All posts by Ramon Antonio Vargas

Ramon Antonio Vargas has covered the Saints for The Advocate since 2013. He can be reached at rvargas@theadvocate.com and is @RVargasAdvocate on Twitter.

Saints begin assembling practice squad

The Saints began assembling the first iteration of their 10-man practice squad for 2014 at 11 a.m. Sunday. According to sources, these players are signing to join the Saints’ practice squad:

-WR Brandon Coleman (undrafted rookie)
-CB Trevin Wade (eligible non-rookie)
-CB Terrence Frederick (eligible non-rookie)
-WR Seantavius Jones (undrafted rookie)
-T Tavon Rooks (rookie sixth-round draft pick)
-LB Todd Davis (undrafted rookie)
-NT Lawrence Virgil (undrafted rookie)

The Saints waived all of these players on Saturday, when New Orleans unveiled its first 53-man roster. They cleared waivers unclaimed.

Nine other players the Saints waived Saturday also went unclaimed: C Matt Armstrong, CB Derrius Brooks, K Derek Dimke, WR Charles Hawkins, TE Nic Jacobs, T/G Marcel Jones, RB Derrick Strozier, NT Lawrence Virgil, S Pierre Warren and T Jason Weaver.

(Compiled by Nick Underhill and Ramon Antonio Vargas)

Everyone who was cut before the Saints’ first 53-man roster was finalized and who is eligible for the practice squad

With their first iteration of a 53-man roster finalized, the Saints now turn their attention to filling out a 10-man practice squad, something they can begin doing at 11 a.m. local time Sunday, when the period for teams to put in claims for players waived Saturday expires.

Rookies the Saints waived Saturday who are eligible for their practice squad are center Matt Armstrong, wide receiver Brandon Coleman, linebacker Todd Davis, tight end Nic Jacobs, wide receiver Seantavius Jones, tackle Tavon Rooks, running back Derrick Strozier, defensive lineman Lawrence Virgil and safety Pierre Warren.

Cornerback Derrius Brooks, cornerback Trevin Wade, kicker Derek Dimke, cornerback Terrence Frederick, wide receiver Charles Hawkins as well as offensive linemen Jason Weaver and Marcel Jones are non-rookies waived Saturday who are nonetheless eligible for the practice squad.

By virtue of being kept on for longer in the course of the evaluation process, Saints players who were waived Saturday are more likely to be signed to New Orleans’ practice squad than those let go before. Warren and Jones both had impact plays in games this preseason, with the former picking off a pass against Baltimore and the latter catching a touchdown pass against Tennessee. Virgil was credited with a quarterback sack in a win at Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, Hawkins led the Saints in kickoff return yards — 105, all on three attempts in the loss to Baltimore. Those who thrived at times in training camp practices were Brooks, in pass coverage; Jacobs, hauling in throws in traffic; Wade, who was on the Saints’ active roster for four games in 2013, including two in the playoffs; Jones, while auditioning at guard and tackle after spending last season on the practice squad; and Strozier, especially catching out of the backfield.

Nonetheless, several players who were on the Saints’ 90-man training camp roster but didn’t make it past the first round of cuts Tuesday are eligible for the practice squad, too. They are quarterback Logan Kilgore, defensive end George Uko, offensive lineman Manase Foketi, linebacker Rufus Johnson Jr., linebacker Kevin Reddick, cornerback Roderick Sweeting, running back Timothy Flanders, tight end Je’Ron Hamm, outside linebacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe and wide receiver Tobais Palmer. All of them went unclaimed on the waiver wire the day after they were cut and became free agents.

Saints who are on season-ending injured reserve but would’ve been eligible for the practice squad if healthy and left off the 53-man roster were tackle Ty Nsekhe and safety Ty Zimmerman.

Earlier in August, NFL officials announced changes to practice squads in 2014 and 2015, which increased the maximum number of players from eight to 10 and expanded 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 anyone who was a rookie in 2012 or 2013 can now fill the final two practice squad spots.

The other eight players remain under the old rules.

Also, players must be on a practice squad for six games of a season in order for that campaign to count as one of the three seasons they are permitted to have on practice squads. It used to be three games.

Saints unveil first 53-man roster

The first draft of the Saints’ 2014 roster includes two undrafted rookies, five of six 2014 draft picks and no kickers.

Linebacker Kasim Edebali and cornerback Brian Dixon are the undrafted rookies to crack the roster. Five of the six 2014 draft picks made the team: receiver Brandin Cooks (first round), cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second round), linebacker Khairi Fortt (fourth round), as well as linebacker Ronald Powell and safety Vinnie Sunseri (both fifth round).

One player who is not a first-year pro and made the roster with long odds was safety Marcus Ball, who was in the Canadian Football League last year. Another is fullback Austin Johnson, who was on the practice squad in 2013 but made the team after Erik Lorig (the projected starter at his position) got hurt. Yet another is veteran defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, who came to the Saints in free agency in June after time in New England and Jacksonville.

With no kicker on the team, a roster spot will have to cleared when a kicker is signed in time for the Saints’ Week 1 game at Atlanta on Sept. 7. That can be done by cutting a player or placing one on injured reserve, even if it’s of the short-term variety and not the season-ending one. Candidates for that could include Lorig and Fortt — who each had leg injuries in the preseason — or Ball, who had been hurt toward the end of training camp.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
4 Ryan Griffin
7 Luke McCown
9 Drew Brees

RUNNING BACKS (4)
22 Mark Ingram
23 Pierre Thomas
29 Khiry Robinson
39 Travaris Cadet

FULLBACKS (2)
35 Austin Johnson
41 Erik Lorig

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
10 Brandin Cooks
12 Marques Colston
13 Joseph Morgan
84 Kenny Stills
88 Nick Toon

TIGHT ENDS (3)
80 Jimmy Graham
82 Benjamin Watson
89 Josh Hill

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
51 Jonathan Goodwin C
64 Zach Strief T
65 Senio Kelemete G
66 Ben Grubbs G
68 Tim Lelito C/G
72 Terron Armstead T
73 Jahri Evans G
79 Bryce Harris T

SPECIALISTS (2)
6 Thomas Morstead P
47 Justin Drescher LS

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
67 Brandon Deaderick NT
75 Tyrunn Walker DE
76 Akiem Hicks DE
77 Brodrick Bunkley NT
92 John Jenkins NT
94 Cameron Jordan DE
97 Glenn Foster DE

LINEBACKERS (9)
50 Curtis Lofton ILB
53 Ramon Humber ILB
54 Khairi Fortt OLB
56 Ronald Powell OLB
57 David Hawthorne ILB
58 Kyle Knox ILB
91 Kasim Edebali OLB
93 Junior Galette OLB
98 Parys Haralson OLB

DEFENSIVE BACKS (5)
21 Patrick Robinson
24 Corey White
28 Keenan Lewis
33 Stanley Jean-Baptiste
44 Brian Dixon

SAFETIES (5)
25 Rafael Bush
31 Jairus Byrd
32 Kenny Vaccaro
36 Marcus Ball
43 Vinnie Sunseri

Injured Reserve (4)
14 Andy Tanner WR
78 Ty Nsekhe T
20 A.J. Davis CB
49 Ty Zimmerman S

List of Saints cuts as roster is reduced to 53 players

Mickey Loomis, executive vice president/general manager of the New Orleans Saints, talks with Saints head coach Sean Payton, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Phoenix Suns in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Mickey Loomis, executive vice president/general manager of the New Orleans Saints, talks with Saints head coach Sean Payton, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Phoenix Suns in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

As the 3 p.m. Saturday deadline to reduce their roster from 75 to 53 members nears, the Saints have cut the following players.

-Cornerback Champ Bailey

-Wide receiver Robert Meachem

-Kicker Shayne Graham

-Kicker Derek Dimke

-Running back Derrick Strozier

-Veteran fullback Greg Jones

-Tackle/guard Jason Weaver

-Cornerback Trevin Wade

-Wide receiver Charles Hawkins

-Cornerback Terrence Frederick

-Wide receiver Brandon Coleman

-Linebacker Keyunta Dawson

-Tackle/guard Marcel Jones

-Cornerback Derrius Brooks

-Defensive lineman Lawrence Virgil

-Wide receiver Seantavius Jones

-Tackle Thomas Welch

-Center Matt Armstrong

-Linebacker Todd Davis

-Tight end Nic Jacobs

-Tackle Tavon Rooks

-Safety Pierre Warren

After productive preseason, Saints d-lineman Tyrunn Walker says, ‘The more I play, … I just get smarter and smarter’

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans Saints defensive end Tyrunn Walker (75) bats down a  Tyrod Taylor (2) pass as the New Orleans Saints faced the Baltimore Ravens in pre-season action.

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER — New Orleans Saints defensive end Tyrunn Walker (75) bats down a Tyrod Taylor (2) pass as the New Orleans Saints faced the Baltimore Ravens in pre-season action.

His team may have lost 22-13 on Thursday night, but third-year Saints defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker bedeviled the Baltimore Ravens plenty in New Orleans’ final exhibition of the 2014 preseason at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Walker batted down three passes for incompletions, two of which were on third downs and forced the Ravens (4-0) to settle for field goals. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker had to kick a field goal from 27 yards away in the second quarter on one of those occasions and a 32-yarder in the third quarter on the other.

It capped off a big preseason in which Walker topped the Saints (3-1) in pass defenses with four. None of his teammates had more than two, not even defensive backs, who usually have many more opportunities to make such plays on thrown balls.

Walker also led the Saints in takedowns behind the line of scrimmage with four this preseason. He ranked among team leaders with 12 solo tackles (four on Thursday), and he had one quarterback sack in the Saints’ exhibitions.

The third-year player and native of New Iberia credited his production to the experience he’s naturally accumulated with the Saints ever since the club signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa in 2012.

“I’m going to keep learning — the more I play, the more years I’m in the league, I just get smarter and smarter,” said Walker, who didn’t appear in a game in his rookie year and then missed nine contests in 2013 with a hurt knee. “I don’t think it’s more anything physical — it’s just mental.”

With Saturday’s deadline for the Saints to reduce their roster from 75 players to 53 looming, the 6-foot-3, 294-pound Walker at this point is a virtual lock to provide depth on a defensive line led by Pro Bowl end Cameron Jordan, third-year man Akiem Hicks and veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley. He’ll certainly add to the 12 regular-season tackles (five solo) and one quarterback sack he has in his career if he can stay healthy.

“That’s what it’s all about — putting myself on film and showing I can contribute to the team,” Walker said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”

Several waived Saints go unclaimed, become free agents

After being cut by the Saints ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to reduce their roster from 90 players to 75, tackle Manase Foketi, defensive lineman Rufus Johnson Jr., quarterback Logan Kilgore, linebacker Kevin Reddick, cornerback Rod Sweeting and defensive end George Uko all cleared waivers unclaimed.

They are all now free agents and can sign contracts with any NFL team that may be interested. They all are also eligible to join the Saints’ practice squad.

Kilgore and Uko are undrafted rookies. Johnson, Reddick and Sweeting are all in their second year and finished the 2013 campaign on the Saints’ 53-man roster. Foketi spent last year with Buffalo prior to signing with the Saints this past offseason.

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.”

Joseph Morgan’s big night against Titans was a long-time coming after tumultuous year

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan (13) beats Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (24) for a long catch to set up a New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) touchdown during the second quarter Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD — New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan (13) beats Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (24) for a long catch to set up a New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) touchdown during the second quarter Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Offensive assistant Carter Sheridan weaved in and out of the crowd inside the Saints’ locker room minutes after the team had beaten the Titans 31-24 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night and didn’t stop until he found wide receiver Joseph Morgan.

Morgan had just finished leading the Saints (2-0) with 108 yards on three catches — an astounding average of 36 yards per grab — in his first NFL game at the Superdome since 2012. Sheridan high-fived Morgan, leaned in for an embrace and told him, “You did yourself a favor tonight. You keep enjoying doing what you’re doing.”

Don’t mind if Morgan does. His outing Friday against Tennessee (1-1) and the quiet congratulations he earned from Sheridan vividly illustrate just how far Morgan has come in what for him has been a tumultuous 14+ months, which have seen him endure off-field legal problems, suffer a career-threatening injury — and persevere through both as he tries to reclaim his status as a tantalizing deep ball threat for the Saints.

That’s a status he earned in 2012, when he racked up a jaw-dropping 37.9 yards per catch and three touchdowns on just 10 receptions.

But then he endangered it with a Memorial Day weekend DWI arrest the following year. Bad became worse when he went to the Saints’ ensuing training camp and tore the meniscus and partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at an intrasquad scrimmage last August.

He spent the rest of the 2013 campaign recovering while the Saints’ passing game finished No. 2 in the NFL. It was the second complete season Morgan missed after a serious preseason knee injury sidelined him for all of 2011, when he joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent.

However, since then, Morgan has entered and been completing a diversion program to avoid prosecution in the DWI case. He’s patiently rehabbed his knee and more often than not been a full participant at 2014 training camp practices, which were at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia from July 24 to Wednesday but return to the Saints’ headquarters in Metairie on Sunday afternoon.

His diligence paid off Friday. With wide receivers Kenny Stills (quad) and Marques Colston (undisclosed) scratched, Morgan on a few occasions attracted attention from quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin, who are competing to be the understudy to Drew Brees (out with a strained oblique).

Morgan capitalized. With McCown calling the signals, he drew defensive pass interference on a first-and-20 from New Orleans’ 10 while being covered by Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, improving the Saints’ field position vastly.

He then roared past Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and dove around New Orleans’ 30 to catch a 45-yard throw from Griffin. Morgan got back on his feet and gained an extra seven yards before he was hauled down.

That play set up a score for running back Mark Ingram, who ran in a short Griffin pass from 23 yards out to help give New Orleans a 21-17 lead.

Morgan later slipped behind Sensabaugh again to catch a 44-yard throw from Griffin around the Tennessee 40, a play that meant the receiver at that moment was averaging an obscene 48 yards per grab. That number became slightly more reason when Griffin connected with Morgan for 12 yards and a first down — but it was still enough to push the receiver over the 100-yard barrier.

That all could go a very long way for Morgan as he jockeys for a roster spot at receiver under Colston, Stills and rookie first-round draft choice Brandin Cooks. His chief competition as of Friday included guys like Nick Toon, Robert Meachem (who on Friday dropped a pass in the end zone), Andy Tanner, Seantavius Jones (who caught a TD against the Titans) and Brandon Coleman.

“It was encouraging that he got behind the defense and was able to make a few plays that we’ve seen him make prior to his injury,” Payton said. “I think more than anything what is important for us in the evaluation process is how is he moving and tonight we saw him do a few things that were encouraging.”

No one was more encouraged Friday than Morgan himself.

“With any rehab process, you’re not allowed to just go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye,” Morgan said to reporters afterward. “It’s been a long process, but right now it feels great.

“The hardest thing to do is make a team in the training room — the less time you spend in the training room, the better your chances to make the team.”

Note: Advocate correspondent Guerry Smith contributed to this report. This post has been updated since it was first published.

Saints TE Richard Quinn retires

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — Six days after signing with the Saints as a free agent, tight end Richard Quinn retired Monday, according to the NFL.

Richard Quinn

Richard Quinn

Quinn went on the Saints’ reserve-retired list, meaning he will not count towards the team’s roster or represent any cap charges, though the organization will retain the playing rights to the tight end.

The Denver Broncos selected Quinn in the second round of the 2009 draft out of North Carolina. He remained with the Broncos through 2010, catching one pass for 9 yards.

He subsequently spent time with Washington and Cincinnati.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Quinn spent training camp with Arizona last year and then returned to Washington for a bit. He was active for 30 games throughout his career and was considered to be a better blocker than receiver.

New Orleans acquired Quinn on Aug. 5 after rookie tight end Je’Ron Hamm was injured and a few bubble players were waived. He was in a position group that included All-Pro Jimmy Graham, veteran Benjamin Watson, second-year man Josh Hill, Hamm and rookie Nic Jacobs.

Healthier than he has been, Saints T.E. Jimmy Graham anticipates personal improvement in blocking

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) runs the ball during the teams NFL football training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) runs the ball during the teams NFL football training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — All-Pro Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has heard the criticism about his blocking loud and clear, and he wants his detractors to know two things.

He’s over wrist, foot and elbow injuries that held him back in that respect throughout 2012 and 2013, and he spent much of his offseason poring over game footage in a search for ways he could improve protecting both the run and pass.

“The last two years, everybody’s been knocking on blocking — I don’t know why,” Graham said Wednesday after the Saints’ 11th day of training camp practice at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, two days before New Orleans’ preseason opener at St. Louis. “I’m truly healthy now. I think that’s a big deal with that.”

He added, “The last two years with some major injuries have kind of limited that. I took the time this offseason to really look at some film and analyze myself as a player. I noticed that all of the times I was able to help the team the most was when I was blocking the best, because that helps out on play-action and it stops (defenses) from putting a corner(back) pressed up when I’m on the line (of scrimmage) with an outside (line)backer. It’s only going to help the team out, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

There’s an argument to be made in support of the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham’s befuddlement at the criticism his blocking his drawn, especially as he negotiated the four-year, $40 million contract he received in July. That’s a deal he got after he led NFL tight ends in catches (270) and receiving yards (3,507) as well as topped the league in touchdown grabs (36) since 2011.

According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, in 114 snaps protecting the pass in his four previous regular seasons with the Saints, Graham has surrendered two quarterback sacks, three hurries and one QB hit. The site also gave him a negative grade in run-blocking (which he’s done on 597 snaps) in only one of those campaigns: in 2013, when he led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches and the Saints with 1,215 receiving yards.

Meanwhile, Graham has only been called three times for holding, often a desperate attempt by a blocker to prevent a play from ending in lost yardage.

None of that has prevented Graham’s blocking from being a topic of conversation in media sessions after training camp practices. On one occasion, fellow Saints tight end Benjamin Watson was asked what he could tell Graham to make him better at blocking the run.

Watson noted that he doesn’t have all the answers and is working on improvements of his own but replied: “One thing we really focus on is footwork. I think one thing that really we learned in blocking is that we’re overmatched by a lot of defensive ends, (and) a lot of linebackers.

“They’re much bigger than us, much stronger than us, but if we have our footwork right we can get in the right position and our hand placement helps us in the blocking game as you know. That is something that we work on, is our footwork and our hands, and really understanding the whole concept of the play too. Understanding that the back has to take certain steps or cut back or the backs aiming point is out wide, that helps us get defenses to move so that we can get in a position to block.”