The New Orleans Saints open training camp on July 30 at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Here’s a closer look at the Saints’ camp, which wraps up on Aug. 28 back home at the team’s practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana:
Top storyline: The Saints were so disgusted by last season’s 7-9 collapse -- and so determined to avoid a repeat performance -- that they shook up the roster, the coaching staff, the offensive and defensive playbooks and the scouting department. The biggest move was trading tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, but he was just part of a greater roster overhaul designed to beef up the defense and the offensive line. Will it all pay off? We'll begin to find out this summer if:
The offensive line can become more solidified up front after adding two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger. He came from Seattle in the Graham trade.
The defense can cut down on all the mental errors and missed tackles that plagued them last season now that it has simplified coordinator Rob Ryan’s playbook and added cerebral former Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen to the staff.
Position battles to watch: The Saints will have a “quarterback” controversy -- on defense, anyway. They released starting Mike linebacker Curtis Lofton, who served as the QB of the defense while relaying signals on the field. Veteran David Hawthorne is penciled in as his replacement, but the Saints drafted another contender with that 31st pick from Seattle: Clemson’s Stephone Anthony. Anthony impressed with his athleticism and poise during summer practices, but he’ll have to show consistency when the pads come on to prove he’s ready. … The receiver position will also be fascinating behind starters Cooks and Marques Colston. It’s a free-for-all between up-and-comers Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones and more experienced veterans Josh Morgan and Joe Morgan. Whoever wins the No. 3 and 4 jobs will play key roles for the Saints -- and possibly for fantasy owners.
Veterans to watch: Just about every veteran left on the New Orleans roster needs a bounce-back season, but the big ones are Brees and safety Jairus Byrd. Brees, 36, is still an elite QB who tied for the NFL lead with 4,952 passing yards last season and finished second with a 69.2 completion percentage. But he also struggled with 20 turnovers -- some in big moments. The Saints are banking that Brees will be more efficient if he’s not playing from behind as much and not facing as much pressure up the middle. … Byrd, meanwhile, missed 12 games with a knee injury last year after signing a megadeal in free agency. He also missed all of last summer with back surgery, which hurt the chemistry in a struggling secondary. The Saints need to get Byrd back to being the ball hawk who intercepted 22 passes in five years with the Buffalo Bills.
Rookies to watch: Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha (a second-round pick from Washington) could inject a much-needed dose of athleticism to the linebacking corps. Anthony probably needs to lock down a starting job to make a big impact. Kikaha could contribute right away as a rotational pass-rush specialist. The 6-foot-3, 246-pounder had a whopping 19 sacks as a senior and 32 over the past two years. … The Saints’ top draft pick was Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat at No. 13 overall. He has great agility for his massive frame (6-7, 316). But he’ll need a very strong summer to beat out reliable right tackle Zach Strief for a starting job.
Bubble watch: Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was essentially redshirted last year after being drafted in the second round, because the Saints saw him as a raw, developmental player. But he won’t have that luxury this year with so many other new corners in the mix. The 6-3, 218-pounder will have to prove he’s ready to use his impressive size and length as a nickel or dime corner or special-teams contributor. … The Saints are overcrowded at linebacker after drafting three of them this year, which means at least one veteran could miss the cut. Hawthorne and Dannell Ellerbe need to lock down starting jobs to stay out of jeopardy. Backups Parys Haralson and Ramon Humber also need to have strong camps.
Home run threats: Even though the Saints traded away their top two pass-catchers from last season (Graham and Kenny Stills), the cupboard is far from bare. Cooks and Spiller are the two players who will likely generate the most buzz this summer -- and the most “oohs" and "ahhs” from the fans. Both have dynamic speed, which allows them to bust big plays in the open field. Cooks should emerge as New Orleans’ No. 1 receiver on deep throws and short stuff like screens and end-arounds, while Spiller should catch 60-plus passes out of the backfield in the mold of Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.
For daily updates at camp, check out the New Orleans Saints clubhouse page.