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Saints' offense doesn't rely on TE, will replace Jimmy Graham by committee

Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. Send 'em anytime @MikeTriplett.


@MikeTriplett: Definitely. Although Jimmy Graham helped revolutionize the Saints' offense from 2011-14, that was more about his unique skill set than the Saints' reliance on a go-to tight end. Before Graham arrived, the biggest year from a TE in New Orleans' offense was Jeremy Shockey's 48 catches for 569 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 (Shockey had 50 catches in 2008; Billy Miller had 579 yards in '08).

I think the two biggest pass-catchers in New Orleans' offense might be shorter, faster guys (receiver Brandin Cooks and running back C.J. Spiller). After that, they'll do what they've always done under coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees -- spread it around to the open man, including many of those big men you mentioned.

Marques Colston should still be heavily involved if healthy -- maybe even more so as a red zone threat. That used to be his specialty before Graham emerged. Both tight ends Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson will be involved. And Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones, Josh Morgan and Joe Morgan will battle it out this summer for the No. 3 and No. 4 receiver jobs (see below).


@MikeTriplett: That will be one of the most compelling questions to monitor throughout the preseason. I'm still giving Toon the slight edge for the No. 3 receiving job, both because he's got the most experience and because he has a history of standing out during training camp. Although Toon blew his one big opportunity to play significant snaps when Colston was injured for a week in 2013, Toon bounced back nicely when he got some extended snaps late last season (17 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown over the final six weeks). If Toon (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) also proves to be the best blocker among the backup receivers, then he'll cement his role.

The Saints are very high on both of their second-year undrafted receivers, Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones. Coleman has generated more buzz since he stands out as such a big target (6-6, 215), and he looks more comfortable and faster this summer. But Jones has actually been slightly ahead of Coleman in the pecking order since last season, getting promoted to the active roster two weeks earlier.

You also can't count out the two Morgans (no relation). They have less "upside" than the young guys, which makes them longer shots. But both have been standout blockers in the past. And Josh Morgan, in particular, caught a ton of passes during organized team activities and minicamp.

The Saints typically use only four active receivers on game days, so the battle for the No. 3 and No. 4 jobs will be intense.


@MikeTriplett: So far during OTAs and minicamp, Kenny Vaccaro lined up as a pretty traditional strong safety, with the Saints using a variety of backup cornerbacks in the nickel role. And when I asked Vaccaro about it, he says there are no plans to change that for now. Plus, the Saints have made an emphasis of simplifying their defensive scheme this year to cut down on all the shifting at the line of scrimmage.

However, both Vaccaro and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have talked in the past about how well suited he is for that hybrid role, with a great ability to cover slot receivers. So I could see them mixing things up based on certain matchups -- especially if the contenders for the nickel cornerback job don't pan out. The Saints are well-stocked at safety now that everyone is back healthy, so they could always go back to the three-safety package that served them so well in 2013.


@MikeTriplett: Depth, yes. But just about everyone comes with question marks, including the two starters you didn't mention (Junior Galette and David Hawthorne). As of today, I have Galette, Ellerbe, Spencer and Hawthorne still ranked as the top four. But that will change soon, with rookies Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha injecting more athleticism and playmaking ability into the position.

Anthony and Kikaha could crack that top three by the end of the season -- if not by Week 1. Their development will be one of the keys to New Orleans' defensive turnaround.