August 2, 2009

Training camp battles to watch in Metairie

Cornerback: Second year Tracy Porter and veteran Randall Gay have been running with the starters. But that should only last until newcomer Jabari Greer gets up to speed with the scheme. The Saints would prefer to have Gay covering the slot, though he may still start and then move inside on three receiver sets. Malcolm Jenkins is playing fourth fiddle without a contract, and may not crack the top three until midseason. Jenkins' absence is doing nothing to this battle, and by the time he arrives he may be competing with Leigh Torrence and Jason David instead of Randall Gay and Tracy Porter.

"Y" Receiver: With Marques Colston in no danger of losing his "X" receiver job barring injury, the competition between Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem is a good one. The Saints are young and fast at receiver. The "X" and "Y" designations mean less in Sean Payton's offense than in others, it means little to say wear they line up on any given play. Also, at this point, winning the confidence of Drew Brees is as important as Sean Payton or receivers coach Curtis Johnson. All four look to see significant time in reality, with second year receiver Adrian Arrington needing to get healthy if he stands any chance at all. The fifth and sixth receiver jobs will be playing special teams or returning kicks when they are active. Which leads us to...

Kickoff returner: Skyler Green, Pierre Thomas, Courtney Roby are the big players for this job. Green has a penchant for devastating mistakes, don't forget his fumble-for-TD in last year's close fought season finale. He's already reportedly had problems corralling punts in training camp. Green is an LSU hero but may not make this New Orleans team. Pierre Thomas has been very dangerous on kickoff returns, and Roby when healthy last year also ripped off a few impressive returns.

Backup Runningback: Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are 1a and 1b. Behind them, a cadre of eager, hungry runningbacks are hoping to stake their claim to the one facet that Thomas and Bush don't give - short yardage. Neither Thomas or Bush are excellent runners when it comes to overpowering the first tackler. This is a puzzlement, since Thomas regularly requires more than one defender to bring him down and Bush can usually make the first tackler miss. But third and one was a nightmare for the Saints last year, unless they were using Deuce McAllister. Veteran Mike Bell is joined by undrafted rookie free agents Herb Donaldson and PJ Hill, with second year runningback Lynell Hamilton also in the mix. All four contenders have size and power and two of them will probably make this team. Already set on the roster is Heath Evans, the Saints' new versatile fullback, who will also be taking some short yardage attempts.

Backup Left Defensive End: This "backup" will be starting the first four games. Bobby McCray is set to start at one of the positions, likely at right defensive end, while Will Smith and Charles Grant are suspended. Paul Spicer, Anthony Hargrove, and Jeff Charleston are in the mix for the other job. Undrafted rookie Jermy Parnell has been playing both tackle and end, what with his excellent size at 6'6, 278 pounds. Adding further intrigue is the possibility that even when Smith and Grant return from their suspensions, excellent play from the starters in the first four games could keep them on the bench past week five. McCray has been at times throughout his career an elite pass rusher, but hasn't been consistent enough.

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