As the New Orleans Saints gear up for the final push of training camp, both sides of the ball have definitive goals to reach.
Offensively, much of the veteran core is in place, yet flow and execution are two areas of concern, given the young group of receivers competing to replace Devery Henderson.
Quarterback Drew Brees and sidelined veteran receiver Marques Colston are teaching quite a bit this year to try and avoid some of the growing pains that will likely accompany budding, yet novice, talents like Nick Toon, Kenny Stills and Andy Tanner.
“We always watch film together – the receivers and quarterbacks,” Brees said. “We sit there and get on the same page: ‘Hey, I’m seeing what you’re seeing, and here’s what I expect you to do,’ or ‘Great job getting on top of this route by doing this,’ or ‘This is the adjustment on that look. If you see that look again, this is what I’m expecting.'”
Brees believes investing that time now is the only way to take the passing game to the next level.
“So much efficiency in the passing game comes down to trust and anticipation,” Brees said. “I’ve got to be able to trust those guys – where they’re going to be, when the ball is going to be there. If I can anticipate that, that usually equals successful plays.”
The Black and Gold’s offense also wants to step up their performance when converting on third-and-short situations, where the Saints have depended more on the pass than the run as of late.
“That’s definitely an area that we can improve upon, that one to two yard range,” Brees said. “Typically we have been a very good third down team, but I would say maybe we have been a bit better in the third and long situations, as opposed to maybe not quite as good in the third and short situations. That is definitely an area of emphasis because you think, man, third and one or two, it’s a yard you should get no matter if everybody in the stadium knows you are running the football. It is kind of a test of will at that point.”
The return of versatile running back Pierre Thomas bodes well for improving the Saints’ offensive flow.
Thomas worked out in a limited capacity Tuesday, after resting an undisclosed leg injury since August 7.
Thomas’ versatility in both the run and passing game is crucial for the offense, especially on the screen play, which is the veteran back’s specialty.
He’s been with the Saints his entire career, debuting as an undrafted free agent in 2007, so Coach Sean Payton says the key is giving him just enough practice to get him acclimated, but not enough to overload him.
“For a guy like Pierre, it’s not that he needs a lot of reps,” Payton said. “He does need x amount of reps though, from a running back standpoint to be in football shape. His weight is down. Mentally he’s very sharp, so he knows our system. It’s just a matter of getting enough work to where the time we open up in September, his body is comfortable and used to the physicality of the game.”
Meanwhile, the Saints defense is still looking for the key to generating a successful pass rush.
Martez Wilson’s anticipated return could be the answer.
Tuesday, he was back on the sidelines of the Black and Gold’s practice, wearing a red jersey and a brace on his left arm.
Wilson’s elbow and bicep injury is still healing, but the outside linebacker says he’s been able to run and condition and should be ready to go Week 1.
“Elbows can be tricky and the bicep. Coach and the trainers are just being careful,” Wilson said. “I’m just focused on getting back out here. Getting my plays down, the tempo back, my speed back, and my rhythm back with my teammates.”
Wilson is concerned about the amount of defensive installation he’s missing.
“Yes, because not only do you want to know the defense inside and out mentally, but you want to physically go through it, so you can see how you should adjust in certain formations or certain techniques you should use in certain defensive calls,” Wilson said. “So yes, it’s hurt a lot.”
The third-round-pick from 2011 is working before and after practice to get caught up.
Special teams captain Courtney Roby sustained a toe injury tracking the ball during drills Tuesday.
Trainers helped the 9-year-veteran into the locker room, since he couldn’t place much weight on his injured foot.