These are five things to watch for on offense when Saints players report to fall camp on July 24 at The Greenbrier in White Sulpher Springs, W.Va.
5. LT Terron Armstead: His NFL debut started rough. Armstead gave up two sacks during a loss at Carolina (Dec. 22), but the Arkansas-Pine Bluff product settled into his starting job at left tackle and finished the 2013 season strong. Quiet. Which is what you want from his position. After all, we only talk about left tackle when Brees is on the turf.
After an offseason, expect Armstead to make a huge leap this fall.
4. WR Brandin Cooks: Yeah, we know he's a rookie. And in the NFL, first-year receivers aren't always counted on to make a quick adjustment to the NFL. But the Saints need Cooks, a speedy, shifty playmaker out of Oregon State, to do so. That's why the team traded Darren Sproles to Philadelphia.
Cooks offers speed anywhere on the field. Think how defenses must respect that speed, creating more one-on-one opportunities for others, like Graham and fellow receivers Kenny Stills and Marques Colston. And don't be surprised if a few of his punt returns are shown on ESPN's Top Plays of the Week.
Last season at Oregon State, Cooks broke Pac-12 single-season records with 128 receptions and 1,730 receiving yards.
3. RB Mark Ingram: He's got one more year to show what he's about. One more season to cash in his opportunity in the Saints backfield. It could be all his, if Ingram can stay healthy and his offensive line can open a few holes for the University of Alabama product. He finished last season with 78 carries for 386 yards (4.9 average) and one score, his big game against Dallas on Nov. 10 (145 yards, TD).
Can he do that several times a season?
2. TE Jimmy Graham: What does he do the first time coach Sean Payton calls a play where Graham (86 receptions, 1,215 yards, 16 TDs) is supposed to line up wide? Does he say, "Nah, coach. Gimme one on the line," or does he do it, willingly, despite the ugly fight this offseason over his contract and position. So ugly, in fact, that it rivaled a parent going to a kid's social media page to find out damaging information (The Saints testified that Graham called himself a tight end on Twitter).
Now, Graham has to play at not just a high level, but an elite level, the way defenses around the NFL -- including Seattle -- will try to earn their wins by being physical with him. The Seahawks bragged to the league when they did it during last season's NFC divisional playoff. Until Graham proves others can't too, they certainly will try.
Hopefully, his time away from the Saints this offseason won't lead to a slow start into 2014.
1. QB Drew Brees: The Saints can truly say they've improved on offense. Now, let's see what Drew can do with it.
Brees, more than any other player, benefits the most if Ingram can become a solid runner (not even dominant -- just solid) and if the offensive line recovers from last season's roller-coaster performances. Now, Brees (5,162 yards, 39 TDs) has Cooks and Stills -- speed and more speed -- on the field, along with Graham, an easy target at six feet, seven inches, and Colston, whose big body and understanding of the offense and Brees makes him a great target. Behind them are a group of guys that will fight for the remaining jobs. If the cream rises, Brees will have a group of receivers that can match speed with anyone in the NFL.