Minicamp observations: Griffin, Stills shine

METAIRIE, La. – Second-year quarterback Ryan Griffin earned some attention for how well he performed during the New Orleans Saints’ minicamp practice on Tuesday.

He was even better on Wednesday.

Griffin stood out more than anyone else to me during Wednesday’s session while working with the second team as he continues his open competition with veteran Luke McCown. The highlight was a deep completion to receiver Marques Colston in full-team drills. But Griffin was sharp throughout the day, except for one late interception to cornerback Terrence Frederick.

It’s too early to project Griffin as the Saints’ No. 2 quarterback this year, since McCown has remained solid and steady, as well. This competition will most likely play out in the preseason.

But it’s been evident that Griffin is coming into this year’s camp with a lot of polish and confidence for such a young guy.

Saints coach Sean Payton complimented Griffin when asked Tuesday if he attributes some of that polish to Griffin’s experience in a similar offensive system at Tulane under former Saints assistant coach Curtis Johnson.

“In fairness to Ryan, I don’t know that if [Tulane’s] offense was different, he’d be any further behind,” Payton said. “He’s someone who picks it up very quickly. He and Luke are real quick studies.”

Bringing the noise: For the first time in Payton’s tenure, the Saints started pumping in crowd noise during minicamp so the offense could simulate the conditions they’ll face in road games. It’s a popular tactic for NFL teams – just not usually this early in the offseason.

Clearly, it had an effect on the offense, with miscommunication leading to one mishandled shotgun snap by Brees from center Tim Lelito and a couple false starts with the backups.

Payton said part of the motivation behind the pumped-in noise was driving home the importance of playing better on the road this year.

Stills shines: If Griffin wasn’t the player of the day on Wednesday, it was second-year receiver Kenny Stills. He made a great effort to come back for a diving catch after Drew Brees chucked one to him from all the way across the field on the run in full-team drills. Stills also made a nifty one-handed catch in earlier passing drills, among other nice catches.

Stills has looked good throughout offseason workouts this year. He certainly looks like he’s ready to keep rising after a breakout rookie year. And Payton said after re-watching the film from last season, the Saints felt they needed to get Stills some more opportunities this year.

Colston healthy: Veteran receiver Marques Colston has been steady in camp so far. But most noteworthy is what he told The Advocate’s Ramon Antonio Vargas after practice – that his nagging foot pain from the past couple years is a non-issue this year. “Feels completely different … no restrictions,” Colston said.

Breaking up: Despite those standout moments by Griffin and Stills, it was a generally strong day for the defensive backs once again. I didn’t keep an exact tally, but it felt like there were at least a half-dozen noteworthy pass breakups in team and 7-on-7 drills. The one that stood out most was cornerback Keenan Lewis denying a touchdown pass to running back Travaris Cadet from Brees in the corner of the end zone during 7-on-7 red-zone drills.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson also stripped and recovered a fumble against receiver Robert Meachem, chasing down Meachem as he was corralled by a couple defenders in full-team drills. That’s been typical of the defense’s aggressive emphasis on forcing turnovers this year.

Coleman’s rough start: Undrafted rookie receiver Brandon Coleman continued to have highs and lows. He dropped a pass from Brees in a brief cameo with the starting unit in full-team drills. He did rally with a couple nice catches with the backups, though, before failing to locate a deep ball in the air. That’s been the story of Coleman’s offseason practices so far. But obviously it’s way too early for a fair evaluation on the young big man as he tries to gain his footing.