Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saints Nation: 10 Things to Look For As Training Camp Approaches

With training camp right around the corner and just a couple weeks away, here's a few things we should be on the lookout for:

1. Who will win the battle to start at strong side linebacker? The favorites are promising youngster Jo-Lonn Dunbar and veteran Clint Ingram, but don't rule out Stanley Arnoux either. There is literally no way of telling at this point how that will play out, so the Saints will have to settle that on the practice field.

2. Who will be the #2 quarterback? Is Patrick Ramsey definitely coming to the Saints? If so, will he be a reliable backup, or is he washed up? Can Chase Daniel and/or Sean Canfield handle that kind of responsibility so early in their career? Lots of questions there with Mark Brunell now gone.

3. How much will Jimmy Graham contribute? It seems like all Saints fans are ready to annoint Graham as an immediate contributor to the offense, and the heir apparent to Shockey. That said, Graham is relatively new to football (basketball was his primary sport), and it may take him a while to adjust. He could just as easily end up on the practice squad. Don't forget the #2 guy at tight end right now is David Thomas. Graham isn't going to just steal playing time from Thomas without playing extremely well.

4. Who starts next to Sedrick Ellis at defensive tackle? Remi Ayodele is the incumbent starter, but he'll get pushed by Anthony Hargrove, DeMario Pressley, Al Woods and others. I also wouldn't be shocked to see the Saints add another veteran to the mix as camp progresses. Ayodele got better and better as the season progressed last year but he'll need to continue that trend.

5. Can Jermon Bushrod perform at a consistent level at left tackle? I for one was thrilled to see the Saints draft Charles Brown because he'll provide depth at left tackle and I knew Jammal Brown was long gone. This at least gives the Saints some options if Bushrod can't cut it. Bushrod did a good job filling in last year for injury, but the question is can he handle the load as a true full time starter?

6. Will the Saints come back hungry after winning the Super Bowl? Some teams come back stronger, while others come back hungover. The Saints will be circled on everyone's calendar this year and everyone will be gunning for them. There's a new pressure that comes with being Super Bowl champions and every team handles it differently. Can the Saints come back with the same desire to succeed as they had when they had never been crowned champions? I think they will.

7. Can the Saints get production out of the defensive end position opposite Will Smith? Charles Grant has been a disaster for the Saints ever since he signed his long term extension. Bobby McCray's bad back prevented him from getting quality reps last year. Both are now gone. Alex Brown appears to be the main man in charge of improving play at defensive end. Jimmy Wilkerson was an offseason addition as well. Brown is getting older, though, and Wilkerson is coming off a major injury. It's no given they'll be an upgrade so they'll have to come ready to play.

8. Will the departure of Mike Bell hurt the Saints? My thinking is not really, but Bell did provide a huge boost to the Saints' power running game, especially early in the season last year when the Saints were playing arguably their best football of the season. Lynell Hamilton showed some good things later in the season, and he is hopefully ready to fill that void. I have to imagine this will also mean increased reps for Pierre Thomas. It may be tougher for the Saints to impose their running game without Bell.

9. Will Darren Sharper be as good in 2010? That microfracture surgery scared me a little bit. Obviously he wasn't able to garner much interest on the open market despite arguably the best season of his career based on the contract he signed with the Saints. Sharper was already a step slow at times last year. Will that be even more pronounced after the surgery? Will he come back better? He's getting up there in age. The fact that the staff officially moved Malcolm Jenkins to free safety tells us the changing of the guard is coming soon. Whether that'll be this season, next season, or later remains to be seen. I'm thinking this is probably Sharper's last year in New Orleans.

10. Can the team stay relatively healthy? Injuries are the X factor for every single NFL team entering every season. You know they are going to happen, and you know you'll need role players and backups to step up into more prominent roles because of them. You just hope you can stay relatively healthy and avoid injuries to your main superstars. The Saints were able to absorb injuries to Billy Miller, Jammal Brown, Shockey, Bell, Pierre Thomas, Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Scott Fujita, Charles Grant, Lance Moore and others during various points in the season last year. Fortunately, though, most of those players were able to come back at some point in the season, and the Saints never suffered an injury to #9. That's the key, obviously, more than anything else. No team in the league can really absorb the loss of their starting quarterback. The Saints did suffer a rash of injuries at the cornerback position especially last year, though, and their play began to suffer greatly as the season progressed. At different points in the season, Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister had to start off the streets because the Saints had no one healthy to throw out there. You just have to hope for a little luck in that department. 

Other stuff: Something is going on with the blogger poll app, so I took it down. It's not working right now for whatever reason. I'll have to put up the vote on who starts at SLB once that's fixed. Sorry about that!

I'm about half way through Sean Payton's book so expect a review as soon as I'm down with it.