The time has come. The wait is finally over. After an incredibly eventful offseason full of turnover and turmoil (see Junior Galette), the New Orleans Saints will finally open their much anticipated training camp practices today at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
It's the nature of the business in the NFL that jobs are always up for grabs at training camp, but that fact has never more apparent for the Saints than this summer in West Virginia. Ever since the Sean Payton era began a decade ago, the Saints brass has made a habit of keeping the man who performs 'best in camp' as well as the preseason games. Most teams make that same claim, but Payton puts his money where his mouth is, and undrafted free agents Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson and yes, even Junior Galette can all vouch for him. And this year, the stiff competition for starting positions and roster spots promises be more fierce than ever.Who will be the Saints big undrafted free agent surprise this year? With Jimmy Graham now playing in Seattle, could it be Jack Tabb, the 6-foot-3, 250 pound tight end from North Carolina? What about the training camp free-for-all competition at the wide receiver position? Could there be room on the Saints roster for New Hampshire's hidden gem, R.J. Harris who compiled 3 straight 1000-yard receiving seasons, including an eye-popping 1,551 yards to go along with 15 touchdowns in 2014 alone. Or what about the large Brandon Coleman-style receiver, Kyle Prater from Northwestern, who along with the other two players mentioned, has turned many heads at OTAs and mini-camp last month.
Of course, it is always fun to see who emerges in camp, but it's also incredibly intriguing to figure out who will be the big surprise cuts during the training camp process as well. Since the time I wrote this article over the weekend, one of my predictions has already occurred. Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was released on Monday after failing his physical. I don't get credit for this one because there's no proof, but i did call it...and I even have witnesses! Although Payton said today at his initial Greenbrier press conference that he "thinks the world of him", I felt all along there was a strong possibility that Bunkley would be a waiver casualty by the end of camp. And he was....it was just at the beginning of camp.
We all know that in addition to surprises on the practice field, injuries will certainly affect the Saints final 53-man roster. It always does. And while there is obviously no control over who gets the injury bug, here is the beginning of the Alexander Crystal Ball going into the 2015 season.
There is no doubt who the starter is here. Anyone who follows the NFL knows that Drew Brees is a probable first ballot Hall of Famer, and he shows very few signs of slowing down. Even at the tender age of 35 last season, Brees still managed to lead the NFL in passing yardage for the 6th time in 9 seasons.
In fact, since arriving in New Orleans in 2006, Brees has thrown for several thousand more yards and many more touchdowns than any quarterback in the league during that span. His 43,685 yards in the last 9 seasons is a whopping 7,178 yards more than the next signal caller (Philip Rivers), and his 316 TD in that same span are 30 more than Peyton Manning who is 2nd on this list.
The craziest stat in Brees' favor however, might be the fact that Brees has actually averaged 4,854 yards per season in New Orleans. Those are truly incredible numbers, but the real question here is who will be the Saints first backup quarterback?
The Saints 3rd round draft pick Garrett Grayson from Colorado State is going to make the team. Period. Many feel that Grayson will be the heir apparent to Brees when he finally steps down. The real question is will he be the 3rd string QB as most predict, or does he have a chance to blow up this summer and give the Saints enough confidence in him to cut both of their incumbent backups Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin. The answer is, it is possible, but in my opinion, it's pretty unlikely Payton is going to have that kind of confidence in a rookie.
McCown, the 34-year old veteran who is going into his 12th season in the NFL seems to be the obvious choice to back up Brees. It seems logical right? After all, McCown has several NFL starts under his belt for the Browns, Buccaneers and Jaguars. Wrong!
I'm predicting a strong training camp from Griffin, the 3rd year pro from Tulane. Although he doesn't provide that secure veteran leadership that McCown might, please keep in mind that the proverbial light bulb usually starts to shine bright for young quarterbacks in their third season. That, plus the fact that Griffin comes with a cheaper price tag than McCown makes him my surprise choice for the Saints 2nd string quarterback.
Also keep in mind that Drew Brees has NEVER missed a game due to injury since he has been in New Orleans, so the next time the Saints need a backup quarterback to start a game, will be the first time in the Payton era. Out of a possible 154 Saints games played in 9 seasons (including playoffs), Brees has started 153 of them! Once again, simply incredible.
In fact, the only game Brees didn't participate in was the final regular season game of the 2009 Super Bowl season at Carolina. The 13-2 Saints had already wrapped up the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs and didn't want to risk playing Brees, a move in which the quarterback begrudgingly accepted. The man likes to be on the field, and it's going to take a tsunami to keep him off the gridiron again.
Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. The big cuts are coming....and we're just getting started!
Tomorrow, we'll bring you the makes and cuts at the RUNNING BACK and WIDE RECEIVER positions. Trust me, you won't want to miss this!