5 Things We've Learned from New Orleans Saints' Minicamp
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The New Orleans Saints have now completed three weeks worth of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and three days worth of minicamp sessions (five in all) and have some time off before training camps begins in late July.
The fate of the appeals is still up in the air for Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith because of their roles in the bounty program that rocked New Orleans recently.
Quarterback Drew Brees is still a no-show and hasn't budged yet on his contract talks with the team concerning a long-term deal. Brees was slapped with the franchise tag but wants a significant deal to ensure his future in New Orleans with the Saints is financially lucrative and lengthy.
Even with those issues undecided, there were things learned from the minicamp sessions. Here are five things we've learned from Saints' minicamp.
Steve Spagnuolo Is Brining Zone Coverage to New Orleans
Forget about man-coverage schemes in New Orleans, Spagnuolo is installing a zone defense.
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The New Orleans Saints of the past ran a man-coverage scheme on defense. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is changing that to a zone and making a few other tweaks.
Linebacker Scott Shanle said the Saints new defense is "pretty different," but there is plenty of time for everyone to get on the same page.
"You're going from Gregg Williams who was a big man-pressure team to now were pressing from all different sorts of positions but now you have to know where you drop into zone," said Shanle. "[There are] more zone pressures. Last year I don't think we did any zone pressures with Gregg and now that's pretty much what the base defense is."
Spagnuolo is also getting very creative on the defensive line, moving Martez Wilson from linebacker to defensive end and sometimes loading the line with nothing but pass-rushing ends.
This new defense in New Orleans is going to attempt to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks without giving up big plays.
The Linebacker Situation Is Clearing Up
The LB picture is starting to take shape in New Orleans (photo courtesy of the Times-Picayune).
Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain were running with the first-team defense most of the time during minicamp, according to the Times-Picayune.
This is a pretty big difference from what was expected with Scott Shanle working as the "Sam" linebacker and Chamberlain and Hawthorne battling for the "Will" spot.
Hawthorne is a perennial 100-tackle backer and Chamberlain came over from St. Louis with Steve Spagnuolo. Maybe this shouldn't be that big of a surprise.
Spagnuolo is also going to cross-train the linebackers. Proof of this came on Day 2 of minicamp when Hawthorne was seen working with the second-team defense at middle linebacker. Apparently the team wants to see if Hawthorne can back up Lofton at the "Mike" spot.
Akiem Hicks Is Impressive but Verdict Is Still Not in
AKiem Hicks has impressed during OTAs and minicamp (photo courtesy of AP).
It's going to be some time before the verdict is out on rookie Akiem Hicks whom the Saints used a third-round selection on in the 2012 draft. But, if early indications are a sign, he'll do just fine.
Interim head coach Joe Vitt raved about what Hicks has done in OTAs and minicamp thus far, but warned that the true results wouldn't come for some time.
"With Hicks he's big, he's mobile, he can run, he can change gears, he's got good body control and balance, yeah we're really excited," said Vitt. "When we put the pads on, that's when we're going to find out what he's all about."
The Battle for WR4 Will Be Fierce
Adrian Arrington makes a catch during a 2011 preseason game against Houston.
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When Robert Meachem left for the San Diego Chargers via free agency, a hole was opened for someone to step up and become an integral part of the New Orleans Saints offense.
Adrian Arrington was thought to be the front-runner but rookie Nick Toon has stepped up with some competition. But don't forget Joseph Morgan and even undrafted rookie free agent Chris Givens.
Toon has looked exceptional in OTAs and minicamp, especially in goal-line situations where his size comes into play.
But before any receiver's name is etched in stone, don't forget that Drew Brees isn't in camp. Until he arrives and throws to each of these guys, no one's going to win the position battle. Because when it comes to a fourth receiver on the depth chart, Brees' comfort with the set of hands he throws at is very important.
Mark Ingram Will Be Ready by Training Camp
Mark Ingram on crutches at the BCS National Championship game.
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Running back Mark Ingram had offseason arthroscopic knee surgery but told the Times-Picayune that the procedure was "as minor as it gets."
Ingram said the scope was just something that needed to be done and he expects to be 100 percent healthy by the time training camp rolled around.
Also on the injury front, Ingram said the tendon issue in his big toe from last year has also cleared up and he expects that to be 100 percent by training camp too.