Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS — Saints RB Pierre Thomas (23) plows ahead during the morning Saints Training Camp practice Saturday, July 26, 2014, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — It feels like the fall again at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, as the Saints prepare to ramp up the fourth day of practice at their 2014 training camp under 68-degree temperatures on Monday. The pads and live contact came out Sunday, of course, and both will continue popping.
I’ll post observations from practice as I see them below. Hit refresh for the next three hours or so to get the latest.
–9:30 a.m. : Saints wide receivers Robert Meachem and Kenny Stills as well as left guard Ben Grubbs are not participating. Meachem had back tightness Sunday and sat that session out. Stills tweaked a quad in drills on Friday and hasn’t returned, but he was doing conditioning work to the side Monday.
It is less clear what — if anything — is wrong with Grubbs. Coach Sean Payton on Sunday said the Pro Bowl guard was getting veteran rest treatment after Grubbs spent the practice observing his teammates work.
Senio Kelemete is filling in for Grubbs. Joseph Morgan and Nick Toon are seeing plenty of work with the first team with Meachem and Stills sidelined.
Meanwhile, safety Jairus Byrd (back) and nose tackle John Jenkins (reportedly, pec) — members of the physically unable to perform list — were seen doing conditioning work as they have all camp. Rookie tackle Tavon Rooks, on the non-football injury list, also was doing conditioning work.
With Byrd out, Corey White (starter at cornerback for eight total games in 2013) has been playing as a third safety with the 1s. Meanwhile, Brandon Deaderick has been filling in for Jenkins with the 2s — veteran Brodrick Bunkley is the starter at nose tackle.
Everyone else was present and accounted for.
ADDENDUM: Later in practice, rookie WR Steve Hull left drills early, walking off the field with the help of a trainer. No information was immediately available.
9:52 a.m.: Saints LB Curtis Lofton, whose specialty is tackles in run defense, got the highlight of a 9-on-7 drill when he sliced through the first-string offensive line and wrapped up Khiry Robinson for a loss. RB Travaris Cadet later got one back for the offense with the back-ups, taking a handoff right but cutting up left untouched for what would’ve been a long gain.
In fact, after Lofton’s stuff, the offense seemed to get the upper hand in the run drill. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s displeasure was audible to fans, some of whom chuckled at some of the things he said to berate his unit.
On the other side of the field, the Saints worked on one-on-one passing drills. As those drills are essentially designed to do, the wide receivers seemed to be getting the best of the defensive backs, though the DBs forced some overthrows with good coverage and notched pass breakups.
One player who received some extra instruction was rookie safety Pierre Warren, who has otherwise had a good camp. Playing like a cornerback, he was beat on two plays, and a coach seemed to speak to him about his positioning at the line of scrimmage.
10:05 a.m. — In a special-teams simulation, Vinnie Sunseri — the hard-hitting rookie safety out of Alabama — got a look at gunner. Obviously, he’s the kind of player whose longevity on the Saints would be boosted by his ability to contribute in special teams coverage.
10:17 a.m. — Working with the 2s in a short-yardage passing drill, Saints quarterback Ryan Griffin was efficient, connecting on passes over the middle to rookies TE Je’Ron Hamm and WR Seantavius Jones for what would’ve been first downs. … No surprise, so did Drew Brees, whose best pass was one over the middle to veteran WR Marques Colston, who stretched out for the grab. The play resembled a shorter version of the route Colston successfully ran to catch a pass that set up a game-winning field goal at Tampa Bay last year.
10:24 a.m. — Saints rookie receiver Brandon Coleman, towering at 6-foot-6, had at least a couple of nice possession-style grabs over the middle during the short-yardage passing drill working with the backups. I can’t immediately recall any drops from him this camp, which signifies progress after offseason workouts in which he had numerous ones.
10:28 a.m. — Drew Brees challenged CB Keenan Lewis in back-to-back team plays, and the defender was more than equal to the challenge. He broke up both throws for incompletions emphatically, prompting Ryan to congratulate him with “There you go, West Bank! There you go, West Bank!” Safety Kenny Vaccaro went up to Lewis after the second break-up and said, “That’s going to get us there! That’s going to get us there!” They bumped helmets.
Lewis grew up in the Cutoff section of Algiers, an area on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans.
10:32 a.m. — No babying the rookie. Brandin Cooks caught a pass over the middle working against backups in a full team drill, and CB Rod Sweeting made his presence felt with a forceful bump to the ground. Cooks was fine, though, quickly jumping up to his feet and hanging on.
Meanwhile, maybe spoke to soon about Coleman — he was spotted dropping a ball in the drill that was behind him but catchable.
10:38 a.m. — Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin are liberally alternating spots on the first and second units.
Back to Coleman: a long pass over the middle from Luke McCown bounced off his fingertips, and it was intercepted by Warren. Coleman slammed his right fist in the ground. His bad moment, though, was a good one for Warren after the safety had been instructed on his technique earlier.
10:46 a.m.: Lofton opened the aforementioned 11-on-11 passing drills with a spectacular pass break-up he almost picked off. … Toon gave up on a route too soon, it seemed, on an overthrown Brees pass. He later made up for it by making a good catch along the sideline on an out-route, fighting through traffic to get it.
10:50 a.m. — Fielding a punt in a simulation drill, bubble WR Charles Hawkins showed some acceleration running up the sideline to his right and turning the corner past his defender. One reporter loudly observed, “Man, Hawkins can fly!” New Orleans native and Southern alum Hawkins is the kind of player whose way on the team is on special teams, finding himself among a crowded battle at wide receiver.
10:54 a.m.: WR Steve Hull left with an unspecified injury. He walked off with the help of a trainer, apparently favoring his left leg. … Saints CB Brian Dixon, a rookie, made a good play in punt coverage, and Payton walked off the sideline and onto the field to congratulate him.
11:05 a.m. — In 11-on-11 drills, RBs Travaris Cadet and Khiry Robinson notched good runs. Tyrunn Walker batted a pass down on Ryan Griffin.
11:11 a.m. — The wind blew strong at the end of practice. … TE Ben Watson had a nice catch over the middle. On a less positive note, Morgan lost his footing on an incomplete pass working with the 1s.
The Saints are completing their cooling-off runs. The media avail abilities with Payton and players is about to start.