Kamara, who will miss the first three games of the season for a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, feels the offense will be just fine without him.
“[The offense is] scary,” Kamara said. “It’s exciting. … You’ve got guys on the outside, you’ve got Mike [Thomas], you’ve got [Chris] Olave, you’ve got [Rashid] Shaheed. You’ve got other weapons … a tight end room with Foster [Moreau], Jimmy [Graham], Taysom [Hill], Juwan [Johnson]. You’ve got running backs that can do different things. … We’ve just got so many weapons. … The possibilities are endless.”
The Saints have been prepared for months about the reality of Kamara missing time for his role in a 2022 fight outside of a Las Vegas nightclub at the Pro Bowl. They signed running back Jamaal Williams, who led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns last year. They also added TCU running back Kendre Miller in the third round of the 2023 NFL draft.
“I’m excited about the running back room that we have,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I think we’ve got a little bit more depth at that position than maybe what we had in the past. We’ve got guys that can do a variety of things.”
Said Kamara: “Jamaal is here, Kendre is coming on. … [Kendre] is going to have to get in there and get in the far end and learn and play well. … [Adam Prentice] and those guys are going to hold it down.”
Kamara has reason to feel excited. The idea behind the signing of free agent quarterback Derek Carr and a number of offensive additions is that no one player has to shoulder the entire load.
That’s been their successful approach in the past, whether it was now retired quarterback Drew Brees spreading the ball around or Kamara splitting reps with former Saints running back Mark Ingram.
Even though Kamara’s snap counts jumped significantly the past two seasons, his statistics didn’t hit the highs they had in previous years. Allen said some of the Saints' biggest offensive successes came when they had a running back by committee type of approach.
That’s the approach they want with all of their pass-catchers this season after they fell out of the top 10 in both scoring and total offense the past few years.
Part of that was because of their search for a quarterback. Another issue was the absence of Thomas, who was once a huge chunk of the offense, catching 274 passes for 3,130 yards and 18 touchdowns from 2018 to 2019.
But while the Saints are cautiously optimistic about Thomas' health, they’re also confident that Thomas, healthy or not, won’t need to catch a record number of passes like he did when he had 149 receptions in 2019.
Second-year players such as Olave and Shaheed certainly could cut into the number of targets sent to Thomas.
“We’ve got so many guys that can do so many things, nobody is really labeled to one spot,” Olave said. “I feel like everybody can do a little bit of everything. You can’t just tap into one or two guys, you’ve got to tap into the whole offense. That’s what makes it scary.”
The running backs will also be a presence in the passing game this year. Williams doesn’t have the 80-reception season that Kamara boasts on his resume, but he caught more than 30 passes twice when in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers.
“I just love how they’re not just sticking us to one place and thinking we can’t catch, we can’t run routes, we can’t do none of that,” Williams said. “Because here, everybody is a weapon. … They can put you anywhere and you just go out there and make plays. I just love the flexibility, the [versatility] of the offense. It’s great.”
Shaheed in particular is an example of that flexibility. At this time one year ago he was an undrafted rookie still rehabbing a torn ACL. Now the Saints are using him extensively, putting him in with all three quarterbacks, sometimes throwing deep to utilize his speed and other times using him on jet sweeps or short passes.
“Last season I only had to learn one position and kind of go with that because they knew it might have been a lot for a young guy like me coming in like I came in,” Shaheed said. “But I feel like I’m getting a grasp of it pretty easily. It’s coming together nice.”
Carr showed off the flexibility of the offense in one practice session early this week, completing passes to Williams, Moreau, Kamara and Thomas before targeting tight end Jimmy Graham.
Later, he connected with Johnson, who sprinted down the sideline untouched and finished out the day with a completion to Olave.
“Oh, man, we can be tremendous, honestly,” Thomas said. "One day at a time, but we see a lot of flashes on film. We’ve already been seeing a lot of flashes of it, like just in practice. We have a tremendous group, a lot of guys that are going to show up and show out, I feel like, this year. And it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be explosive. Coach preaches explosive plays and making explosive plays, and we have a lot of explosive players all across the offense. So we’re eager to put that on display and win games and handle our business.”
On the eve of training camp, Thomas wrote on social media that this roster “feels sneaky like a All-Star team.”
But even Thomas, for all his optimism, reminded everyone that there’s a long way to go before the real football starts.
“I feel like that's something that's trending in the right direction, but we never want to feel like we've arrived or we're 100 percent because it's a long season and right now we're just in training camp," Thomas said. "We haven't even played a preseason game yet."