Depth For Saints At Certain Spots Should Create A “Thunderdome” Effect


“Who run Bartertown?”

If you’ve used that quote from the 1980’s movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when you’ve bested a friend, co-worker, or sibling at a certain game or event, you’re not alone and it ranks up there with the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” from Jaws.

For the New Orleans Saints, they have a very good problem with depth at certain positions which brings another quote from old Thunderdome that is in reference to the battle between occupants that enter it:

“Two men man leave”

The classic contest in the movie stressed that both contestants were literally fighting for their lives, until there was only one left standing in a gladiatorial showdown.

Now while this may not be a literal fight for their lives, players on the Saints roster are battling to keep their dream alive in the NFL — whether it’s with the Saints or not.

Sep 20, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman (16) catches the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I recently did an article on the notion that current wide receiver Brandon Coleman will need to battle this season, to keep his position on the depth chart or even remain on the roster at the start of the season.

It sparked a surprising number of reactions that Coleman was a “lock” or definitely wasn’t going anywhere.

If you have been around the Saints, head coach Sean Payton , or the NFL for any period of time, then you should know that a very small percentage is ever 100% or guaranteed.

At wide receiver, the Saints currently have 11 players at that position signed and on the roster:

While Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas are the definite “locks” to be on the roster, Willie Snead has likely cemented his status among them too; provided he performs at the same level heading into OTA’s and training camp.

It was mentioned to me yesterday involved in the Coleman debate that there was no way an undrafted free agent was beating him out.

Well — let’s not forget that Coleman himself was a UDFA that managed to find a spot on the roster just a few years ago.

The Saints secondary has some major bodies assigned currently which considering the injuries that have forced some into positions with mixed results last season, is a decent cushion of comfort.

Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux (40) against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Cowboys 26-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Delvin Breaux was a pleasant surprise after being pushed into a starting position last season, while Brandon Browner was an utter disaster after the bar was set apparently too high upon his arrival in free agency.

Assumed starter Keenan Lewis has said he’s 100% after two injury plagued seasons and I’m hopeful that he is — but I don’t want to plop too much money down on that bet just yet.

And let’s not forget the safety position: where Jarius Byrd has been speculated to be living on borrowed time with the amount of money the Saints could save by releasing him on a post June 1st cut in 2017; coupled with the arrival of 2016 second round pick Vonn Bell,who ironically was compared to Byrd coming out of Ohio State.

With 18 players currently in the secondary (10 corners, 8 safeties), this seems to be the deepest group which could foster some really nice competition; with it possibly even seeing some position changes or hybrid roles.

The defensive front seven for the Saints is also another area that is stacked up almost evenly, with 24 total players and split with 12 designated linemen and 12 linebackers.

In a recent piece I did on the options the team has for generating a pass rush going into 2016. This is not just a big numbered group, but one where you wonder how they’ll fit everyone into the rotation especially at the tackle position.

Oct 24, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; Boston College Eagles quarterback Jeff Smith (5) scrambles away from Louisville Cardinals defensive end Sheldon Rankins (98) during the second half at Papa John

With guys like Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, John Jenkins, Nick Fairley, and David Onyemata in the mix, it’s a pleasant dilemma to cure the lack of push up the middle that they haven’t had.

Head coach Sean Payton said that they’ve been working Onyemata at defensive end as well, which could put him up against the likes of Bobby Richardson to work opposite Cameron Jordan.

Within the dozen the Saints have at linebacker, they shouldn’t be forced to sign players off the street like they did last season.

If the group can stay healthy, then you’ll see a good dose of Dannell Ellerbe, James Laurinaitis, and Stephone Anthony; along with Craig Robertson or Nate Stupar sprinkled in with the latter two seeing a bulk of their action on special teams.

I’m not leaving out the likes of Hau’oli Kikaha, Kasim Edebali, Davis Tull or Obum Gwachum either, but I think they’ll be assigned strictly to pin their ears back in a straight pass rushing role or special teams as well.

On the opposite side of the line of scrimmage is one that has even the most casual fan concerned, mainly because it involves keeping quarterback Drew Brees upright or even on the field without a serious injury.

Nov 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints tackle Zach Strief (64) and quarterback Drew Brees (9) lie on the ground after Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) makes a sack during the game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Probably the most hashed out scenario starting in the offseason was how would the Saints improve the offensive line, and turn it into a unit that sent several of it’s members to Pro Bowls while earning the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award in 2009 and 2011, as well as being nominated for it in 2010.

Tackle Terron Armstead and center Max Unger headline a group that needs some major patchwork done in the coming months.

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The team is likely close to parting ways with starting right tackle Zach Strief or at the very least diminishing him to a backup role after selecting Andrus Peat in the first round last year; and also giving serious consideration to drafting tackle Laremy Tunsil after he slid to them in the draft his year.

Guard Tim Lelito admitted in a recent interview on the Saints Happy Hour podcast that he knew that pass protection was his weakness and is working to get better at it moving forward.

I’ll give Lelito credit for that admission, but he’ll still need to stave off the likes of some UDFA’s the Saints signed such as Landon Turner and Jack Allen — who although he is considered a center, can play guard as well — just like veteran Senio Kelemete can.

There also been some conversation on if Peat can play guard or if the Saints will switch him to tackle, considering that’s what Payton said they envisioned him as when he was drafted.

Of course at the end of the day Sunday, the tables could be flipped even more and make a large chunk of this article null and void if the team happens to get their eye bent toward the 44 tryout players they brought in for mini-camp this weekend, which included some veteran players.

Aug 3, 2015; White Sulphur Springs, WV, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Zach Hocker (2) attempts a field goal during training camp at The Greenbrier. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports’s Saints beat writer Katherine Terrell noted Saturday that last year, the team cut veteran kicker Shayne Graham after tryout invitee Zach Hocker caught their attention over the course of a few days at last year’s rookie mini-camp.

Next: The 5 Most Important Saints on Defense in 2016

The old adage of “iron sharpens iron” can be a bit cliché since the Saints are now more concerned with finding the best 11 men to put on the field no matter who it is — which is why I chose to reference the old “Thunderdome” for this piece.

So don’t be concerned with how ‘big’ or ‘small’ a player is, if they’re a veteran or UDFA, or what school they come from; because when it comes down to it, it’s just simply about “the last man standing” at that spot.

As Tina Turner’s character ‘Aunt Entity’ famously said before Mad Max’s famous fight scene:

“Remember where you are – this is Thunderdome, and death is listening, and will take the first man that screams………….”