WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The New Orleans Saints aren't as top-heavy as they used to be when it comes to pass-catchers, since they traded away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills this offseason. But man, do they have a lot of candidates to choose from to help fill the void.
I've raved all summer about the emergence of second-year receiver Brandon Coleman, who has a good shot at earning the No. 3 receiver job behind starters Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston. After that, it's a free-for-all for roster spots between veterans Nick Toon, Joseph Morgan, Josh Morgan and second-year receivers Seantavius Jones and Willie Snead.
The Morgans (no relation) haven't generated as much buzz as some of the others this summer. But they both leapt into the spotlight during Wednesday's joint practice with the New England Patriots. And both have been solid and steady throughout camp.
Josh Morgan caught two touchdown passes from Drew Brees to cap off both of the Saints' two-minute drives. Joseph Morgan caught a deep pass down the sideline to set up one of those TDs. They both got the best of Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler in the process.
"I don't know how it's all going to shake out in the end, but I like the guys we have," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who said of the younger guys and newcomers: "I think even in just a short amount of time we build a rapport and level of confidence with guys."
Brees had a lot of praise for Joseph Morgan, whose turbulent five-year career with the Saints has been waylaid by injuries and off-field issues.
"I've been very pleased with Joe. I have always been a fan of Joe's," Brees said. "I know he's had his ups and downs, but I have a lot of confidence in him. There are a lot of things he can do and do well. I really loved his mindset coming into this camp. He has great body language, a lot of confidence, doing some really good things in the passing game and the run game, just all around.
"Coming every day with a level of consistency that he's been missing in the past. I've been very pleased with him."
Handicapping this field is difficult. The Saints typically use only four receivers on game days, not counting special teams roles. If Cooks, Colston and Coleman are the top three, then the fourth receiver will almost certainly have to be a standout blocker -- the role the Saints used Robert Meachem in for so many years (blocking and running play-action routes in heavy run formations).
That standout blocker could be Toon or either of the Morgans, all of whom have drawn praise for their blocking abilities. I think it's likely that only one of those three will make the roster, though, since they're not really "stash" or "redshirt" candidates.
Meanwhile, Jones or Snead could be kept as fifth or sixth receivers because they are younger "redshirt" types with high upside and the ability to chip in on special teams.
Other highlights from Wednesday's practice:
Brees looked great on the two-minute drives, spreading it around to a variety of receivers and tight ends -- including Benjamin Watson, who again caught a high volume of passes throughout Wednesday's entire practice. Brees did have one down stretch during red-zone drills where he had two straight passes that could have been intercepted. He didn't throw any picks, though. I noted nice catches by Toon, Coleman, Cooks, Colston and Snead as well during various portions of practice.
Saints left tackle Terron Armstead and center Max Unger continued to look strong in the 1-on-1 pass-rush drills as they have throughout camp. Only this time, it came against another opponent. Armstead held two standout pass-rushers at bay (Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich), though Jones did appear to have success against him at least once. Armstead and Unger are two of the biggest reasons for optimism we've seen throughout Saints camp.
Injuries are the biggest reason for pessimism. As I noted earlier, the Saints' top five defensive backs all remained out of practice Wednesday -- though there's reason for optimism on all of them. The backup defensive backs held up fairly well against Brady -- though he also found his way into the end zone on both the two-minute and red-zone drills.