safety. That non-action speaks loads of the coaches' confidence in Mel Mitchell. I'm also happy to see them feel well enough with depth on the offensive line. I think the only move that will happen is additional talent at runningback. I hope they don't make another mistake in trading for a guy after the preseason and reducing his value to the team because of all the catch-up time. They need to find somebody via trade or waivers now if they intend to. Especially after a dismal scrimmage, everyone has to be wary of the depth behind Deuce McAllister. Unheralded Walt Williams probably looked the best, although that doesn't say much and he too had some errors. We didn't see the guy who is most talented, Tavian Banks, because the vet is fighting off injuries.

Little doubt in my mind that the Saints will go out and grab somebody before the end of camp who will make the team. Just not sure where on the depth chart.


IowaSaint writes... Big fan of Tavian Banks from his college days. What are his chances of making this team? -iowasaint

William: Banks almost signed with the Saints in July 2002 if you remember, after he had a pretty good workout. But he decided to wait another season and semi-retire. Back in action, he's had a decent offseason when he's on the field. Banks is currently fighting off a hamstring injury. As I wrote earlier, he's probably the most talented runningback on the roster behind McAllister, but he won't play if he can't get and stay healthy.

Banks' training camp with the Saints, much in part thanks to his Jacksonville history with Rick Mueller, is to his benefit a tryout for the other 31 teams.


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