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On 2nd day of full drills, plays Saints safety Jairus Byrd is famous for arrive on the scene

Let the record reflect that the plays on the ball Saints safety Jairus Byrd is famous for arrived on the scene on just the second day the three-time Pro Bowler participated in full-team drills with New Orleans.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints S Jairus Byrd (31) works in special teams drills during Saints Camp practice Wednesday at their training facility in White Sulphur Springs, WV.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS — Saints S Jairus Byrd (31) works in special teams drills during Saints Camp practice Wednesday at their training facility in White Sulphur Springs, WV.

Byrd stole the show during the Saints’ training camp practice at Sidney Theriot Stadium on Wednesday by accounting for two of four interceptions the defense produced. On one of those, in a seven-on-seven drill, he was in the end zone and snatched away a throw by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the man with the most yards (10,339) and second-most touchdowns (82) passing in the NFL since 2012.

On the other, in a full-team drill, he resembled a centerfielder in baseball, tracking an overthrown deep pass by backup QB Luke McCown and cradling it in around the middle of the gridiron. He topped off his dominant day by jumping in front of a pass aimed toward All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham at the goal-line and swatting it away for an incompletion during red-zone work.

Perhaps not one of the 6,600+ in attendance Wednesday doubted Byrd’s ability to swarm toward footballs tossed in his general vicinity. Otherwise, why would the Saints have signed him to a six-year contract worth up to $54 million annually and guaranteeing him $28 million? Otherwise, how could he have accumulated his 22 career interceptions, the most among NFL safeties since he entered the league in 2009?

But less certain at one juncture was how long the Saints would have to wait until they saw those plays. Byrd underwent surgery in May to address a problematic disc in his back, and the procedure sidelined him through the July 24 start of the first phase of training camp in West Virginia.

He returned in a limited capacity five days later, and it wasn’t until Tuesday that he lined
up for full-team drills, after he had already missed a pair of exhibition wins at St. Louis and at home against Tennessee. While Byrd’s ramping up activities Tuesday generated buzz, his play on the field wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary.

That decidedly changed Wednesday, when he attacked throws like the ball vulture he was in five previous seasons with the Buffalo Bills and gave the public its first taste of the marquee free agent the Saints splurged on shortly after the players market opened for business in March.

And it couldn’t come at a better time, with fewer than three days to go before the Saints travel to Indianapolis for their third exhibition this year, the closest thing they’ll get to a simulation of a regular-season game prior to their Week 1 trip to divisional rival Atlanta.

When he met with the media Tuesday, Byrd tried to temper expectations about how many snaps he may see Saturday.

“I guess it’s just the feel — I’ve got to go out and see how I feel first,” he said. “Just take right now and see where I’m at — I’ll know what I need once I get out there, see where I’m at to get a gauge.”

And it’s a point well made. Wednesday wasn’t a fully-equipped practice — players wore helmets, shorts and shoulder pads, and live contact wasn’t allowed. That obviously won’t be the case at Indianapolis.

But there’s no denying the Saints were pumped up at the early flashes Byrd delivered Wednesday night.

“It was good to have him out there,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. “He’s someone that covers a lot of ground quickly — he’s real smart with his eyes, and he’s a veteran player that understands formations and where the ball might be going.”

Linebacker David Hawthorne added, “He’s a ball-hawk. Everybody knows that. The wisdom and the level of play he brings will definitely make us better.”

Pierre Thomas willing to accept new role, but says teammates will have to put him on the bench

MANDEVILLE — The Saints feel as though they have an annual conversation with Pierre Thomas about how he will be used and how his role will change from the previous season.

And each year the guidelines laid out in that conversation end up changing.

“At some point in the season it shifts,” coach Sean Payton said.

That conversation has already taken place this season, and it sounds like Thomas is not expected to lead the team in carries as he did a season ago. The plan, at least for now, is to have Thomas serve more in the passing game as both a receiver and in protection.

The plan is to have the bulk of the carries go to some of the other backs such as Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. While Thomas wants the ball in his hands, he says he’s OK with the carries going to some of the other backs.

“My role is going to change a whole lot this year,” Thomas said. “I’m going to do a lot more pass protection and do little more route running. That’s what I’m working on — improving my route-running game. I’m still going to be running the ball. They told me that. I got a few changes here and there that I’m going to adapt to.

“I just know that all of us can do the same thing. The coaches can see that too. You see Mark out there spread out wide. Same thing with Khiry. You see all of us doing the same thing. It’s a nice rotation. We want to make sure we’re unpredictable.

Thomas isn’t ready to just lay down, though.

He’s fine with other guys logging carries, but he isn’t going to hand the ball to one of his counterparts. He wants to make sure his teammates earn their snaps.

“I don’t complain about my reps. I don’t complain about anything,” Thomas said. “I know I’m going to get the ball. I know I’m going to go out there and put myself out there on the field and help my team out. I know my name will be called. That’s my whole attitude. I know these coaches are not going to put me down and put me down on the side.

“These guys, they my friends and they my teammates. They’re going to have to outwork me. They’re going to have to put me on the bench and that’s going to be hard to do.”

A look at Saints players with practice squad eligibility

The NFL announced some changes to practice squads in 2014 and 2015, which increases the maximum number of players from eight to 10, and also expands the eligibility for players who have earned no more than two accrued seasons.

Previously, players who earned one or more accrued seasons were not allowed to be placed on practice squads unless the player spent fewer than nine games on the active roster in their accrued seasons.

Under the new rules, the two additional players on each practice squad can have up to 32 games on an active roster over their first two seasons. What this means is that any 2012 or 2013 rookie can now fill the final two practice squad spots.

The other eight players remain under the old rules.

For the Saints, who have a young roster, this means there are now several candidates who could fill out the practice squad.

The following is a list of players who have practice squad eligibility by one means or another (assuming our understanding of the new rules are correct). However, it should be noted some combinations of the following names would not work due to the differing sets of rules.

T Terron Armstead
C Matt Armstrong
S Marcus Ball
CB Derrius Brooks
WR Brandon Coleman
WR Brandin Cooks
LB Todd Davis
K Derek Dimke
CB Brian Dixon
LB Kasim Edebali
RB Timothy Flanders
T Manase Foketi
LB Khairi Fortt
DE Glenn Foster
CB Terrence Frederick
QB Ryan Griffin
TE Je’Ron Hamm
WR Charles Hawkins
TE Josh Hill
TE Nic Jacobs
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
NT John Jenkins
DE Rufus Johnson
FB Austin Johnson
T Marcel Jones
WR Seantavius Jones
G Senio Kelemete
QB Logan Kilgore
LB Kyle Knox
T Ty Nsekhe
WR Tobais Palmer
LB Ronald Powell
LB Kevin Reddick
RB Khiry Robinson
T Tavon Rooks
WR Kenny Stills
RB Derrick Strozier
S Vinnie Sunseri
CB Rod Sweeting
DE George Uko
LB Chidera Uzo-Diribe
S Kenny Vaccaro
DE Tyrunn Walker
T Jason Weaver
S Ty Zimmerman

Morning links: Zone issues

Good morning, everyone. We have a lot of good stories to share today.

I took a look at the Saints outside zone-blocking scheme and some of the challenges that come with conquering it. 

I also put together a 53-man roster projection that ran yesterday.

Lastly, I look at Jairus Byrd’s return to full contact. He expects to play this week against the Colts.

Ramon Antonio Vargas takes a look at offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael’s role.

Ted Lewis looks at the upcoming roster cutdown.

Gary Estwick has a notebook that touches on practice squads expanding to 10 players, Erik Lorig’s injury, and Robert Meachem’s role.

And here’s what to watch for at tonight’s practice in Mandeville.

Personnel groupings: Saints stick to script against Titans

The Saints once again stuck to the basics with their offensive personnel against the Tennessee Titans.

Like last week against the Rams, New Orleans again favored its 11 and 21 personnel formations during the 31-24 win.

Here’s a look at how the offense lined up Friday night:

One running back, one tight end, three receivers: 34 snaps
Two running backs, one tight end, two receivers: 28 snaps
Two running backs, three receivers: Two snaps
Two running back, two tight ends, one receiver: Five snaps

The most interesting development from this game is that the Saints abandoned their 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends) after using it 24 times against the Rams.

The Saints only used the formation twice with seven or fewer yards to go last week (24 total times).

The breakdown from last season is as follows:

11 personnel*: 38.1 percent of all offensive snaps
21 personnel: 21.8 percent
12 personnel: 12.8 percent
22 personnel: 9.1 percent
20 personnel: 3.2 percent
13 personnel: 2.4 percent

(Note: The first number in personnel groupings represents the number of running backs. The second number represents the number of tight ends.)

 

Penalties suffocate many positives from Saints’ win

The constant barrage of yellow flags served to remind Sean Payton of his own perceived shortcomings.

They ate at him. Each one told Payton his team was ill prepared and he felt it was his own fault.

Maybe he was a bit harsh about his teams’ and his own performance during Friday’s 31-24 win over the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But flags were everywhere, suffocating the many positives of the performance.

By a certain point Friday night it was impossible not to scan the field for a flag before jotting down the result of a play. That’s what happens when a team is cited for running afoul of the law 28 times and charged on 22 occasions.

It was ugly. It was sloppy. It was unacceptable.

“That was painful to watch,” Payton said. “I don’t recall – I can’t recall – ever a game with that many penalties. And here’s the thing: Most of the ones I saw were good calls.”

Payton’s correct. It’s not about the officials. The Saints undermined their efforts with stupid, avoidable mistakes.

Jimmy Graham throwing down two dunks after scoring a touchdown? The fans might have loved it, but it was selfish and idiotic – even in a preseason game. And many of the other penalties had nothing to do with an overeager officiating crew.

Josh Hill, Graham and Bryce Harris combined for four false starts. Tyrunn Walker was flagged for offsides, and Brandon Deaderick was cited for delaying the game. That alone would be enough to set any coach into a tizzy, but factor in three pass interference penalties and a bunch of holding calls and it is easy to see why Payton is furious.

“Here’s a number for you. Five takeaways, hear me out, five takeaways we’re at the nine-minute mark in the fourth quarter, we’re up seven.

“Let me say that again. Five takeaways, nine-minute mark in the fourth quarter, up seven.”

That might be the most upsetting aspect of the game. New Orleans has spent an inordinate time preaching the importance of turnovers throughout training camp, and signed safety Jairus Byrd for his inordinate ability to take the ball away from the offense. You couldn’t talk to a member of the defense during the previous three weeks without hearing talk about turnovers.

But on a night where the defense should have been celebrating its achievement, the members of that unit instead walked out of the locker room crestfallen, knowing they undermined their efforts with a bunch of boneheaded plays.

The natural reaction is to look at the errors and dismiss the game as an exhibition. In some regards this might be true. There are two more preseason games and more than a dozen practices to get things cleaned up. It’s too soon to panic.

But it is troubling that this happened a week after Payton stood at the podium and let his team know he was disgusted with their sloppy play after being flagged 10 times against the St. Louis Rams.

“It’s the first sign of a team that has no discipline,” Payton said. “That’s the first sign of poor coaching. It’s first sign, along with the quarterback-center exchange.”

Again, perhaps Payton is being too harsh. The Saints were flagged 110 times last season, the 12th-highest total in the league. That figure is quite high, but only 36 of the infractions came before the snap.

Those are the kind of penalties that are the hallmark of an undisciplined team. Only 13 teams had more pre-snap infractions last season.

So, if history is any indication, at some point Payton will get his team on the right side of the law. That moment will likely come before the season begins.

Right now, however, the bad taste from Friday will linger throughout the week.

The Saints better be ready to get to work when practice resumes Sunday. Something about Payton’s demeanor suggests that there will be some long and hard days next week.