After Sunday's night win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame game, the New Orleans Saints got the huge gorilla that was this offseason's adversities (bounties, Drew Brees' contract) off of their shoulders for now, but there are still questions that remain with every player on the roster.
There are currently 90 men that are on this Saints squad, but most of the undrafted rookies and fringe veterans aren't who we will be taking a look at. It will be the players who are either guaranteed to be on the team this season or have a fighting chance of not ending up cut or on the practice squad.
No stars are left out. No matter if you sign a $100-million contract or a $10-million one, there are always questions entering a new season.
Will the $100-million man become complacent after getting paid?
How many ways can I say no here? The day Brees signed his contract, Zach Strief was filling in on a radio show that week and was telling a story about a former Saints player who got paid big-time, and never panned out.
That guy was Jonathan Sullivan. The story went that after Sullivan signed his contract and anytime he was asked if "it was time to earn it," he would just spout off "11.5, 11.5," referring to his bonus.
I doubt you will hear that from Brees. He usually works best when people doubt him, and they are starting to do it again with the contract holdout and new deal. Bad news for the league.
Can he provide enough "fireworks" in the preseason to warrant trade offers?
The Saints would be best served to put their best tradable assets out for the league to see, and, yes, with a good preseason Daniel could raise his stock, especially if starting quarterbacks start going down.
Luke McCown, last year's starter for Jacksonville opening day, could fill in nicely behind Drew Brees and the Saints could pick up draft picks that are always needed.
Could a solid preseason make the aforementioned Daniel expendable?
McCown has some solid years left, and he is a local guy who played his college ball at Louisiana Tech. He didn't get to play in the first preseason game, but look for him to get plenty of reps in the upcoming weeks. He has been a starter in this league and can still sling it when needed.
How many times will he be cut and resigned this season?
Poor Canfield. He's been signed and released more times then Kirstie Alley's dietitian.
Just this past season alone he was cut and added back to the roster 17 times for a total of 34 transactions over the period of four months. Let's hope he went back to Office Depot and stocked up on pens for all that paperwork!
Being fully healthy since his Heisman campaign a few years ago, can Ingram emerge as an elite-level running back?
Ingram is coming into this camp in great shape, and it showed in his carries in the Hall of Fame game. He was juking and breaking tackles with ease. He will be one player to keep an eye on this year because he will get the bulk of the running load.
How will he deal with being the "middle child" of the Saints running back trio of himself, Ingram and Darren Sproles?
Ingram will get the most carries, Sproles will get his mix of touches in the running and passing game, but what's that leave Thomas? He will be counted on for a mix of just about anything, and will also be counted on for his leadership and clutch ability. He always seems to get those extra yards that the team needs at the most crucial times.
What can the diminutive spark plug do for an encore in 2012?
Sproles took the role that was specifically made for Reggie Bush in the Saints offense and exploded in his first year down in NOLA. He broke the all-purpose yardage record last season, but might not get there this season with his play on special teams being dialed back so that his impact on offense can be greater.
Expect to see his numbers in the running game and passing to increase.
Which running back-needy team will come calling for his services?
Ivory looks like the odd man out this season with such solid years from Thomas and Sproles and the Saints long-term investment in Ingram. He could get extended carries this preseason to show off his value to other teams looking to upgrade. Maybe the Jets? Or the Vikings?
Will he become the next fan favorite at fullback?
I don't know what it is with New Orleans and fullbacks, but they always seem to become a fan favorite. Mike Karney, then Heath Evans and now Jed Collins. His wild personality and Twitter presence has helped him build a fanbase, and his play on the field doesn't hurt either. You can see by the big holes in the Hall of Fame game that Jed doesn't play.
Will he justify his new contract with a Pro Bowl year this season?
Colston has become as consistent as they come when he is on the field, but one thing has eluded him: a Pro Bowl selection. With a new contract in his pocket, I see Colston as having the first Pro Bowl selection by a wide receiver since Joe Horn and justifying his contract, at least for this first season.
Can he be a little more consistent this season?
His stat line might read 52 catches, over 600 yards receiving and eight touchdowns, but most of that production came toward the end of the year when Moore got hot. But that's usually his M.O.—slow start and then flash to the finish. His early success will be even more vital with the Saints' coaching staff a mess until the sixth week or so.
How much gas does the speedster have in the tank?
Henderson is an "old" 30-year-old with eight years of service in the league with the Saints. He reminds me of Scott Shanle in the fact that they should not be starting in the NFL, but year after year the keep the youngsters at bay. I guess we'll see what the former LSU product has left with the girth of healthy competition at the spot this year.
How quickly can he acclimate himself to the speed of the pros?
Toon missed the first game with a foot injury that's going to keep him out 6-10 days. That will wipe away all of the progress he has made so far in camp. The key is how strong he will come back from this minor injury and contribute in the offense. His size will benefit him more than his speed in the pros.
Will Morgan build on the hype he started last preseason and contribute to the team?
The Canton, OH native had an up-and-down game at the field he played his high school and collegiate ball at. He muffed on a punt but recovered, and he also had some nice catches. As long as he is healthy, he is the only one in this group that has deep speed, and that includes Henderson.
Will this be the year that Arrington makes the roster?
Stop me if you've heard this before: This is AA's year!
Yea, excuse me if I'm still not holding my breath going into Year 5 of this project. Arrington has looked good so far in camp, and if he can keep that momentum going, he could have a legit shot at actually contributing.
Can he prove he's not a "one-year wonder"?
Graham exploded on the scene last season in his second year in the league. He went back and forth with the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski on several all-time tight end records all year long. This year he will have to prove whether he can continue at that high level of success or revert back to the pack.
Can he stay healthy?
When on the field, Thomas adds another dimension to the Saints' offense. His ability to also shift to fullback or H-Back in passing downs creates mismatches with linebackers. He just has a problem staying healthy with concussions. Let's hope he steers clear of that this season.
How much is he improved from Year 1?
Higgins was the reason that the Saints' execs never brought any tight ends in through free agency or the draft. He has all the receiving talent to be Aaron Hernandez to Graham's Gronkowski at this level. Let's just hope his learning curve is as quick as Jimmy's was.
Will he get a contract extension?
His contract is up after this season, and he has become a fringe Pro Bowler, mostly on the back of Drew Brees. Brees got paid, now will the rest of his line?
He makes $3.25 million this year, and could be worth a new contract around that figure, but will he get it? Good possibility.
Can he stave off competition from Charles Brown and rookie Marcel Jones?
Strief is a steady veteran who excels at nothing, but makes minimal mistakes. He has competition from second-round bust Brown and seventh-rounder Jones this offseason. While i don't think either will unseat him, barring injuries, I still think Jones has looked impressive so far and has the physical tools to be a great right tackle in the NFL.
Can he avoid the "bust" label?
It might be a little late to avoid this. Especially when the people picked before and after him are starting for his team and excelling (Patrick Robinson, Jimmy Graham). Let's see if he can actually avoid third string with Jones around.
How big will his afro grow?
If you don't know by now, Google "Pulp Fiction afro, Marcel Jones" and there pops up a picture of Mr. Jones' big ol' fro next to Samuel L. Jackson's in that movie and you can't tell who is who.
Aside from that big 'fro under his helmet, Jones has been making waves in his first offseason with impressive camps. He could be starting by year's end.
Will he reclaim his spot as the best guard in the game?
Since signing his record contract a few years ago, Evans has fallen behind former teammate Carl Nicks, among others, as the top dog at his position. Not that Evans has fallen off, but more like leveled off. Can he get back on top and ease the loss of Nicks? We shall see.
Can he offset the loss of Nicks?
Grubbs was acquired for that reason, to offset the loss of Nicks to division-rival Tampa. The former Raven is no slouch himself, earning a Pro Bowl nod last season. He is great in the running game, but a notch below Nicks in the passing game. He should be fine in 2012.
How will he transition to the NFL?
Tiller comes from old friend, Doug Marrone, up in Syracuse. Marrone was the Saints' offensive coordinator before taking his current head job at SU. Tiller is a masher in the run game, and that should transition smoothly, but it's development in the passing game that is going to determine how much he is worked into the backups rotation.
Brian de la Puente
How will he handle his 2011 success?
De la Puente was nothing short of great in replacing Olin Kreutz in the middle of the line after Kreutz left the team. He beat out Matt Tennant for the job and never looked back. Here's hoping he can manage his success and build upon it in 2012.
Can he avoid the bust label?
The Saints traded up for him a few years back thinking that he was going to be their center of the future. Well, Tennant was giving every opportunity to win the job and never took advantage. They signed Kreutz to slot ahead of Tennant, and then when he left De la Puente slid in an outperformed him for the starter's spot. Hopefully, Tennant can become a reliable enough backup for the guard and center positions that people don't say "bust."
Will his cap number match his production?
Smith will be serving a four-game suspension per the bounty scandal. But after that, there's still no guarantee that he will top double-digit sacks. He has only done that twice in a career that started with Jim Haslett as coach. For the amount being paid to him, he should be racking up 10 sacks a year, at least.
Can he make strides in Year 2 to that elite status?
He has all the personality in the world, and came on toward the end of the season to show some progress. Can he take that next step? Spags' new scheme should help him out tremendously. He will also work for the DT position as well. Versatility is key in the new defense.
Can he impress while Smith is suspended?
With Smith suspended for those first four games, Galette is going to be starting in place of him and given every opportunity to shine. This former undrafted free agent has made a name for himself as a favorite among fans, and I hope he can terrorize quarterbacks like Smith can't. He should rack up a lot of sacks this year.
How will his switch to DE stunt his development?
It won't. It's only going to make him better because he can use his ridiculous athleticism to blow by guys like he did in the Hall of Fame game. He will still be used as an OLB at times, but you will see him doing most of his work on passing downs at end.
How will he perform on a contract year?
Ellis' rookie contract is up after this year, and he hasn't really done much to spark the Saints' interest in giving him an extension. He led the Saints in sacks with six, but that was more a testament to how awful the pressure was from the ends. Hopefully the Saints don't overpay for one year's worth of great production.
Can he stop the run?
That is the only question that will be asked out of this big run-stuffer. His sole purpose is to shore up a gap in the Saints' interior line that's bigger than the 17th Street canal breach. That's how bad it has gotten. Bunkley was paid handsomely to be a one-trick pony. Let's hope that pony does his job.
What will he contribute in Year 1?
Hicks was the team's first pick in the draft in the third round. He comes with a lot of question marks and a broken hand to boot. He should be able to shake that off and get into the rotation at DT. His athleticism should help him succeed.
What's he got left?
Mr. Ayodele is coming back to NOLA for a second tour of duty, and I know Who Dat Nation couldn't be happier. He should be a great reserve on this team and work his way quickly into the rotations and into the games.
Can he make the active roster?
He has been probably the most impressive guy of this bunch this preseason. He has a tremendous motor. My money is on him making the roster and filling in for injured players at first, but who knows once he gets in a game.
What does he have left in the tank?
Everytime the Saints bring in a "young buck" to take Shanle's starting job away, he keeps sending them back to the second team. He might have enough to stave off competition at his spot, but it was apparent in the Cardinals game that he can't get off of blocks or flow to the ball with the ease he used to. Time for him to ease back into a reserve role.
Can he bring stability to an OLB unit that seems to have revolving doors?
He racked up tackles and big plays in Seattle, but can he bring that same stability and playmaking down the bayou? You got it! He will also be helped by Curtis Lofton in the middle filtering him plays. He will probably be the Saints' first Pro Bowler at OLB since Mark Fields.
Can he unseat Shanle?
Chamberlain is a younger, more athletic version of Shanle, and it will show soon enough. He should be starting by midseason, if not sooner. He has familiarity with Spags' defense having come with him from St. Louis.
Can he build on his great start to the preseason?
He was everywhere in the game versus the Cardinals, including intercepting a pass and rumbling 40-plus yards with it. Let's hope he builds on that versus the Patriots and beyond and becomes a fixture in the Saints rotation.
Can he replace Vilma?
In this piece, I wrote how Lofton would be dramatically better than Vilma on the physical side, but the mental side has to come. Lofton has to go through some battles with those guys for his voice to hit home with some. That part will come though, and his No. 50 should be the only one in the middle for the Black and Gold for a long time.
Can he backup the MLB position?
He ran in this spot with the second-team defense through camp, but will mostly make this team for his special teams abilities. The Saints don't actually have a backup MLB on set unless you count Ramon Humber, but I doubt he makes the roster. That leaves Herring to pick up the slack. This is the spot Shanle should be in, a nice reserve one with limited playing time.
How healthy will he be coming back from sports hernia surgery?
Greer was injured in training camp, but he should be ready for the season opener. How healthy will he be for that opener? This time away should give the other guys some experience, so that the load will be easier when Greer comes back.
Can he stave off preseason injuries to have a breakout campaign?
I have stated that this is the year for Robinson to become a Pro Bowler. If this nagging injury stops he should be good to go, especially with Greer's injury woes also. He will be back soon and leading the team in interceptions.
Will he bounce back after a sub-par first year?
Yes. And in a big way. He has been the most impressive cornerback in training camp and has been working well at that nickel corner spot. That spot could be the best bet for his playmaking abilities.
Will his experience in Spags' defense help or hurt him?
So far, it's been helping him. He has taken over for the injured starters ahead of him and filled in great. Now, can he continue this success? Yes, because of the experience he already has in this defense. He could be a solid spot-starter in the future.
Can the veteran make the team?
Mack was signed to add depth to a depleted position and compete for a backup spot. Both of those are in question after a terrible camp, and other guys stepping up and by him. The only guy he is ahead of now is Corey White, the fifth-round rookie. Mack better step it up.
How much will he contribute in his rookie year?
Probably not much, barring injuries. Going from Samford to the NFL is a little hard. There's a learning curve to be had, but White sure has the athleticism and the swagger of a player who won't be held down for long.
Can he get back to the All-Pro status he reached a couple years ago?
Jenkins had a down year last season as compared to his 2010 campaign where he was constantly around the ball. 2011 not so much. Spags will keep him from blitzing so much and let him play "center field" out there. That will revert him back to his playmaking days.
Can he keep up his consistent play?
He made the team as an undrafted free agent last year and made a bunch of bone-jarring hits—just ask Hakeem Nicks. He felt that one for a few days after. Abdul-Quddus will keep his consistent play up and be a nice contributor to the defense.
Will Spags' defense keep Harper from embarrassing himself?
It seemed that in Gregg Williams' defense, as much as Harper was perfect for it, always made him look out of place and lost. This new defense should help Harper make plays and not mistakes. If it happens now, those mistakes will be on Harper.
Will he make the squad?
Amaya came here in the Reggie Bush trade and performed adequately in 2011. But Spags must have seen something he didn't like because the Saints signed a lot of safeties in undrafted free agency. Amaya's going to have to step up
What's the 40-plus-year-old have left after a great year in 2011?
Kasay made 82.4 percent of his field goals including two from past 50 yards. That's impressive for a guy who was born in the '60s. He was also 5-for-8 on field goal tries between 40-49 yards. He doesn't seem to be slowing down, but you just don't know how much power is left in that right leg.
Can he beat out Kasay?
He hasn't played an entire year his whole career with New Orleans. Even 2010, his best season, was not even close to the type of year Kasay enjoyed last season. This situation will probably end the same way as 2009 did. The older veteran starts the season off, but gives way to the young buck similar to what John Carney did for the Saints.
Will he justify becoming one of the highest-paid punters in the game?
I don't see any reason why he shouldn't. He has been the most consistent presence at punter in New Orleans since Tommy Barnhardt back in the early '90s. He should keep pinning teams inside the 20 and having them kneel for touchbacks for a long, great time in NOLA.