On Tuesday the New Orleans Saints will begin the official process of molding their team together for the 2016 season with their first set of organized team activities (OTA’s).
This involves getting guys acclimated not only to the entire team, but each other as well; since it was merely the rookies and tryout players that were involved in the recent mini-camp.
Sure it won’t be a true training camp atmosphere with no live contact allowed between offense and defense, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are allowed between the two sides of the ball.
This should help answer some questions that have popped up beginning with the ho-hum 7-9 ending to their 2015 season, and some that occurred during or after the draft as well.
Dec 27, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) walks off the field following a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Jaguars 38-27. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve heard some wondering if quarterback Drew Brees would be there at OTA’s and the answer to that would be a question as well: why wouldn’t he be?
I can understand that the whole extension issue (or really the lack thereof of one) have caused a few freak-outs with fans; with the reference some have used being the 2012 off-season drama that his current contract caused back at that time.
Well it’s a tad different with Brees still being under contract (which he is currently) this time around, as opposed to him being a free agent back in 2012.
Brees has always been a proponent of team bonding and cited OTA’s in particular as being a crucial part of that, so if he were to “holdout” I would be completely surprised — since there is really nothing to holdout for.
Hey — I get it and understand that players have held out to express the unhappiness of the contract they’re presently still under, but I don’t think that’s the way Brees operates.
A huge question I’m interested in seeing answered is where on the football field that certain players will begin to be plugged into, to test their versatility.
Yes I’m wanting to see how certain groups like the wide receivers and secondary compete against each other, but how the Saints will begin to use certain players is a highlight for me.
Photo courtesy of the University of Manitoba
One in particular is rookie defensive lineman David Onyemeta; who I didn’t fully expect much from when he was drafted due to the fact he’s only been playing football for such a short period of time.
But the thing the Nigerian native has going for him is just his pure athleticism and his seemingly unworldly brute strength; allowing him to simply toss offensive linemen to the side or just go straight through them.
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Watching Onyemeta, I assumed due to that strength he’d be used mainly at defensive tackle until he refines his technique a little more — but at rookie camp the coaching staff had him playing the end position.
The Saints themselves have come out and said that they foresee him contributing immediately on the team, which I feared was too bold of a statement at first when every analyst including local ones like Mike Detillier of WWL Radio New Orleans had the word “project” associated with Onyemata.
If former 2014 second round cornerback “project” Stanley Jean-Baptiste’s face flashed before your eyes when you heard that, then you’re not alone!
Nov 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen against the Houston Texans during the first quarter of a game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The dynamic of the coaching staff is another area that will hopefully find some resolution, after a major overhaul that started with the Saints moving on from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan midway into the 2015 season.
Dennis Allen bandaged the defense together to end the season, but now he’s in the driver seat to implement his own defensive plan which he calls “aggressive” and “attacking”.
Helping Allen on the defensive staff will be a plethora of experience in the secondary as Aaron Glenn, a former Saint and NFL cornerback, will take over the spot vacated by Wesley McGriff.
Former New York Giants secondary coach and noted “guru” Peter Giunta will take Allen’s former spot of senior defensive assistant; although I suspect he’ll be focused helping out Glenn; who up until this point has been an assistant coach for the past two years with the Cleveland Browns secondary.
Dec 14, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell calls to his team first half against the New York Giants at Sun Life Stadium where the Giants defeated the dolphins 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports
On the offensive side, one name that highlighted the offseason hires was Dan Campbell; who has the dual role of assistant head coach as well as coaching the tight ends.
Campbell is a former Saints tight end but also was tasked with being the interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins for a majority of the 2015 season. after working with their tight ends for half a decade.
I really liked the hire of Campbell after seeing him when the Dolphins were featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks in 2012; and saw that while he was a fair coach, he also knew when to “turn the heat up” to push the tight end group and get the most out of them.
Dec 27, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) center poses with guard Senio Kelemete (65) and tackle Zach Strief and center Max Unger (60) and offensive tackle Tony Hills (76) and offensive guard Tim Lelito (68) and tackle Terron Armstead (72) and guard Jahri Evans (73) and offensive tackle Mike McGlynn (77) following win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Jaguars 38-27. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The offensive line coaching will take a new direction with Dan Roushar taking over for the booted Bret Ingalls; who manned a line the past three seasons that gave Brees his highest sack totals of his career (which averaged 32.3 sacks per year).
Offensive tackle Zach Strief shed some light on the struggles in a recent article on NOLA.com by saying:
"“Sometimes there’s fit issues. Coaches like to do things a certain way and maybe he doesn’t want the guys that are vested doing that. And I don’t know that was the case with Bret, but I think some of the stuff we did with Bret was a little bit different than what we were used to, just some technique stuff that was different, some theories …I think Dan is closer to the norm and what guys were used to. Again, we haven’t put pads on and we’ll see if that helps at all. I know that just having a fresh message was good for guys.”"
A familiar face that will rejoin the Saints and hopefully reestablish a good connection with Brees is Joe Lombardi — who returns as quarterbacks coach after previously having the position from 2009-2013 before leaving to be the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions for two seasons.
Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Detroit won 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
I hated when Lombardi left simply because I felt there was a level of comfort between himself and Brees, and that rapport should likely still be there.
Head coach Sean Payton has apparently taken note that the coaching staff, much like the team, has been inconsistent and not appeared to be on the same page in the past few seasons.
It’s no coincidence that he has brought in or, as in Lombardi or Allen’s case, brought back members of the coaching staff that all know what Payton expects; and will not be “Keystone Cops” when it comes to executing offensive and defensive game plans.
Sure the next few weeks of OTA’s won’t answer all the problems or concerns that have plagued the team or stressed fans out like the truth-finder of training camp will, but it will be a start…..