Answering 5 of the Biggest Questions Heading Into Saints Training Camp

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

The New Orleans Saints have released their official schedule for their 2019 Training Camp. A grand total of 12 practices will be open to the general public at the team’s practice facility in suburban Metairie.

This year’s camp will feature new amenities such as covered and misted seating in the metal bleachers adjacent to the outdoor practice field to help fans avoid the oppressive New Orleans heat and humidity. The team also plans to hold an open practice session at Tulane University’s Yulman Stadium on Sunday, August 4th at 7 p.m. along with the scheduled Black and Gold Fan Fest from 5-6:30 p.m.

All of the team’s open practices are free to attend, but you will need to reserve tickets by registering on the team’s official website. Season ticket holders can get their tickets as early as next week (Monday. July 16th), with waiting list members able to get theirs on the following day (Tuesday, July 17th) and the rest of the General Public on Wednesday, July 18th.

Each of the 12 scheduled practices is open to the public, as long as weather permits; practices are expected to start at 8:50 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. Here are the specific dates that have been officially announced:

  • Friday, July 26
  • Saturday, July 27
  • Sunday, July 28 (first practice dressed out in full gear/pads)
  • Monday, July 29
  • Tuesday, July 30
  • Friday, August 2
  • Saturday, August 3
  • Sunday, August 4 (at Tulane University’s Yulman Stadium — special start time 7:00 p.m.)
  • Wednesday, August 7
  • Saturday, August 10
  • Sunday, August 11
  • Monday, August 12
  • Thursday, August 22

I’ll be there, of course, covering Camp once again here at Big Easy Magazine; with that in mind, I’m answering five of the biggest questions surrounding this year’s Saints team as they head into the 2019 Training Camp.

#1. The Saints Have a Theme/Slogan or “Mantra” in Camp Every Year — What Will It Be in 2019?

Every year when the Saints head into their annual Training Camp prior to each individual season in the Sean Payton Era, they normally will come up with a particular theme or slogan, such as last year’s 2018 theme: “Prove Them Right”.

Payton was actually asked this question previously at the team’s first Mini-Camp practice last month but told reporters that they hadn’t come up with one as of yet. Of course, most Saints fans fondly remember “Finish Strong”, which was the team’s slogan during their unforgettable and memorable 2009 Season, which saw them win their one and only Super Bowl that year.

Now while it probably would seem pretty silly to use an old one like that for a theme in another season nearly some ten years later, given the way and manner in which they’ve lost in the Playoffs the past two years, something along those lines (ending games with a victory) would have to be considered more than appropriate.

#2. Will Cam Meredith Finally Prove That He Can Still Play, or is He in Danger of Being Cut or Released?

I’ve personally covered this topic ad nauseam (over and over again) here at Big Easy Magazine over the course of the past few weeks; as mentioned previously, Meredith agreed to take a pay cut to keep him with the Black and Gold for the upcoming 2019 NFL Season. He likely was willing to do so that he can prove that he is NOT a Free Agent “bust.”

Team brass ultimately decided to reduce Meredith’s total in salary and potential bonuses from $5.05 million to $2.95 million, guaranteeing him only a total of $1.5 million instead. But things seemingly got worse for Meredith, who had only been working off to the side during off-season team OTA’s with a trainer and then did not participate in Mini-Camp, prompting even more speculation about his future with the team going forward. But Meredith told ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett that the team chose to rest him so that he will be ready to participate in Training Camp.

Nevertheless, Meredith will now find himself with a ton of competition who will be trying to take his spot, including players such as rejuvenated 8th-year veteran Rishard Matthews, meaning that Meredith will need to step up both physically and mentally (knowing the offensive playbook in and out) to prove himself worthy enough of keeping his roster spot. Otherwise, Meredith would appear to be in serious danger of being released in my opinion — and sadly he would become yet another Free Agent “bust” for the Black and Gold in recent years; joining other notable previous Free Agent ‘busts” such as Jairus ByrdBrandon Browner, and CJ Spiller. among others.

#3. Is Drew Brees Starting to Show the Signs of Physical Decline, as Some Folks Claim?

Most Saints fans have grown tired of a handful of alleged expert NFL analysts and observers who every year around this time openly question Brees’ physical capabilities, and especially now since he just recently turned age 40. It’s a fair question to ask, even though Brees still appears to be playing at a high level of performance. That’s thanks in part to his devotion to a strict training regimen which has already allowed him to extend his career beyond the age that most NFL QBs usually retire at (in their mid-to-late 30’s).

Given that Patriots QB Tom Brady just won his record 6th Super Bowl (and his 3rd in the past five years) at age 41 by following a similar training routine over the past few seasons, it goes without saying that Payton and the Saints believe that Brees is more than capable of pulling off a similar feat. However, what the franchise needs to figure out going forward is just how long their capability to win a title with Brees actually is. It could even be right after this upcoming season, which isn’t all that far-fetched if the Saints were to advance to Miami (site of Super Bowl LIV (54) next February and he got the very rare opportunity to “go out on top”,

Make no mistake about this much: Brees probably can’t throw it further than 50 yards down the field anymore — but he still has enough arm strength (based on what I’ve personally observed of him in practice this off-season) and enough proverbial “gas left in the tank” to lead the Black and Gold to one more Super Bowl title before hanging up his cleats for good.

#4. Which Rookies in the Team’s Recent 2019 Draft Class, Have a Shot at Significant Playing Time?

When you take into consideration that the Saints only had a grand total of five picks in this year’s recent 2019 NFL Draft, they still ended up having a pretty damn good collection of players. Not only did the Black and Gold New Orleans appear to have gotten much younger, but they also appeared to have gotten even better as a team talent-wise, if that’s even possible.

The NFL Draft for most teams comes down to picking players that are not only talented but also fit the team (or the scheme) and then having the proper vision of how to implement it all during the season. The Saints didn’t have a “sexy” draft by any means, but it was still solid, and most importantly: they got great value — which continues to be the key to their success over the course of the entire Sean Payton Era,

Of the five players (center Erik McCoy, safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Saquon Hampton, linebacker Kaden Elliss, and tight end Alizé Mack), McCoy is the most likely rookie to see significant playing time, since most observers feel he’ll start right away as an immediate impact performer  (or “plug and play” as it’s often referred to as) despite lasting to the 48th overall pick. But Gardner-Johnson could also see some significant playing time as a noted play-maker and “ball hawk” in the secondary; as well as Mack; who is a quick learner and will be mentored by veteran tight end Jared Cook.

#5. Which of the Team’s Undrafted Players Have the Best Shot at Making the Final Roster?

As good as New Orleans has been at picking players in the Draft itself. they’ve also been just as nearly successful with signing players for their more recent UDFA (undrafted rookie free agents that weren’t picked in the draft) classes in the past few off-seasons, and the one from a few months ago might have been one of the deepest UDFA classes that the team has assembled in recent years; especially given that several of them were originally projected to be mid-to-late round draft picks themselves.

Some of the better-known names that the Saints coaches will have a keen eye on in the next few weeks include former USC defensive end/linebacker Porter Gustin, Nebraska RB Devin Ozigbo, Texas WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, small school superstar punt/kick returner Deonte Harris, and Utah linebacker Chase Hansen. among others. However, it is important to make a small note that out of all the undrafted rookies that they signed in last year’s 2018 UDFA class, only two of them (wide receiver Keith Kirkwood and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth) were able to stick around for the entire season.

While it’s a total crapshoot trying to figure which of these players (if any of them) are actually good enough to take away a roster spot from any of the veterans, my money personally would be on the very impressive and physically-imposing Gustin (since Granderson was remanded to custody and will serve six months on a count of sexual battery), whose notable versatility allows him to essentially play wherever you line him up at throughout nearly the entire defensive formation — something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by several members of the Saints defensive coaching staff.

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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