All posts by Ramon Vargas

Ramon Vargas covers the Saints for The Advocate. He can be reached at rvargas@theadvocate.com and is @RVargasAdvocate on Twitter.

Saints will see what kind of team they are in 2014 road games, Brees says

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) cheers on his team before a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) cheers on his team before a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Thursday said he hadn’t completely vetted his team’s 2014 schedule, which was released less than a day earlier.

Yet Brees glanced at it long enough for the Week 1 opener at Atlanta as well as three prime-time games at Dallas, at Carolina and at Chicago to jump out at him as contests where the Saints are “going to see what kind of team we are,” he said during an interview with ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd.

“We know it’s starting off with a bang,” said Brees, referring to the fact that three of the Saints’ first four games in 2014 will be on the road. “We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves … having to go on the road and win some tough games.”

And so discussions about whether or not the Saints are afflicted by any “road woes” can recommence.

One of the most exhaustively chronicled storylines during the 2013 season was how the Saints, after winning their first two away games, dropped five of the next six as visitors before making the playoffs as a wildcard.

They silenced detractors — at least temporarily — by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia in frigid temperatures, thus claiming the first true road playoff victory in Saints history in conditions many doubted New Orleans could handle. But then they were eliminated in rainy, windy weather at Seattle, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

Expect the Saints’ road doldrums — perceived or real — to be a dominant storyline early in the 2014 campaign. They’ll visit Atlanta, Cleveland and Dallas between Weeks 1 and 4; and they’ll travel for a fourth time to Detroit in Week 7 after the bye.

Though none of those teams managed to win more than half of their games in 2013, Brees in his conversation with Cowherd singled out Atlanta and Dallas as especially challenging.

He alluded to the fact that nine of the last 12 games between the Saints and the NFC South rival Falcons have been decided by eight points or fewer. He didn’t mention that he’s 13-3 against the Falcons — and 6-2 in Atlanta — since becoming a Saint in 2006.

He instead said the Falcons have had “a ton of success within (the) division here over the last (few) years,” after winning the NFC South twice and making the playoffs four times since coach Mike Smith took over in 2008.

To contrast, since 2008, the Saints have won the Super Bowl once, clinched the NFC South twice and made the playoffs four times.

As for Dallas, he noted that it was a road game on Sunday Night Football.

While Brees also acknowledged that it’d be difficult to visit Carolina, the reigning NFC South champions, on short rest for a Week 9 Thursday Night Football match-up, he was thankful the one game before that and the two after are at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints will face all four of their 2014 opponents who made the postseason last year from Weeks 8 to 11. Aside from playing Carolina, they’ll host Green Bay (the reigning NFC North champions) in Week 8; San Francisco (a 12-4 wildcard team) in Week 10; and Cincinnati (the reigning AFC North champions) in Week 11.

The Saints were undefeated at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in both 2011 and 2013, the two most recent seasons that coach Sean Payton was on the sidelines. Payton was suspended for the 2012 season in the wake of the bounty scandal, and New Orleans went 4-4 at home that year.

“That middle season stretch where you’re playing a lot of games at home, that’s good,” said Brees, whose team will play two of its five prime-time games at the Superdome. “Hopefully, you’re hitting your stride by then.”

That’d certainly help for when the Saints travel to the third road prime-time game Brees cited while speaking with Cowherd: at Chicago on the Dec. 15 edition of Monday Night Football.

The Saints are 1-3 at Chicago since 2006, counting that year’s NFC Championship Game, which they lost in January. The two others losses were in the month of December of 2007 and 2008.

“It’s one after the other,” Brees said about the tests his team will have to navigate in 2014 as the Saints chase the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

Texas A&M’s Nate Askew offers self up to Saints fans as name to watch late in draft, undrafted free agency

Texas A&M's Nate Askew (No. 9), quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 2) and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., (No. 4) celebrate on the field at the end of the team's 48-3 win over Southern Methodist in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Texas A&M’s Nate Askew (No. 9), quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 2) and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., (No. 4) celebrate on the field at the end of the team’s 48-3 win over Southern Methodist in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Texas A&M linebacker Nate Askew has offered himself up as someone Saints fans may want to keep an eye on as the late rounds of the 2014 draft and undrafted free agency approach.

Askew on Wednesday told the radio station ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. that the Saints were among several teams he had visited ahead of the May 8-10 draft. However, he also said he had spoken with Washington, Denver and New England; worked out for Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas; and visited Carolina, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

“It’s been real busy,” Askew said to his hosts, Rick “Doc” Walker and Brian Mitchell. “It’s a great process. I’ve just been enjoying it.”

The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Askew drew sixth- to seventh-round projections from NFL.com, and CBSSports.com doesn’t expect he’ll be selected. He’s quick, having been timed at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a workout, according to CBS Sports.

He posted 18 reps in the 225-pound bench press and had a broad jump of 10 feet, 6 inches.

Furthermore, Askew’s story is the non-traditional one commonly found in the Saints’ late draft picks or undrafted signings ever since coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006.

After spending his freshman season in 2010 on special teams, Askew spent his sophomore and junior campaigns as a wide receiver. He caught nine passes for 95 yards and a touchdown over those two years, the first of which was under former coach Mike Sherman and the second of which was under Kevin Sumlin.

Askew only had three catches for 10 yards in his first year with Sumlin, who implemented a spread offense with quarterback Johnny Manziel at the helm. Sherman had run a pro-style offense, Askew said.

“It just took me a while to get adjusted,” he said. “By that time, I really didn’t play junior year.”

Heading into 2013, Texas A&M lacked depth at the linebacker position, and the Aggies approached Askew about switching to that spot. He initially loathed the idea and strongly considered transferring, he said.

Askew then spoke with Von Miller and Sean Porter, both NFL linebackers and former Aggies. He said Miller — a 2012 All-Pro for Denver — and Porter, a fourth-round draft pick for Cincinnati last year, told him, “You can make some money at linebacker.”

So Askew agreed to become a linebacker.

He had 33 total tackles (22 solo) and was second on his team with two interceptions in 12 regular-season games as a senior. He added a third interception and five tackles (three solo) in a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Duke to help Texas A&M reach a 9-4 record.

He returned one of those picks for a TD, securing the rare distinction of having scored on both offense and defense.

Askew proclaimed to be “the fastest linebacker in the draft” during his conversation with Walker and Mitchell.

Asked if he could “unload on anybody,” he replied, “Oh, definitely. I’m not shying away from (any) contact.”

*

(H/T Twitter user @SaintBrian9)

Assuming nothing, Saints O.L. Tim Lelito nonetheless has spent much time practicing snapping

New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

During an offseason in which his team’s three-year starter at center left town, second-year Saints offensive lineman Tim Lelito invested time in acclimating himself with a skill he otherwise may not have concentrated on as much.

“I did a lot of snapping,” Lelito said Wednesday to local reporters during an appearance at Airline Park Academy in Metairie. “I got real comfortable with that.”

Such is life for a player whose superiors have repeatedly said will compete for a job vacated by Brian de la Puente, who was the first-string center in New Orleans from 2011 through 2013 and joined the Chicago Bears in free agency earlier in April.

It was clear from Lelito’s statements that he was giving himself the best shot possible to succeed de la Puente. Aside from keeping in shape and boning up on snapping, he’s immersed himself in the Saints’ playbook to learn what each member of the offensive line is supposed to be doing at any given moment.

“Last year, I had to know the plays, but this year I have to know the ins and outs of every play,” Lelito said. “I have to know what everyone’s doing on the line so we’re all together.

“If I say we’re going here, that’s where we’re going, so it’s kind of on me. I have to pay a little more attention.”

Nonetheless, the Saints have been upfront about their intention to bring in someone to compete with the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Lelito when New Orleans’ training camp begins in July.

They reportedly visited with free-agent center Jonathan Goodwin, who was with the Saints from 2006-10, played three seasons for San Francisco and is back on the open market. He was a Pro Bowler the year the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

The Saints have also been linked to a couple of centers who will be available in the upcoming May 8-10 draft.

Lelito on Tuesday insisted those matters don’t concern him. “Whatever I can do to help the team get better this year is what I’m going to do,” whether that’s as a starting center, a reserve at that position or a backup to guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, he said.

No matter what his future holds, Lelito accumulated experience as a rookie in 2013 that should benefit him greatly.

After making the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of NCAA Division II Grand Valley State at the end of a preseason in which he memorably recovered a goal-line fumble for a touchdown, Lelito filled in at right guard for two games that four-time All-Pro Evans sat out due to injuries.

In the first, against Arizona in Week 3, he surrendered three quarterback sacks to three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. In the second, at Atlanta in Week 12, he gave up a play that ended in lost yardage and was called for a holding penalty, but he improved noticeably.

What made the performance against the Falcons even more remarkable was that days earlier he had attended the funeral of the grandmother who raised him in his youth in Michigan.

New Orleans won both games on the way to a run to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

“It’s less surprising every time you go out (and start),” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said Tuesday in response to a question about how beneficial it was for Lelito to step in for Evans. “Things start to slow down.”

Lelito agreed.

“It’s definitely different … going from a D-II college and coming into the NFL,” he remarked. “That was a huge step, so every day you’ve just got to keep working, keep learning … from the … veterans.”

Saints tackle Terron Armstead: Junior Galette is hands down best NFL player I’ve played

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) talks to reporters during their NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) talks to reporters during their NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Two of Saints left tackle Terron Armstead’s four starts last year were against the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses, or Seattle and Carolina, respectively. He also got to see Cameron Jordan, New Orleans’ Pro Bowl defensive end, up close every day in practice.

Yet, asked Monday night to name the best NFL player he played against as a rookie in 2013, Armstead said it was Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette — “hands down.”

Galette has the “most unorthodox style you would ever see,” Armstead told SiriusXM NFL Radio hosts Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt during an interview. “He’s not the typical 6-3, 6-4, 270-pound (pass rusher). He’s very nimble, very agile, his change of direction is incredible.

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette (93) emerges from the smoke for the start of a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. (Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON)

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette (93) emerges from the smoke for the start of a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. (Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON)

“I believe this guy will — he had kind of a breakout season last year, but I think (he will take) even another step.”

If Armstead’s prediction for 2014 is true, it may be more difficult to deny the 6-foot-2, 258-pound Galette his first career Pro Bowl and should boost New Orleans’ chances of reaching the postseason for the sixth time since coach Sean Payton was hired in 2006. Some felt Galette merited a selection to the most recent edition of the NFL’s all-star game after racking up 12 quarterback sacks, which was second on the Saints to Jordan (12.5) and sixth overall in the league.

Though Armstead’s plaudits to Galette were notable, they weren’t the sole focus of the young tackle’s discussion with Marvez and Brandt. Armstead spoke frankly about how he feels he grew with “each game, each snap really” after he was tabbed to replace Charles Brown, who was benched in the middle of a Week 15 defeat at St. Louis and is now with the New York Giants.

Armstead struggled in the first half of a Week 16 setback at Carolina, in which the Saints essentially lost the NFC South title to the Panthers. But he then settled in well as New Orleans beat Tampa Bay in Week 17, upended Philadelphia in the first game of the playoffs and was eliminated at Seattle in the divisional round of the postseason.

“It’s a different rhythm than being at practice, scout team and all that stuff,” said Armstead, who had been a backup since the Saints picked him out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the third round of the 2013 draft. “If you’re not a starter, you’ll get zero reps with the No. 1 offense so you’ll be out of rhythm. But getting those snaps — like, each snap I felt I got better; I got more comfortable; I feel like it’s going to make it even better this year.”

Armstead also spoke about how he hurt a hand in the first quarter of the playoff game at Philadelphia, which culminated in the first true away postseason victory in Saints history. He welcomed the offseason by undergoing a minor surgery on the hand and needed “a few months” to rehabilitate.

Afterwards, he went to Florida to train with some Saints teammates and other NFL peers. He was back in New Orleans on Monday for the first day of voluntary offseason conditioning workouts, where he said Saints quarterback Drew Brees preached the message, “Let’s make this push for a (Super Bowl) ring.”

“That’d be the ultimate accomplishment,” said Armstead, who was 18 when Brees and the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV at the end of the 2009 campaign.

Additionally, Armstead said it was difficult to see “great friend” Brian de la Puente — the Saints’ starting center since 2011 — depart to Chicago in free agency. But he expressed confidence in the Saints’ front office however it chooses to replace de la Puente.

Second-year Saints offensive lineman Tim Lelito was de la Puente’s understudy. ESPN recently reported that New Orleans has visited with free-agent center Jonathan Goodwin, a one-time Pro Bowler who was with the Saints from 2006-10, left for San Francisco for three seasons and is back on the open market.

The Saints have also reportedly hosted a couple of centers who will be available in the upcoming May 8-10 draft.

“I’m pretty sure the administration knows exactly what they’re doing,” Armstead said. “I’m pretty sure they will bring in someone veteran. If not, Tim Lelito … is already in the building (and) is very, very good, so I’m pretty sure everything will be fine.”

Finally, before signing off, Armstead talked about how he’s re-launching the youth football program in his hometown of Cahokia, Ill., and hopes someone from there joins him in the NFL soon.

“My hometown is a really big talent pool, actually, so I’m just trying to motivate and encourage those guys to get out and play and chase your dreams,” Armstead said. “I believe this will be a big step (toward) getting more guys into the eyes of scouts to go to college and make an NFL push.”

Saints visitor Pierre Desir feels arduous collegiate journey has prepared him for NFL life

Glancing over the names of the several defensive backs who visited the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, one jumped out at me more than the others: Lindenwood University corner Pierre Desir.

Pierre Desir

Pierre Desir

Desir was the only player out of that group who did not attend a Division I school. Yet at least one site that ranks draft prospects, CBSSports.com, projected him to be picked in the third round, earlier than two other bigger-school cornerbacks the Saints brought in.

I asked Desir via Twitter whether I could interview him but didn’t hear back. I also asked his agent, who suggested he’d prefer it if Desir spoke with me following the May 8-10 draft.

Nonetheless, I was curious about how a player who talent evaluators believe is fit for the NFL arrived from a place like Lindenwood, which is in St. Charles, Mo. And Desir, I learned, recently told the story to a podcast published on the site RamsAddiction.com.

Desir — who was born in Haiti but grew up in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters, Mo. — couldn’t academically qualify to a Division I school after finishing up at Francis Howell Central High School. Having stood out as a defensive back and kick returner, he accepted a scholarship to Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.

He redshirted one season and played two years at Washburn, which was enough time to pick off the third-most passes in school history (12). He was all-conference twice and an All-American once.

However, he was also raising two daughters with the woman who’s now his wife. “It was very difficult to balance school, football and taking care of two kids” without help from family, Desir told Rams Addiction.

So the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Desir gave up his scholarship and transferred to Lindenwood, which is about eight miles away from his hometown and — like Washburn — is in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).

“It had nothing to do with the team,” Desir said to his hosts on the podcast. “I decided to move closer to home where I could get some assistance.”

After walking on to the team and sitting out 2011, he intercepted 13 passes and broke up 30 in two seasons with Lindenwood. He earned All-American and first-team All-MIAA honors in both 2012 and 2013, and last year he won an award recognizing him as the best small-school defensive player in the country.

Desir led the MIAA in passes defended per game in 2013 despite the fact that teams threw away from him the vast majority of the time. He is the MIAA’s all-time leader in passes broken up with 52 and is No. 2 in career interceptions with 25.

But Desir wasn’t running on much sleep when he did any of that. He said he paid his way through school at Lindenwood by working “all types of odd jobs” when he wasn’t in class, studying or playing football.

“For me, my days started at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Desir said on the podcast. “They ended between 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night.”

He said he cleaned up shell casings at shooting ranges. He cleaned up the sides of highways. He painted. He picked up trash, restored houses — or cleaned them.

“There was no sleep,” said Desir, who was invited to the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl alongside prospects from larger schools. “My days were all scheduled down to a T.

“I didn’t have any extra time to go out with my friends. I had to do homework when I had time — whether it was an hour, hour-and-a-half, I had to do that, because I knew I had to get up six hours later to get to work.”

The routine was exhausting, but it delivered its rewards. Desir was on the MIAA Academic Honor Roll in 2012 and 2013, and he said he’s more than prepared to mentally thrive with whichever team might draft him.

“Because of what I went through and having to go through that hectic schedule, I was able to learn how to handle the stress and pressures that came with everything and figured out what worked and what didn’t work,” said Desir, who’s hoping to become Lindenwood’s first-ever NFL draft pick. “So I think it’d be an easy transition with going into the NFL with meetings, games and all that.”

Coveted Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert visiting Saints

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, considered by pundits to be one of the top picks in the upcoming league draft, is visiting the New Orleans Saints, he announced on Twitter on Monday night.

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert (4) intercepts a pass intended for Stanford tight end Coby Fleener (82) during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert (4) intercepts a pass intended for Stanford tight end Coby Fleener (82) during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After initially tweeting out only the words “New Orleans,” he sent out another message that read, “I mean … headed to New Orleans lol … #SaintsVisit” to his more than 10,300 followers.

He wrote a couple of hours later, “Hello New Orleans !!! #SafeLandings #BumpyRide”

The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert posted the fastest 40-yard dash (4.37 seconds) and put up the most reps on the 225-pound bench press (20) among cornerbacks who participated in those events at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February. He was a Second-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big 12 selection as a senior in 2013, when Oklahoma State went 10-3 and appeared in the Cotton Bowl. He was tied for third in the country with seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

According to NFL.com, Gilbert is a top 15 pick in the draft. The Saints will pick 27th if they keep the first-round selection they have.

In its secondary, New Orleans for now has cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Corey White, Champ Bailey, Patrick Robinson, Roderick Sweeting, Terrence Frederick and Trevin Wade. They also have safeties Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush and Marcus Ball.

But Saints coach Sean Payton in March said his team is always in the market for a defensive back who is talented at taking the ball away.

Gilbert at the combine told reporters, “Yeah, I think I’m the best corner in the draft. … I’m not going to let anyone take that from me.”

He expressed confidence in his ability to score off picks, saying, “I think I’m a dangerous return man with the ball in my hands and on an interception there is always a possibility for me to take it back to (the) house.”

Former East St. John standout set to participate in Saints’ workout for local prospects

Among the various players attending the New Orleans Saints’ workout for local prospects on Thursday will be former East St. John standout Alvin Scioneaux, an outside linebacker who earned all-conference honors throughout his career at Wofford College, an NFL source told The Advocate.

Alvin Scioneaux

Alvin Scioneaux

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Scioneaux, a native of Garyville, mostly attacked off the edge and got in on 75 tackles, 40 of which were solo and nine of which were behind the line of scrimmage. He also had 1.5 quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 2013 for Wofford, which finished 5-6 and competes in the Southern Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.

Scioneaux landed on the first all-conference team last year and was chosen to participate in the second annual College All-Star Bowl in February, which put FCS standouts on display. Coaches also tabbed him for first-team all-conference recognition in 2012 (when he picked off a pass in a loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks), and media did the same in 2011.

Scioneaux clocked around 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash in training, according to the source. At South Carolina State’s Pro Day, he registered a vertical leap of 39.5 inches, 32 reps on the 225-pound bench press and 10.2 feet on the broad jump.

Before arriving at Wofford, which is inĀ Spartanburg, S.C., Scioneaux was All-District 5-5A for East St. John as a senior. He also received an award for posting the Wildcats’ highest GPA.

While Scioneaux might not get drafted and isn’t as heralded as many other NFL hopefuls trying to enter the league this year, his opportunity with the Saints is a good one. The team under coach Sean Payton has never been reluctant to give roster spots to small-school prospects they think can contribute, even if it’s in free agency after the draft.

Film of Scioneaux’s play is available on YouTube.

Other notable tidbits:

– Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron wrote to USA Today about his visit with the Saints. He has gotten second- to third-round projections.

– Free-agent wide receiver Sidney Rice, who is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, announced via Twitter on Monday that he’s been cleared for football activities. The Saints were reportedly among a handful of teams who were to some degree interested in his services.

– Saints safety Jairus Byrd will visit Harahan Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon as part of Rotolo’s Pizzeria’s Literacy Program.

– Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin, who visited the Saints, went on Twitter late Monday and said, “Hands down; New Orleans has the best food in America, no question” Colvin is projected to be available in the late rounds of the draft after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament at January’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Despite heavy investment in safeties, Saints visiting with Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, source says

The Saints may have already invested heavily in the position of safety, but that hasn’t discouraged them from meeting with one of the best prospects at that position in the upcoming draft.

Calvin Pryor

Calvin Pryor

Louisville’s Calvin Pryor set up a visit with the Saints for Monday, an NFL source confirmed for The Advocate. NFL Network’s Gil Brandt first reported Pryor would visit the Saints on Monday as well as the Jets and the Bengals this week.

The Saints possess the No. 27 pick in the first round of the draft, which starts May 8. The Jets have the 18th selection, and the Bengals have the 24th.

The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Pryor attracted round one projections after amassing 69 tackles (5.5 behind the line of scrimmage), three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2013, good enough to land him on the All-American Athletic Conference’s First Team, according to CBSSports.com’s draft profile of him.

He anticipates plays well and has explosive closing speed, but he might be “almost too physical in an era in which heavy hitters often draw penalty flags,” CBSSports.com said in its evaluation of Pryor, who the site compared to the Giants’ Antrel Rolle.

Pryor told reporters at the scouting combine in February that he admired the hard-hitting playing style of Kam Chancellor, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound safety for the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.

“To play the game of football you have to be tough, and it’s a thinking game,” Pryor said.

He later added, “My father really instilled it in me at a young age. When I used to fall on the ground and I think I hurt myself, he would just tell me to get back and just keep going and it caught up with me later in life.”

Pryor’s visit with the Saints will be with a team that in March signed safety Jairus Byrd to a free-agent contract worth up to $54 million ($28 million of which is guaranteed) over six years. The Saints chose safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first-round of the 2013 draft, and they just signed restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush to a two-year deal with a maximum value of about $4.5 million.

Other prospects the Saints have either had in for visits or were planning to meet with include Southern California receiver Marqise Lee (first round projections), Wyoming wideout Robert Herron (third to fourth round), Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin (late rounds), Central Arkansas tight end Chase Dixon (undrafted), Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (second round), Southern California center Marcus Martin (second to third round), Florida State center Bryan Stork (fourth round) and Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders (undrafted).

They had dinner plans with Odell Beckham Jr. (first round) and Jarvis Landry (second to third round), both receivers from nearby LSU. Tulane on Friday held its pro day at the Saints’ training facilities — prospects there included Green Wave kicker Cairo Santos and wide receiver Ryan Grant, who could be available to NFL teams in the latter portions of the draft.

The Saints have only one receiver (Marques Colston) who has played more than one NFL season. Their only center as of Monday was Tim Lelito, who started two games at right guard as a rookie in 2013.

Nonetheless, the Saints have repeatedly said their intention is to draft players who best fit the team, regardless of position.

Saints linked to 2nd center available in upcoming draft: Weekend notes

The Saints on Saturday were linked to another center who will be available in the upcoming draft.

Marcus Martin

Marcus Martin

Southern California’s Marcus Martin recently visited New Orleans, and he did the same with the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers, wrote Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun and National Football Post. He’s drawn second- to third-round projections.

Previous reports had Florida State center Bryan Stork visiting with the Saints on Thursday and Friday. Stork has received fourth-round draft projections, and he has been compared to Brian de la Puente, who started at center for the Saints from 2011 to 2013 but left for the Chicago Bears in free agency.

The first-string center on the Saints at the moment is Tim Lelito, who started two games in 2013 as a rookie at guard in place of an injured Jahri Evans. The Saints have said he would be given the chance to win the starting job at that position in camp but would have competition either from an NFL free agent or player coming out of college.

The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Martin played two seasons at guard and one at center for USC prior to declaring for the draft. He suffered ankle and knee injuries in the Trojans’ regular season finale and missed their victory in the Las Vegas Bowl, but he’s since posted 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

He’s also run the 40-yard dash (5.22 seconds) and a 4.93-second shuttle run in another workout, per CBSSports.com.

CBSSports.com’s draft analysts believe Martin can develop into a player that’s comparable to Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack.

Other prospects the Saints have either had in for visits or were planning to meet with include Southern California receiver Marqise Lee, Wyoming wideout Robert Herron, Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin, Central Arkansas tight end Chase Dixon and Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. They had dinner plans on Wednesday with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both receivers from nearby LSU.

For the record, earlier in April, Wilson reported that the Saints were going to visit with Sam Houston State All-American running back Timothy Flanders. Flanders is the all-time leading rusher in the history of the Southland Conference, which is in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). He had 5,664 ground yards and 66 touchdowns from 2010 to 2013 after transferring to Sam Houston State from Kansas State, where he red-shirted his freshman year.

Small-school tight end draft prospect calls visit with Saints ‘a success’

A 6-foot-4, 238-pound tight end who was reportedly on pace to be a small-school All-American in 2013 on Thursday declared a visit with the Saints “a success,” suggesting New Orleans might be interested in grabbing him either late in the upcoming draft or in free agency if he’s not chosen.

Chase Dixon

Chase Dixon

Central Arkansas’ Chase Dixon on Wednesday announced via Twitter he was flying to New Orleans to visit the Saints the following day. He then tweeted, “Visit with the Saints was a success! Ready to head back home.”

Before his flight to New Orleans, Dixon played 32 games for Central Arkansas from 2010 to 2013, catching 33 passes for 379 yards and 10 touchdowns for his career at a school that competes in the Southland Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

He hauled in 22 of those grabs, 262 of those yards and six of those TDs last season. But he broke his leg in October and played in only six games for the campaign. He had scored once in each outing, causing at least one local paper to speculate that he was en-route to an All-America selection.

Dixon earned second-team, all-conference honors at the end of the year. In a news release touting Dixon’s recognition, Central Arkansas coach Clint Coque said, “I’m especially happy for Chase …, that the voters recognized what kind of year he was having, even though it was cut short by injury.”

It does not appear that any outlets expect the bulky Dixon will be drafted. But, under coach Sean Payton, the Saints have never been shy about bringing in unheralded college prospects and putting them on the roster if the team thinks they can contribute.

Other prospects the Saints have either had in for visits or are planning to meet with include Southern California receiver Marqise Lee, Wyoming wideout Robert Herron and Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin. They had dinner plans on Wednesday with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both receivers from nearby LSU.

(H/T Canal Street Chronicles, who highlighted Dixon’s tweets).

Source: Saints among many interested in Demarcus Lawrence

The Saints have set up a visit with Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, an NFL source confirmed to The Advocate on Friday. But, NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport reported, he’s already visited the Falcons; and he will do the same with the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys, among others.

The 6-foot-3, 251-pound Lawrence has drawn second-round draft projections after leading the Mountain West conference with 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2013. He is relatively quick for a defensive end, having clocked a 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and another one of 4.69 seconds in another workout, per CBSSports.com.

Demarcus Lawrence

Demarcus Lawrence

On the flip-side, the site judged, he seems to have less than ideal speed for a linebacker and does not have the same bulk typically seen in defensive linemen.

The Saints have good pass rushers in defensive end Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks in 2013 and a Pro Bowl appearance) and outside linebacker Junior Galette (12 sacks last year). Other solid defensive linemen on the roster are Glenn Foster and Akiem Hicks.

Their pass-rushing depth should be helped with the expected return of outside linebacker Victor Butler, who missed the 2013 season with a knee injury.

However, 2014 is the last season in Butler’s two-year deal. Another outside linebacker, Parys Haralson, is also only under contract through 2014.

At the annual NFL owners meeting in March, coach Sean Payton said the Saints always place a premium on pass rushers, which makes Lawrence a logical candidate for a job in New Orleans.