As the Saints prepare to wrap up OTA's this Thursday, the dog days of Summer are here—the time between now and the start of training camp in July.
Let's take a thumbnail look at New Orleans position-by-position:
Quarterback: Drew Brees has passed for over 13,000 yards in his first three seasons with the Saints and is regarded as one of the top five players in the NFL. At 30, he is younger than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. As long as Brees is healthy and in his prime, the Saints will have one of the top offenses in football, running game or no running game.
Running Back: Pittsburgh and Arizona reached the Super Bowl with rushing attacks that ranked in the bottom-half of the league. Sean Payton may be right when he says the running backs he needs "may already be in the building."
It has never been more of a passing league with offensive coordinators spreading defenses out with three and four WR sets. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are expected to alternate as the featured backs with Mike Bell, who has been very impressive in practice so far, backing up Thomas and Bush. Questions about his durability abound, but Bush is lethal in space—two punt returns for TD's last year against the Vikings.
Tight End: Jeremy Shockey is a controversial figure no doubt, but the organization loves his work ethic. He has been staying late after practice to work on his timing with Brees. Shockey needs to improve upon his production to justify the steep price the Saints paid for him. In OTA's, Billy Miller looks more like an All-Pro than Shockey. Miller is catching everything. Shockey and Miller will both see extensive playing time as the Saints employ two tight end sets.
Offensive Line: Left tackle Jammal Brown is the keystone—two Pro Bowl appearances protecting Brees' blindside. Jon Stinchcomb is underrated at right tackle and is equally adept at both run blocking and pass blocking. Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks will form an excellent guard combination for years to come. Some feel Evans is the best offensive lineman on the team. Jonathan Goodwin is no Jeff Faine but he gets the job done.
Wide Receiver: This will be the toughest cut. Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem will open camp as the top four. With Colston and Moore limited from injuries, Henderson and Meachem have stepped to the fore and are the Saints best deep threats. Adrian Arrington, Courtney Roby, Skyler Green, and Paris Warren will battle it out for the fifth spot. No lack of talent or shortage of depth here.
Defensive Line: This unit appears to be benefiting from the coaching changes. They harassed Brees on more than a few occasions during OTA's. DE Bobby McCray had what would have been four sacks in game action. McCray may secure a starting position regardless of Will Smith and Charles Grant's legal problems.
DT Sedrick Ellis, last year's number one pick out of USC, admits he is learning a lot from new defensive line coach Bill Johnson. Look for Ellis to shine in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme.
Linebackers: Jonathan Vilma lived up to expectations after arriving from the New York Jets one year ago. He uses his slashing speed to make plays sideline-to-sideline. Starting SLB Scott Fujita is athletic, under-rated and under-appreciated. Scott Shanle, Mark Simoneau, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar will compete on the weak-side. Look for Dunbar to steal the job from veterans Shanle and Simoneau.
Cornerbacks: Jabari Greer is the hottest. Randall Gay is the most consistent. Tracy Porter displayed potential before a season-ending injury one year ago. First-round pick Malcolm Jenkins will start in nickel and dime packages. Porter and Greer are the fastest of the group, Gay and Jenkins are the most physical. Veteran Jason David has been a favorite target of Saints' talk radio, but shows a nose for the ball in mini-camp and OTA's.
Safeties: Sean Payton singled out Usama Young for his smooth transition so far from CB to Free Safety this week. At 33, veteran Darren Sharper will open the season as the starter, but Young and rookie Chip Vaughn should learn much from Sharper. Veteran Pierson Priloeau is currently backing up Sharper. SS Roman Harper will fit right in with William's style of defense. Harper is physical and will be lining up next to LB's and DL's as much as DB's. Chris Reis has been impressive in OTA's.