Bubble Watch for New Orleans Saints Training Camp
With Sean Payton back on the sidelines, Rob Ryan calling the shots on defense, and a goal to rebound from a relatively embarrassing 7-9 season in 2012—one in which they allowed the most yards from scrimmage in NFL history—expect amplified intensity at New Orleans Saints training camp this summer.
Most of the starters are penciled in at their respective positions, but there'll be a handful of interesting camp battles that will feature guys fighting for their NFL jobs.
Here are seven players on the Saints' roster bubble heading into training camp.
(Depth charts are courtesy of Ourlads.com)
Depth Chart Position: Third-string right outside linebacker
Analysis: Chase Thomas' production at Stanford was good enough for him to be selected in the 2013 NFL draft., but poor workout numbers led to the Cardinal star falling into the ranks of the those who went undrafted.
Originally, Thomas was a major long shot to make the team, but after Victor Butler's injury, there's a chance New Orleans wants to keep around more outside linebackers who can get after the passer.
Thomas will have to show developed skills in coverage and special teams expertise to sneak onto the Saints' 53-man roster.
Experience: Nine years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string free safety
Analysis: Jim Leonhard was a favorite of Rex Ryan when the defender was with the New York Jets, so there's a chance Rex gave his brother, Rob. some intel on the gritty, veteran safety which led to Leonhard signing with the Saints.
In 2012 with the Denver Broncos, Leonhard was a decent rotational defensive back who played behind Mike Adams and Rahim Moore for the entire season.
He accumulated 17 tackles, two interceptions and earned a top-12 coverage grade at his position by ProFootballFocus (subscription required) although he played less than 25 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
Leonhard will be 31 in October, and with Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper and first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro ahead of him on the depth chart, he'll be in a heated battle with Rafael Bush for a backup safety role.
Experience: Seven years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string left inside linebacker
Analysis: Will Herring has a been a serviceable depth linebacker for the Saints in the past, but he was sent to IR after suffering a hamstring injury in 2012.
He does have some special teams experience, which should help his cause.
Herring only has 18 tackles over the last two seasons and was released earlier this year before being re-signed by the Saints.
With Jonathan Vilma and David Hawthorne ahead of him at the left inside linebacker spot, Herring's play-time ceiling is with spot duty, and there will be a few others vying for one of those two inside linebacker spots behind the entrenched starters.
Depth Chart Position: Fourth-string right inside linebacker
Analysis: Kevin Reddick was primarily an inside linebacker for the Tar Heels, but he did spend some time as a pass-rushing defensive end and was rather successful for someone 6'1'' and 243 pounds.
His poor ball-recognition skills were probably part of the reason he wasn't drafted, so he could make a Martez Wilson-type move to outside linebacker in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense, a positional change that could help his chances to make the team with Victor Butler sidelined.
With players like Wilson and Junior Galette in front of him, along with a host of 2013 rookies battling for a few of the depth edge-rusher roles, Reddick must have a standout training camp and show some willingness on special teams to make the club.
Experience: Two years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string tight end
Analysis: Michael Higgins played in two games in 2011 and two more in 2012, but has only two career catches. With the offseason addition of Benjamin Watson, who'll play the backup role behind Jimmy Graham at tight end, Higgins could be the odd man out come September.
Keavon Milton and Josh Hill, two 2013 undrafted free-agent rookies, sit behind him on the depth chart, but there's a chance New Orleans keeps only two tight ends, which would allow them to hold onto an extra wide receiver.
Experience: Six years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string right inside linebacker
Analysis: Chris Chamberlain will compete with Will Herring and Kevin Reddick for a second- or third-string position among the Saints' linebacker corps.
He started his career in St. Louis with the Rams and actually totaled 74 tackles, one interception and two sacks in 13 games in 2011.
Chamberlain was signed by New Orleans in 2012 but tore his ACL in a preseason outing.
In order to make the Saints, the Tulsa product must have a strong training camp to show the coaching staff his knee is fully healed and that he'll be able to contribute if needed.
Experience: One year
Depth Chart Position: Third-string right cornerback
Analysis: A.J. Davis was scooped up by the Saints after going undrafted out of Jacksonville State in 2012.
At 6'0'' and 183 pounds, he has decent size to play on the outside and actually appeared in one game for New Orleans in 2012.
For a team that struggled so mightily against the pass a season ago, there will be plenty of backup positions up for grabs in the secondary.
With a solid training camp, Davis could be one of the final members of the 53-man roster.