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Summary from the Final Week of Camp
Coach Sean Payton has landed on Jameis Winston as Drew Brees’ successor. Many considered this a foregone conclusion, as Winston offers the best chance to attack defenses downfield. Winston possesses a cannon arm, as seen in his dazzling showing (9-of-10 for 123 yards and two touchdowns) against the Cardinals. As ESPN’s Mike Triplett puts it, the goal is to maximize Winston’s arm talent while minimizing the mistakes he was known for in Tampa Bay. Taysom Hill will always have a role in the offense; Payton adores his versatility. “[The team] will almost certainly keep designing packages for him as a read-option quarterback, runner, and pass-catcher,” Triplett opines.
Alvin Kamara comes out of camp healthy and projects as the offensive focal point. And even with the downfield-minded Jameis Winston taking the reins at quarterback, Kamara’s outlook for volume is as promising as ever. “When you have a running back as talented as him, you make it a focal point to get guys like him the ball,” Winston said during camp. “In my career, I’ve had dominant pass-catchers at the receiver position and at the tight end position. I’ve had great running backs, but not as dynamic as Alvin Kamara out of the backfield and in the slot position.” The real drama lies behind him, where Latavius Murray’s hold on the No. 2 role is tenuous. The team would save $2.3 million against the cap by cutting him loose, while Tony Jones has electrified throughout the preseason. His play allowed the team to veteran Devonta Freeman. Mainstay reserve Dwayne Washington should be safe given his special teams contributions.
Michael Thomas is reportedly ahead of the game in his recovery. He’s still expected to miss at least the first month or so, which kicks open a door for camp superstar Marquez Callaway to shine. Callaway has dazzled throughout camp with his ability to win all over the field – even against top cornerback Marshon Lattimore. In the final preseason game, he caught two spectacular touchdowns from Winston, showing off deep-ball tracking skills not even Thomas can boast. Callaway has earned a prominent role even when Thomas returns. His vertical skills mesh well with Winston’s downfield, attacking style. The same goes for Tre'Quan Smith, who’s produced 14 touchdowns through the first 80 catches of his career. But Smith has missed most of camp with injuries of his own, and despite the new opportunity, he’s a risky proposition. If his current hamstring woes linger into the season, it’ll open up snaps for the likes of Deonte Harris, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, and Ty Montgomery.
The tight end depth chart was ravaged by injury in the final preseason game, with starter Adam Trautman and blocking specialist Nick Vannett likely missing several weeks. Trautman will see a foot specialist this week, though the injury is believed to be minor. Vannett will miss two to four weeks. The team will likely audition veterans in light of the injuries; there are some bold ideas from the beat writers. If there’s a silver lining, the injuries free up camp darling Juwan Johnson to soak up all the work he can handle. Johnson, a converted wideout who saw snaps for the Saints last year, can now convert his buzz into a regular offensive role. Beat writer Katherine Terrell expects Johnson to seize the opportunity and win the depth chart game for Week 1.
Facing down the post-Drew Brees era, it may be the defense that provides the team’s new identity. They’ve lost a few starters but looked thoroughly dominant in the preseason, smothering the Jaguars’ and Ravens’ starting offenses. However, if there’s a weak point entering Week 1, Mike Triplett thinks it’s at the all-important tackle spots. Emerging star David Onyemata is suspended for the first few weeks, and impressive rookie Jalen Dalton was just lost for the season. Still, there’s no reason to panic over this well-stocked unit.
Deonte Harris is one of the NFL’s best return specialists but was arrested in July for driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. If he faces an NFL suspension, Marquez Callaway will fill in.
Summary from Week 3 of Camp
The starting quarterback race may still be wide open, but Jameis Winston made an emphatic statement in the second preseason game. He isn’t the most polished passer, but he showed Monday the experience and arm talent he brings compared to Taysom Hill. Winston played the first quarter and hit on 9-of-10 throws for 123 yards and two long touchdowns to Marquez Callaway. Both Winston and Hill have had ups and downs, which is no surprise. But Winston has shown he offers coach Sean Payton the better chance at a pro-style, downfield-oriented attack. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler expected Monday’s game to serve as a final audition of sorts for Winston. “I’m told he should get a healthy run at quarterback this week… [the Saints] want to flip-flop Hill and Winston. He can start to try to take ownership of this job.” If that’s indeed the case, then it’s hard to imagine Winston didn’t secure the Week 1 start.
Offensive cornerstone Alvin Kamara may well be done for the preseason, which should be no surprise. He sat out last year’s exhibitions and looked just fine once the games mattered. The complementary job behind Kamara, which has produced 349 touches over the past two years, appears to be entirely up for grabs. Latavius Murray has filled the role competently over that span but faces stiff competition in his age-31 camp. He may have already lost the job altogether while plodding to just 12 yards on nine rushes over the two preseason games. Free agent Devonta Freeman joined the team four weeks ago, and he’s brought marginal competition, though NOLA’s Jeff Duncan feels his roster odds are complicated. The real threat for the No. 2 job is Tony Jones, who has erupted for one chunk run after another, both in practice and in the games. Sports Illustrated’s Kyle Mosley even thinks Jones has put both Murray and Freeman – or at least one of them – on notice.