5 Things We've Learned so Far from New Orleans Saints OTAs
The New Orleans Saints have a week’s worth of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) under their belts and three weeks to get 10 optional sessions completed.
Absent from OTAs thus far was quarterback Drew Brees who is locked in a fierce contract negotiation with the team after being hit with the franchise tag. While it’s bad news for the Saints to have Brees elsewhere, backup Chase Daniel can do nothing but benefit from the extra reps.
After the absence of Brees, there are position battles going on and a new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, to get acquainted with.
Here are five things we’ve learned from Saints OTAs thus far.
3 Battle for Nickel Spot
The Saints lost Tracy Porter to Denver via free agency. Instead of opening his spot for competition, the team seems satisfied that Patrick Robinson can take Porter’s spot.
That said, there will be three players vying for time as the New Orleans nickelback: Johnny Patrick, Marquis Johnson and Corey White.
Patrick seems to be the early favorite, but Johnson has experience with Spagnuolo in St. Louis. He’s also on record saying he’s determined to win the job.
With so many good quarterbacks in the NFC South, and the NFL moving more and more towards a pass-first league, the nickel job is very important. Some teams even consider the nickel corner a starting role.
LB Roles Emerge, Chris Chamberlain Is Odd Man out
Linebacker Chris Chamberlain came over from St. Louis to New Orleans in the offseason. The Saints were in a state of flux because they didn’t know how many players would be hit with suspensions, and the coaching staff wanted to add depth and competition.
Chamberlain also had history with new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Once OTA’s started in New Orleans, however, Chamberlain was watching from the sidelines when the first-team defense was on the field.
Curtis Lofton was the "Mike" linebacker, David Hawthorne the will, while Scott Shanle worked at the "Sam." When the Saints employed their nickel package in practice, Shanle came off and Lofton and Hawthorne worked in the 4-2-5 set.
WR Nick Toon Has Impressed WR Corps
With Robert Meachem gone to San Diego, the New Orleans Saints need a new fourth wide receiver. Now you may scoff at the fourth guy on most depth charts, but that still a valuable role in the spread-the-wealth New Orleans offense.
Rookie Nick Toon is set to battle Adrian Arrington for the empty spot. While Arrington has the pro experience, Toon might have the edge because of what he's showing on the field.
Lance Moore has already taken notice of Toon, saying he's "definitely talented" and can "be a great asset and somebody that can make a lot of plays for us."
The coaching staff has also already marveled at Toon's speed and route-running skills, and that was during rookie minicamp. As he gets more experience under his belt with the Saints he should blossom.
Martez Wilson Is Cross-Training at DE
The New Orleans Saints were definitely not one of the better pass-rush teams in the league, especially from the front-four positions. In an effort to enhance their ability to get after opposing quarterbacks, the Saints are looking for help in other areas of their roster.
Linebacker Martez Wilson was supposed to challenge for time at weak-side linebacker. But the Saints asked him to spend OTA's working at defensive end. So far, interim head coach Joe Vitt likes what he sees out of the potential speed rusher.
Wilson spent the sessions at right end and has enamored the coaching staff with his speed. But Vitt reminded the media that this was an experiment.
"He will be a right end. He does a pretty good job with pattern recognition, and we will take a look at that. This is the time to experiment and see what people can do. So far, it has been pretty good."
Saints Will Play More Zone Under Spagnuolo
One of the changes new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will make in 2012 to the New Orleans Saints defense is to put the team in more zone schemes.
Spagnuolo feels that the Saints gave up too many big plays last year. Working from a zone will keep more plays in front of the defense, and sound tackling will limit long gains.
If Spagnuolo can find ways to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with his front-four—something that he's known for being a very accomplished strategist at—the Saints will have a much easier time working from a zone.