5 Players Turning Heads at New Orleans Saints Training Camp
Training camp is in full swing for the New Orleans Saints, and a number of players are turning heads at the team’s plush workout facility in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
With the first preseason contest now less than a week away, head coach Sean Payton’s team is continuing preparations for the upcoming 2014 season.
New Orleans has more than a few fresh faces in camp, and several of them have stood out thus far in drills. Some of the younger returning veterans are also making their presence felt, as the Saints ready themselves for Friday’s exhibition contest against the St. Louis Rams.
Following is a rundown of some of the key standouts up to this point in training camp, based off media reports.
Khiry Robinson, Running Back
The Saints are expected to utilize a three-headed monster at running back this season, with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson all receiving significant touches.
According to Larry Holder of NOLA.com, however, Robinson is making quite an impression in camp, and he could be positioning himself for a breakout season in 2014.
The 6’0,” 220-pound back went undrafted out of West Texas A&M in 2013, and he was subsequently signed by New Orleans as a free agent.
A powerful downhill runner, Robinson’s play steadily improved as the season went on last year, and by the time the postseason rolled around, his workload had increased substantially. In two playoff contests, he carried 21 times for 102 yards and a touchdown, and he received the lion's share of carries in the Saints' playoff loss against the Seattle Seahawks.
If he continues to impress in camp, Robinson could have a legitimate shot at establishing himself as New Orleans’ featured back in 2014.
Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver
When considering that general manager Mickey Loomis saw fit to trade up to snag Brandin Cooks in the first round of this year’s draft, it isn't surprising to learn that the rookie wideout is impressing in camp.
In an interview with Bleacher Report's own Adam Lefkoe, Gus Kattengell of 106.1 The Ticket suggested that the hype surrounding Cooks is definitely warranted.
With Darren Sproles and Lance Moore no longer staples in the Saints’ offensive arsenal, New Orleans needs a fast, explosive playmaker to help fill the void. Wideout Kenny Stills will be partly responsible for that task, but the emergence of Cooks could help take the Saints passing game to new heights.
The 2013 recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s most outstanding receiver, the former Oregon State Beaver can line up on the outside or in the slot. He possesses a potent blend of speed, elusiveness and ball skills, and if he continues to develop quickly, the sky could be the limit for the New Orleans offense in 2014.
Terron Armstead, Offesnive Tackle
Another young Saint to watch closely in 2014 is left tackle Terron Armstead. In his second year out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the athletic linemen has stood out in a big way in workouts, according ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett.
Armstead possesses rare speed and quickness for a man of his size, but he also has the confidence, as well as the tenacity, that NFL teams so desperately covet in an offensive lineman.
A third-round draft choice in 2013, he served as a backup to starter Charles Brown for most of the season last year. Brown had more than his share of struggles protecting Drew Brees’ blind side, however, and by the time the Saints traveled to Carolina for a Week 16 showdown, Payton had seen enough. Armstead was then given his first NFL start.
He didn’t fare well against the Panthers’ ferocious pass rush that day, but he demonstrated remarkable improvement in each game after that. This included two playoff outings at Philadelphia and at Seattle, wherein the 6’5," 304-pounder performed admirably.
Armstead enters 2014 as the definite starter, and his play this season will be crucial to the Saints’ championship hopes.
Nick Toon , Wide Receiver
The Saints selected Nick Toon in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, and the 6’4” wideout has been as quiet as a mouse throughout his two years wearing the black and gold.
The son of former New York Jets standout Al Toon, he’s caught just four passes in his career. Things could be different this year, however, as he’s made some noise at training camp. His solid performances early in camp caught the attention of Evan Woodbery of NOLA.com, who states that Toon appears to be a popular target among the team's quarterbacks.
He's expected to see the field often this season in three- and four-receiver sets, and his familiarity with the offense will likely contribute to what should be, by far, his best season yet in a New Orleans uniform.
Patrick Robinson, Cornerback
Cornerback Patrick Robinson's four-year career in New Orleans has been largely underwhelming, but the book on the 2010 first-round draft pick is not yet complete.
Robinson joined the Saints just after their Super Bowl Championship season, and in the time since then, he's managed seven interceptions and one forced fumble. Deservedly or not, he was the poster boy for New Orleans' horrendous defense in 2012, and he missed most of last season after a knee injury suffered in Week 2.
Robinson wasn't selected in the first round due a lack of talent, however, and the Saints are hoping he can find his way this season as a press-man corner in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's aggressive scheme.
So far, so good, as he's enjoying a solid camp. According to Ramon Antonio Vargas of The New Orleans Advocate, Robinson turned in his best play of camp this past Thursday with an impressive interception of Brees.
He's competing for playing time amid a crowded group of cornerbacks, including Keenan Lewis, Champ Bailey, Corey White and 2014 second-round draft choice Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Despite the tough competition, Robinson's speed and athleticism suggest he'll be a major contributor on a salty New Orleans Saints defense in 2014.