Saints 2020 Training Camp Preview: Top 5 Position “Battles” to Watch

Photo Credit(s): New Orleans Saints on

After much trepidation due to the on-going coronavirus / COVID-19 health crisis, it appears now that the NFL and the League’s nearly 1700 players, will in fact be playing football this season; but without any Preseason games and Regular Season games that will be played with fans attending in a limited capacity or possibly even in completely empty stadiums.

For the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the League’s 32 teams, it means that there will be extended Training Camps this year, and the Black and Gold officially will begin theirs starting next week (July 28th) but with limited media access and no fans allowed at practices due to safety protocols that will be enforced to protect the team’s players and staff.

With all of that in mind, this morning here at Big Easy Magazine we’re previewing what will be a very unique Saints Training Camp over the course of the next several weeks; as New Orleans begins preparing for their 2020 Regular Season opening game at home inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 13th.

Here is a brief look at the Top 5 position “battles” for Who Dats to watch, starting with…..


Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on

Gardner-Johnson was a pleasant surprise last season as a rookie, and the former University of Florida star stepped right in and gave the Saints defense and defensive backs / secondary coach Aaron Glenn another versatile “chess piece”, capable of filling multiple roles / positions within the team’s defensive scheme.

A wide variety of injuries to the team’s other cornerbacks saw Johnson play at the “nickel” / slot CB position, and it’s expected that he will compete to be the starter in that role this season against 6th year veteran CB PJ Williams.

Although the 27-year old Williams has struggled at times in the past, last season when healthy he played in 80% of the team’s defensive snaps, and even filled in at safety for a few games. Clearly Gardner-Johnson seems to be the favorite at the moment to emerge as the winner of this competition, although a strong showing by Williams potentially could make the coaching staff’s final decision all the more difficult.


(Photo Credit: Edwin Goode, WVUE-TV – FOX8 New Orleans)

McCoy was inserted into the line-up as a rookie last year and made an immediate impact, and while he’s expected to remain in the starter’s role at center for the forseeable future, the team’s recent selection of University of Michigan rookie center Cesar Ruiz in the 2020 NFL Draft a few months ago; obviously suggests that the team has other plans for McCoy down the line.

Saints head coach Sean Payton has said previously that the plan going forward for Ruiz will likely be for him to eventually become the starter at center and well into the team’s future (at least for the next decade); and chances are that McCoy ultimately will move over one spot and become the starter at Right Guard after the team released former starter Larry Warford this past off-season.

While McCoy and Ruiz will go head-to-head to determine who will be snapping the ball to QB Drew Brees this season, there’s a very strong possibility that Ruiz himself could also compete for that starting Right Guard spot against veteran Nick Easton. In any event, the Saints will have a notable amount of depth and versatility within the interior of their O-Line for the next several seasons, regardless of who wins the “battle” at center in the upcoming weeks ahead.


Photo Credit: University of Dayton Football on

While the rookie Trautman is expected to see a fair amount of playing time given his obvious talent that has drawn many comparisons to current San Francisco 49ers All-Pro TE George Kittle, he will have his hands full trying to earn the #2 TE spot behind starting #1 TE Jared Cook.

That’s because the rookie will be facing off against current Saints #2 TE Josh Hill, who despite his shortcomings as a pass-catcher that has drawn criticism from many Who Dat fans, is a dominant “in-line” blocker and a favorite of Sean Payton.

Undoubtedly, the Saints drafted Trautman to be the starter at the TE position well into the future, but unless he does something spectacular at Training Camp over the course of the next few weeks, the early advantage in the battle to back-up Jared Cook would seem to favor Hill.


Photo Credit: Layne Murdoch/ New Orleans Saints on

Now about to enter his 4th NFL season, Anzalone seemingly has always possessed the undeniable talent, skill-set, and high motor necessary to become a top-caliber defender at the LB position in the NFL, but the question ever since he arrived in NOLA 3 years ago is if he can ever stay healthy long enough and over an extended period of time, in order for that to happen.

With All-Pro Demario Davis entrenched at the weakside / “Will” LB spot and veterans Craig Robertson and Kiko Alonso expected to vie for the starting middle / “Mike” position, Anzalone will be facing a stiff challenge for the starting role at strongside / “Sam” LB from talented rookie and former University of Wisconsin star Zack Baun.

Baun particularly excels as a pass-rusher coming off of the outside edge, and it’s for that reason why the Saints defensive coaching staff and new LB coach Michael Hodges are excited about the prospect of Baun coming in and having an immediate impact as a rookie. But to what degree that impact will be eventually, very likely will be determined if he can somehow manage to outperform Anzalone in the weeks ahead.


Photo Credits: New Orleans Saints on Twitter

Last but certainly not least, we come to what many consider to be the #1 position battle of this year’s Training Camp between Taysom Hill and former Tampa Bay starting QB Jameis Winston; whom the Saints signed this off-season once he was released by the Buccaneers after 5 NFL seasons.

The QB who eventually emerges as the winner of this particular battle not only will become the team’s back-up #2 QB for the upcoming 2020 NFL Season, but possibly the new starter after Drew Brees retires. Ultimately, the Saints coaching staff will have to choose between a phenomenal 30-year old athlete (Taysom) who has only completed 6 passes in his entire NFL career; and a young man (Winston) who despite being immensely talented, last season actually threw for the most interceptions (30) in the League in the past 40 years.

If Winston can prove that he can become a much more efficient passer and significantly reduce the amount of mistakes and rectify the poor decision-making that seemingly has derailed his once-promising NFL career, it could give Payton and his offensive coaching staff a tough choice to make.

Given his considerably-much more extensive playing experience than Taysom has as a starting NFL QB, it’s thought by many observers that if Winston can show some very notable improvement with his passing skills; it potentially could give the Black and Gold a much better option in what could be one of the most vitally-important decisions that team management has ever made in the franchise’s entire 53-year history…..

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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