New Orleans Saints: 9 Biggest Winners & Losers of OTAs so Far
As the New Orleans Saints wrapped up their three-day minicamp Thursday afternoon at the team's practice facility on Airline Drive in Metairie amid severe heat, coaches and players were as praiseworthy as a gospel choir on a Sunday morning.
The job then, of a faithful analyst, is to wade through the fluff and talk to get to the truth of what really happened this week at Saints camp, especially as it relates to training camp battles, roster spots and playing time in the 2012 Saints season.
Once that is done successfully, we can compile a list of winners and losers as it relates to our task mentioned above. And here are the results of such work.
Loser No. 1: QB Chase Daniel
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With a bevy of his passes being tipped and knocked down at the line during Wednesday's team sessions, Chase Daniel has shown he isn't Drew Brees. And that's just in practice.
One doesn't even need a keen eye to notice Brees' incredible anticipation and pocket awareness to slide and create throwing lanes within the Saints offense. Daniel is more than capable of that, but he has yet to exhibit such qualities on a consistent basis.
If he doesn't improve in said area, the Saints offense will not live up to its potential under the leadership of Daniel (that's all considering that somehow the Saints do not re-sign Drew Brees long-term before the season).
In that regard, I include a bonus winner: the person of Drew Brees. With some of Daniel's struggles, the Saints are surely scrambling to get Brees back on the field. Of course, the team wanted him before, but now the team has to be uneasy about the possibility of Daniel even taking the reins of this team into training camp.
Drew Brees' experience and leadership is needed NOW!
Loser No. 2: DB Corey White
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With the addition of Elbert Mack, it looks as if Corey White has little chance to obtain a spot higher than fifth on the cornerback depth chart. Likely the Saints realized they had overdrafted on the kid from Southern and found the best veteran corner they could to add the necessary depth at the corner spot.
Mack is almost a certainty to make the roster in September, while White is no guarantee. He likely will make the roster, if for no other reason than the team feeling they have to keep him on the team because of where they drafted him.
Then again, since the Sean Payton era began, there has been a huge emphasis placed on how the player performs in camp, not when he was selected or where he came from. That means undrafted free agents are given the same opportunity to make a team as a first-round draft pick.
None of that theory works in White's favor. If he isn't one of the 53 best at the end of August, White will not make the Saints roster. It's as simple as that.
Loser No. 3: Zach Strief
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With Zach Strief sidelined by injury during OTAs, Charles Brown is filling in at right tackle and getting needed reps. Offensive linemen aren't going to win any battles when the team isn't even working with pads.
But the reps should help Brown develop quicker than if he were working with "the twos." And if he develops quickly, he can easily can take over for Strief due to his superior athleticism and size.
Strief figures to make the team regardless, but it's certainly possible he could lose his starting spot and thus his playing time.
Loser No. 4: QB Sean Canfield
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With credible reports swirling Thursday afternoon the Saints had signed former Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown, Sean Canfield's job security was weakened to a great degree.
McCown has had some success in the NFL and even has the potential to backup Drew Brees ahead of Chase Daniel. Canfield has never found success in New Orleans, and he appears to have had his best NFL days, which unfortunately for him was getting some late playing time in preseason games.
McCown will almost certainly win a roster spot on the Saints roster since he knows the main elements of the offense and even at an advanced age has more gas in the tank than Canfield.
Winner No. 1: Nickel Corner Johnny Patrick
Though the New Orleans Saints just brought in former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Elbert Mack for corner depth, Johnny Patrick has emerged in the team's offseason training sessions looking like the obvious choice to play the nickel position, at least when defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo elects not to use Malcolm Jenkins there.
Because the Saints offense is so dynamic and explosive, the Saints are likely to hold the lead for a large percentage of their defensive possessions in 2012. And that means lots of passing by opposing offenses, which lends itself to the Saints being essentially forced into playing lots of nickel and dime defense.
If all of this holds true, Patrick will get plenty of reps throughout the regular season.
Winner(s) No. 2: TE(s) Michael Higgins (& Dave Thomas)
Michael Higgins was signed by the New Orleans Saints at the end of the 2011 season as the team went into the NFC playoffs. No one expected Higgins to be much of a threat, yet in limited opportunities Higgins actually showed he has a future with the Saints as a third tight end.
In OTAs and minicamp, he has continued to trend upward, and at this point he is all but a lock for a roster spot coming out of the fall training camp. Behind David Thomas and Jimmy Graham, playing time will likely be sparse, but Pete Carmichael will undoubtedly figure a way to include Higgins in the game plan just as Sean Payton has done for years with multiple tight ends.
Thomas remains versatile in his ability move into the backfield as a fullback and play out wide as a receiver. That flexibility causes nightmares for defenses and makes the Saints offense much better as a whole.
Both players have shown off tremendous ability in OTAs, and as a result, the tight end position figures to be one of the strongest positions on the roster in 2012.
Winner No. 3: S Jerico Nelson
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Jerico Nelson is a rookie safety out of Arkansas who hails from New Orleans (Destrehan High School). He has a chance to become the first native Saint to make the team since Devery Henderson.
In OTAs, Nelson has looked like a viable option when the team shifts to the nickel package and wants to play three safeties at once. That's not to say that Nelson will get the call in the nickel package, but his ability to field that call and roll with it make him a worthy roster experiment at the worst.
At best, Nelson could be another fine college free agent added by Mickey Loomis and his staff in the Sean Payton era.
Winner No. 4: Cameron Jordan
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During the Saints' OTAs, Steve Spagnuolo has regularly placed Cameron Jordan at defensive tackle alongside fellow defensive end Will Smith. Most of the time this was done in nickel situations.
Both are the types of players who would fit well as five-technique defensive ends, thus making them the perfect fit for a nickel defensive tackle.
Because of this, Sed Ellis and Brodrick Bunkley could both be seen as losers in OTAs as they figure to lose playing time, especially with the team likely to be in the nickel package much of the time.
Winner No. 5: WR/Returner Joseph Morgan
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I've been talking much lately about Joseph Morgan taking over for Darren Sproles as the kick returner and/or punt returner. It seems almost inevitable that will happen.
What I didn't expect is to hear that Morgan was making a realistic push for playing time at wide receiver. Coaches have said he reminds them of a young Robert Meachem as a deep threat. That is the element the team has been hoping to recover since it lost Meachem at the beginning of the free-agency period to the San Diego Chargers.
Morgan has looked smooth in his route-running and catching the football. And at 6'1" he has better size than most people realize when they see him blazing down the field in the return game.
He may be the biggest winner of the Saints OTAs at this point in the year.