New Orleans Saints

Hard knocks: Tracking the position battles as Saints report to training camp

By Nick Underhill

Cornerback Keenan Lewis is expected to remain starter for the New Orleans Saints, who open training camp Thursday.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis is expected to remain starter for the New Orleans Saints, who open training camp Thursday. New Orleans Advocate

For a team, training camp is when the system is installed and preparations are made.

For players, it’s a fight for your livelihood and, in some cases, supremacy.

While teams install their packages, each player will be trying to execute his role within those packages better than the guy next to him. Each play, each moment is a chance to show he's better than his counterparts.

Those who successfully make their case will make the team and win jobs. Those who fail will be told to find employment somewhere else.

These battles will take place all over the roster for the New Orleans Saints as they arrive in West Virginia to begin practice at The Greenbrier starting Thursday. A few spots are more important than others and could determine the fate of the season.

Who wins the backup quarterback battle between Garrett Grayson and Luke McCown matters a lot, but Drew Brees is still here, so it's not at the top of our list. Figuring out who will play at the guard spot opposite Andrus Peat and who will emerge as Cameron Jordan’s sidekick in the pass rush is far more important to the season directly ahead of us.

Here’s a look at a handful of other position battles to keep an eye on during training camp:

Slot cornerback

Assuming Delvin Breaux and Keenan Lewis lock up the top two spots at cornerback — and they should — that will leave Damian Swann and P.J. Williams fighting for reps as the third cornerback in nickel packages.

Swann held down the position most of the season last year before his season ended after he suffered his third concussion. While on the field, he performed well after settling in and left little to complain about in a secondary that produced plenty to gripe about.

It’s not known what Williams can do at this level since he spent his first season on injured reserve. He performed well during organized team activities and minicamp, but the majority of his snaps came on the outside while filling in for Lewis.

If Lewis is unable to participate fully early in camp, Williams likely will assume a similar role during camp. It could take some time before we see him cover the slot.

Wide receiver

Will it be four or five? The Saints have been comfortable with four receivers before, so that could leave the pickings slim after you lock in Brandin Cooks, rookie Michael Thomas and Willie Snead.

The top candidate to win the fourth receiver spot is Brandon Coleman, who finished last season strong after Marques Colston went down with an injury. If he holds onto the job — and the team only carries four receivers — this battle is already over.

But Coleman is going to have to fight to protect his spot. R.J. Harris looked sharp during the offseason program, and there were a few other players deeper down the roster who flashed potential. Someone could emerge and distinguish himself once camp gets rolling.

Kicker

This is an annual issue. At some point, the Saints are going to locate a kicker who locks down the job, and there will be no discussion about who is going to handle kicking duties. That point isn’t now.

The Saints head into camp with Kai Forbath and Connor Barth running neck and neck; neither separated himself during the offseason program.

Guard

On offense, there’s no bigger battle than the one at guard.

It appears Peat will lock down one of the spots. The other is completely up for grabs, with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete the frontrunners.

All three struggled with consistency last season. Peat, a converted tackle, should benefit from having a full offseason to prepare for his move. But all three have something to prove.

New Orleans brought in a slew of undrafted players to make a run at roster spots. If one of them steps up and plays well during camp, it’s not out of the question for that player to take the next step and steal the job.

Pass rusher

There’s no bigger question on the roster than who emerges as the pass rusher opposite Jordan.

The position was slated to go to Hau’oli Kikaha, but he suffered an ACL injury and could miss the season. That leaves the job up for grabs. The top candidates are Kasim Edebali, Obum Gwacham and Davis Tull.

All three are somewhat unknown. Edebali finished with five sacks last season, giving him an early edge. Gwacham recorded a good amount of pressure but was still raw the last time he played. Tull spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

Someone needs to emerge from this group and help create pressure. Otherwise, the team's efforts to improve the defense will be undermined.

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