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Notes and observations from Thursday’s minicamp practice

Attendance: Hau’oli Kikaha and Avery Young were both not spotted at practice again. Linebacker Stephone Anthony was also missing.  Safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Kyle Wilson, defensive end Kasim Edebali, safety Jamarca Sanford, punter Thomas Morstead and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe did not participate in team drills.

Shorter day: The Saints ended practice early on Thursday after going through just minimal team drills. The players will now head home to prepare for training camp, which should begin in late July.

Kicking work: It hasn’t been a strong minicamp for kickers Connor Barth and Kai Forbath. It’s looked like the players have missed a number of kicks, but coach Sean Payton gave the pair a vote of confidence and explained the set up at minicamp is not favorable to kickers.

Grayson watch: It’s been a mixed minicamp for second-year quarterback Garrett Grayson. He’s made a handful of mistakes but littered them with some smaller bright moments. He missed on a slant and then connected with Kyle Prater on a fade for a touchdown on Thursday.

Receivers: It might or might not be notable, but the top three receivers on Thursday were Brandon Coleman, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks.

Gibbs: Legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs was at practice on Thursday. He’s been spotted at a few other practices this offseason. His presence is notable. He’s a zone-blocking guru and helped shape the potent running games of the Denver Broncos in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Brees passing: Drew Brees was 2 of 3 in team drills. He completed passes to Willie Snead and Tim Hightower. His third pass, to Cooks, was broken up by Delvin Breaux.

McCown passing: Luke McCown completed 2 of 4 passes. He connected with Reggie Bell and Josh Hill. One pass to Michael Thomas was broken up by Tony Carter. It would have been a tough play for Thomas to complete.

Grayson passing: Garrett Grayson was 2 of 4 passing. He connected with Tommylee Lewis and Prater.

Saints and Patriots to conduct joint practices

The Saints and Patriots will conduct a pair of joint practices during training camp.

The practices will take on the field behind Gillette Stadium on Aug. 9 and 10. The teams then play a preseason game on Aug. 11.

The two teams conducted joint practices last season. Saints coach Sean Payton said he also expects the Saints to practice with the Houston Texans during training camp.

Notes and observations from Tuesday’s minicamp practice

Attendance: Hau’oli Kikaha was not spotted during practice. He suffered a torn ACL. Safety Jairus Byrd, DE Kasim Edebali, S Jamarca Sanford, P Thomas Morstead and LB Dannell Ellerbe did not participate in team drills.

Trying out: The following players tried out on Tuesday: WR Robert Meachem, LB Chris Weatherd, LB Royce LaFrance, DT Lawrence Virgil, P Spencer Lanning, P John Kidd, LS Chris Highland, TE Chris Bazile, LB Matt Shaughnessy, DE Darryl Tapp, OL Dahon Taylor, OL Davante Harris. There was another offensive lineman with the last name Richard.

Williams looks good: It was a strong day for cornerback P.J. Williams. He had a one-handed interception on a pass that ultimately carried him out of bounds, jumped a route in team  drills intended for Brandin Cooks and dropped an interception, and also broke up a pass. He’s playing both on the outside and in the slot. Getting him up to speed will be a big development.

Come on, Craig: Linebacker Craig Robertson was another player who looked good. He has good speed and possesses the ability to flip his hips and run with receivers. Saw him break up a pair of passes and flash a few other times. His athleticism is notable considering how the second group of linebackers looked last season behind Dannell Ellerbe.

Different things on defense: We’re still seeing the defense do a lot of different things. The most surprising look of the day came during a hurry-up session when the defensive rolled out a three-man line consisting of Obum Gwacham, Cam Jordan and Davis Tull.

Grayson update: There were things Garrett Grayson could have done better, and a few passes that he would have liked to have back, including one that should have been intercepted, but he had one  impressive moment during team drills. After surveying the defense, he checked out of the initial play and hit his running back on a quick screen for a huge gain. It was the perfect call against the defense.

Nickeled up: Damian Swann received most of the snaps with the first-team defense when the team used a cornerback as the fifth defensive back. Delvin Breaux and Williams served as the outside corners.

Harris shines: Erik Haris, who was imported from the Canadian Football League, continues to shine. He had two broken up passes today and nearly picked off another.

Brees stats: I had Brees completing 17 of 27 passes during team drills. He completed passes to Tim Hightower (3), Willie Snead (4), Cooks (1), Josh Hill (1), Coby Fleener (4), Mark Ingram (1) and Michael Thomas (2). The receiver on one reception is unknown.

Grayson stats: Grayson completed 5 of 7 attempts. He connected on passes to Jordan Williams-Lambert (2), Michael Hoomanawanui (2) and Daniel Lasco (1). Grayson had one pass nearly picked off.

McCown stats: McCown completed all four of his passes. He connected on passes to R.J. Harris, Reggie Bell, Kyle Prater and Jared Dangerfield. McCown had one pass that was either strip sack or batted down at the line by Nate Stupar.

 

 

Full Roman Harper contract details

Here are the details on Roman Harper’s one-year, $1.065 million deal with the Saints, according to a source:

Base salary: $985,000
Guarantees: $150,000 for skill, injury, cap
Signing bonus: $80,000

The deal qualifies for the minimum salary benefit, which means Harper’s cap charge for this season is $780,000.

 

Lasting impressions from OTAs and answering reader questions

A couple of quick, lasting impressions from organized team activities.

  • We didn’t talk much about Nate Stupar or Craig Robertson the last few weeks, but both players flashed at different times. Stupar nearly intercepted Garrett Grayson during the second open practice and had a few nice blitzes. He also flashed a few times on Thursday and broke up a pass. It’s a very small sample, but it looks like the linebacker group is going to be much more athletic this season.
  • Michael Thomas continues to look good. He had a great red-zone touchdown on a pass in the front corner of the end zone over P.J. Williams. He’s been running with the first team. He’s on the right track.
  • The defense is going to look a lot different this season. There have been new and interesting wrinkles during each practice. There are a lot of different personnel groupings and alignments being used across the board. It will be interesting to see how things look during minicamp when we get a longer view of things.
  • The competition deeper down the depth chart is going to be interesting to keep an eye on. R.J. Harris seems to be running pretty close to the front of that pack, but a few other players have flashed at different times.
  • The interior pass rush is going to be better. How much better remains to be seen, as well as the consistency, but Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins are going to bring something that lacked last season.
  • Grayson looks better than he did last season. There are still some ups and downs. Again, the sample size is limited, but he’s progressing. Will it be enough to knock off Luke McCown? There’s still a lot of ground to cover.
  • Erik Harris has been a pleasant surprise. The competition at safety is going to be tough to knock off, but he’s caught the eye several times and is getting a good amount of burn with the first-team defense. It’s too soon to know if he’ll make the team but don’t sleep on him.

Time for your questions.

I think Stephone Anthony will benefit the most. 

Moving to strongside linebacker will better allow him to go out on the field and make plays. In the middle, where he served last season, he had to process more and get his teammates lined up. That’s a tall task for a rookie player.

If Andrus Peat ends up playing guard instead of tackle, which is what it currently looks like will happen, that takes him out of his natural position. I think he can succeed there, and having a whole offseason to prepare for the switch should help him, but that’s probably not going to be his long-term position.

We haven’t seen a lot of Keenan Lewis yet. It’s hard to know exactly where he’s at in his recovery from hip surgery. But assuming everyone is healthy, then I have to go with Lewis and Delvin Breaux.

That’s not a knock on P.J. Williams. I think he’ll be a good player. But Lewis is a proven veteran, and I’m not going to worry about or doubt him until he provides a reason. It’s too soon for that.   

There’s nothing that says this team won’t make it to the playoffs. That’s still to be determined.

Honestly, I don’t have any big issues with how the team played the offseason.

There’s this narrative that Coby Fleener prevented the Saints from doing something else. He counts $2.4 million against the cap this season. That’s not a prohibitive figure, even with how tight the Saints were to the cap. Could New Orleans have found an impactful defensive player and structured his contract the same way? Perhaps, but I’m not sure who that player would have been.

I like the Michael Thomas pick. Some might argue it’s a luxury. Maybe it is, but he’s going to make the team better and help take pressure off the defense if he lives up to expectations.

If the Saints went all out on building the defense, how much better does it get, given the resources? The offense still needs to be able to cover whatever the defense gives up.

Every little bit you let the offense deteriorate, that’s more pressure on the defense to be better. It’s easier to stay great on offense and improve incrementally on defense. I’m not sure swapping out Fleener and adding a defensive player makes a huge difference. We’ll see if that holds true.

The only thing you can really get on this team for is not acquiring a pass rusher, but that’s easy to say after Hau’oli Kikaha suffered an injury.

That’s easy. Defensive end.

Not only is the biggest question on the roster now, I think there’s a lot of potential there. Obum Gwacham, Kasim Edebali and Davis Tull could all be very good players. The question is if they fulfill that potential.

If they do, the defense is a lot better than it is now.

I think Bell will eventually be the long-term starter at free safety. I’m not sure if that’s a commentary on Byrd or not. I think, for now, adding Bell gives the team more flexibility. That’s attractive.

As far as Harper, they play different positions. I don’t think that speaks to Byrd’s standing with the team at all.

Source: Hau’oli Kikaha suffered torn ACL

The New Orleans Saints effort to revamp their defense took a hit after defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha suffered a torn ACL during practice earlier this week, according to a source.

Kikaha figured to be a major piece of the defense, and the team was planning to move him down to defensive end to help aid with the pass rush this season. The former second-round pick served as a strongside linebacker last season and finished the year with four sacks and four forced fumbles.

“My man Kikaha has come back before (and will do it again .. this time even better — count on it,” his agent, Timothy Younger, wrote on Twitter.

The coaching staff was impressed with the work Kikaha had done during organized team activities.

“The technique that we coach is different than most people in base technique, and Hau had really grabbed ahold of it,” pass-rush coach Brian Young said. “He was probably one of the best guys we had so far at truly coming out of his hips and attacking square and doing all the things we’re asking for.”

It’s not immediately clear which knee he injured, but the pass rusher suffered two torn ACLs while in college at the University of Washington.

It’s not immediately clear how things will work out on the defensive line. New Orleans began reaching out to some free agent players earlier this week, according to a source.

If the Saints stick with internal options, Obum Gwacham could serve in the Jack position. It’s also possible that Cam Jordan serves as the so-called “rush end,” a position he served in last season after previously working as the strongside end.

Bobby Richardson served as the strongside end last season.

New Orleans also has second-year player Davis Tull, who spent last season on injured reserve, and Kasim Edebali at the position.

“At that position you have Obum Gwacham, who showed enough last year and started with a sack against the Redskins and kept pushing forward,” Cam Jordan said. “Of course, Kasim Edebali. He’ll have to come back healthy. I mean he had five (sacks) last year, but he showed a lot of versatility last year. Stout against the run, plays the pass rush from the outside to the in. With that being said, we also have Davis Tull. … But we’re looking forward to seeing him progress.”

It’s also possible the Saints could look to use more three-man fronts this season. The defense has pledged to be more multiple, and it’s not out of the question for the team to use some three-man fronts with six defensive backs on the field.

But that would likely only be one wrinkle to the defense. The team will need someone to step up and serve as a pass rusher opposite Jordan when it looks to use a four-man defensive line.

This is a hit for the defense, much the same it was a hit for the defense last season when Junior Galette first suffered a pectoral injury and then was released after details of his alleged off-field activities came to light.

New Orleans ultimately released Galette before training camp and was then forced to piece together a defensive line that struggled to generate consistent pressure on quarterbacks throughout the season.

It appears that are better internal options this season, and Kikaha was not guaranteed to win the spot he was competing for, but he was considered the frontrunner to work off the edge opposite Jordan.

The Saints were looking to find out if Kikaha, who is listed at 249 pounds, could serve as an every-down player. At the very least, the team was looking to utilize him as a defensive end in subpackages, which the team operates out of on nearly 70 percent of its snaps.

Kiakaha excelled at the position while in college, where he recorded 19 sacks as a senior and 12.5 as a junior.

That kind of potential isn’t as obvious in some of the other players. They have shown flashes of potential in limited doses but have yet to have the same kind of consistent success.

For the Saints to buck the trend of the last few seasons and perform better on defense, at least one of the other players is going to have to step into the void.

Mitchell Loewen placed on reserve/NFI list

Mitchell Loewen cleared waivers and was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list.

The undrafted defensive end out of Arkansas was waived on Monday with a non-football injury. The Saints signed tight end Garrett Griffin to take his place on the roster.

Loewen will not count against the 90-man limit.

Saints waive DE Mitchell Loewen, sign TE Garrett Griffin

The Saints made a pair of roster moves by waiving defensive end Mitchell Loewen and officially signing tight end Garrett Griffin.

Loewen, who was seen wearing a walking boot at recent organized team activities, was waived with a non-football injury designation.

Griffin, a tight end out of Air Force, caught 41 passes for 678 yards over three collegiate seasons. He also has the ability to serve as a long snapper.

The Saints intention to sign Griffin has been known for several weeks.

Griffin has a commitment to the Air Force and is waiting to find out if he will be ruled a reserve, which would allow him to play for the Saints. A source indicated that this is the likely outcome.

However, he could also be called back, which would put his football career on hold.

United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced last month that former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds will be allowed to play after the Baltimore Ravens used a sixth-round pick on him, and Mabus also cleared Navy graduate Joe Cardona to return to the New England Patriots.

Former Saints tight end Henry Childs dies at 65

Former Saints great Henry Childs passed away Friday at the age of 65, the team announced.

The tight end was acquired by the Saints in 1974 and played for the team through the 1980 season. He made the Pro Bowl in 1979 after catching 51 passes for 846 yards with five touchdowns.

“Henry Childs was a key contributor to our offense during his seven years with us and one of the top tight ends in our franchise’s history,” Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones from our whole organization during this difficult time.”

Childs played for Kansas in college and was drafted in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons. He was acquired by New Orleans at the end of his rookie season.

During seven seasons with the Saints, he caught 207 passes for 3,224 yards with 27 touchdowns. He finished his career by playing for the Rams in 1981 and the Packers in 1984, following two years out of football.

Childs was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1994.

He finished his career with 223 receptions for 3,401 yards and 28 touchdowns.

His 27 touchdowns ranks second among tight ends in franchise history behind Jimmy Graham (51).

Cam Jordan returns to action following offseason back surgery

Cam Jordan is back in action.

The defensive end returned to practice this week for the first time since undergoing a minor procedure on his back during the offseason.

“I’d like to say we tested the waters out on Tuesday,” Jordan said. “I bought in, did my 40 up downs.”

Jordan said that he’s still working his way back and has some ‘minor agitation’ that he feels will be alleviated through repetitions.

During Thursday’s organized team activity, Jordan lined up as the strongside defensive end. Hau’oli Kikaha played on the weakside. Jordan played that position in 2014 when he finished with 7.5 sacks. He was on the weakside last season and finished with 10 sacks.

The defensive end cautioned not to pay too much attention to positioning.

“You saw that, huh?” he said. “Whatever it takes. We’re moving around right now. I wouldn’t get too cemented in the spot that I’m in.”

When asked if he prefers one spot over the other, Jordan said he did not.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to have a preference,” Jordan said. “Whatever it takes, whatever puts us in the best position.”