New Orleans Saints: 5 Pass Catchers Who Have to Step Up
The New Orleans Saints have a historically explosive offense. In case you missed it, the team blew away the league-wide previous high in single-season passing yardage a season ago.
That didn't happen by accident. The team didn't fall into the mark by dumb luck.
Pass protection was good enough to allow Drew Brees time to throw.
Receivers manipulated defenders effectively to get open more times than not.
And when Pete Carmichael took the reins of the offense, the unit became less predictable than they were with Sean Payton calling the plays.
Though the receivers' impact could not be ignored, it isn't as if the unit played any better as a group than any other receiving corps in the league. In other words, they benefit greatly from Drew Brees and the offensive ingenuity provided by Payton and Carmichael.
There's nothing wrong with that, until production begins to dip, as it seems to have in this preseason.
Once that takes place, guys must step up. Here are the group of players who must step up for the Saints offense to remain among the league's finest in the passing game.
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Most likely no one in the Saints' facility is tremendously concerned about Jimmy Graham's lowly performance in the 2012 NFL preseason.
Graham certainly did not lose his athleticism and abilities in one offseason, especially at such a young age. Graham isn't going to be a one-year wonder flash in the pan.
But the thing that is a bit concerning is Graham's lack of focus. You would almost have to be blind to not recognize that Graham seems content. He seems OK being the second-best tight end in the game.
Some of the passion and fire he played with a season ago is missing. Perhaps it's somewhere out in outer space. Maybe it's in him but hasn't been released simply because it's just preseason.
Whatever the case is, the Saints have to hope Graham gets it back, and fast. When the regular season commences September 9 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Washington Redskins, Graham is going to have to be the main guy for an offense likely to struggle to complete many passes in the short zones to the wide receivers.
Of course, I say all that after Graham had his best game of the preseason Saturday night versus Houston. He caught a touchdown pass and made a few other Jimmy Graham-type plays.
Considering the talent, and the production of a year ago, improvement should be the goal. I haven't seen the improvement yet. Let's hope that comes as we enter the regular season.
OK, so Joe Morgan is a local superstar already, despite having never played in a regular-season game.
That doesn't eliminate the need for him to step his game up in the receiving department. He is a virtual lock to make the squad because of his return abilities.
But his play at receiver in the preseason has left something to be desired. Perhaps he's been spending too much time around Jimmy Graham, as his overall mentality from the outside looking in appears to be that of contentment.
Much like Graham, it seems like Morgan knows he's arrived and feels he doesn't have to work to improve the way he did prior to becoming the player he is now (which again is truly ironic considering Morgan hasn't done anything in the regular season).
Like Graham, Morgan showed improvement in the Week 3 preseason game against Houston on Saturday night, even hauling in the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter from Chase Daniel.
That particular reception was a great catch in traffic. Morgan clearly has the talent to excel at wide receiver, but more can and should be expected of him.
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Devery Henderson showed some of the same abilities Saturday night he has shown throughout his professional career. Those are mostly to get open deep and operate as a speed threat on the outside.
The Houston game was clearly his best of the preseason. But without Robert Meachem (gone to San Diego in free agency), Henderson really must step his game up. Henderson is now the primary deep threat, though the Saints hope to get some field spacing and bomb dropping from second-year receiver Joseph Morgan as well.
Either way, Henderson, as a nine-year veteran, must be the one who steps his game up for the Saints to maintain their offensive dominance in 2012.
Henderson started 2011 out with the three best games of his NFL career, and then pretty much disappeared for the remainder of the season.
He finished with 32 catches for 503 yards and two touchdowns. The most impressive part of his stat line was his 15.7 yards per catch figure.
On the whole, that line must improve in 2012, though. Henderson needs to catch at least 40 passes for 700 yards and five touchdowns. Of course, Henderson has never caught more than five touchdowns in one season, but he has had three seasons of 700-plus yards.
With Morgan and the other young receivers on the roster a question mark, Henderson must be the guy who provides consistency for this squad.
Rookie Nick Toon
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If you're drafted in the fourth round by a team with a plethora of wide receivers, that team probably thinks you're pretty good, especially considering you were just the team's second pick in that particular draft.
Unfortunately, the team has seen very little of him this preseason and training camp. In fact, he is yet to have graced the team with his presence in a preseason game. And he has limited repetitions in training camp due to nagging injuries (which was the primary reason he lasted until the fourth round of the draft).
The point here is that Toon owes the Saints something. He owes the team his presence. Nagging injuries tend to be a sign the player doesn't possess the necessary passion for the game to succeed at its highest level.
That is not a judgment of Toon. His injuries may be very much legitimate.
But right now the team has no reason to include him on the final 53-man roster. Yet, because of his alluring talent, management will probably elect to keep him anyway.
If they do, the kid needs to be prepared to reward that trust. Clearly the team could use space on its roster at running back, defensive end or some other position.
Toon's place on the roster would force the team to cut another more deserving player in that player's stead. The urgency for Toon to step up should he make the team should increase for that reason if for no other.
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To a great extent Arrington's story is the same as rookie Nick Toon's. The difference is the Saints have been through this song and dance before with the fourth-year pro.
Arrington has long been the Saints' prized project who would "one day deliver." Sadly for Arrington and the Saints, injuries and inconsistency have marred that great promise.
In fact, this training camp and preseason schedule act as a microcosm of all that has gone wrong over the course of Arrington's professional career.
He hasn't stayed healthy, and when on the field, he has been a disappointment.
It is likely too late for Arrington to right the ship and become the player the Saints envisioned when they drafted him in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.
But if for some reason the Saints decide they want to continue this great experiment, Arrington has a ton of work to do. He must improve by leaps and bounds and lock down the team's open fourth receiver spot.
It is clear the talent resides within the body of Arrington. What is less clear is whether or not the mental and emotional aptitude exists.
Saints coaches and fans can only hope against all hope that Arrington can find it in a hurry.
Arrington's situation is more dire than the rest of the players on this list. The other four seem likely to make the team, while Arrington does not. All, though, must step up, because frankly none of the guys on this list have been impressive this preseason.
At least with Graham and Henderson the team has a pretty good idea what they're getting. The other three are less of a sure thing.
And the Saints are counting on most of these players. The team needs production in the passing game from guys not named Colston, Moore, Sproles and Pierre Thomas (of course Graham would really be placed among that group, but his bad preseason makes some wonder if he can repeat his success of 2011).
The key is stepping up. Whoever does will be noted as heroes in New Orleans.
Who is it going to be?