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Saints sign RB Vick Ballard to futures deal

The Saints are hoping to cash in on Vick Ballard’s upside.

New Orleans signed the running to a reserve/future contract Wednesday, likely with the hope Ballard can overcome the injuries that have plagued him since a promising rookie season.

In 2012, Ballard logged 966 yards from scrimmage for the Colts as a rookie. But he has only played in one game since. Injuries to his ACL and Achilles wiped out his 2013 and 2014 seasons, and he was waived/injured last season.

New Orleans had similar success last season by taking a flier on Tim Hightower, who saw his career derailed by injuries. He rushed for 375 yards over eight games with the Saints last season.

Former Saint Roman Harper says ‘little brother’ Mark Ingram looked better than ever in 2015

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Roman Harper and Mark Ingram always had a special connection.

A pair of outspoken Alabama graduates who landed in New Orleans four years apart, Harper and Ingram had plenty in common.

Enough that Harper considers Ingram family.

“Mark Ingram, playing with him in New Orleans all those years, he’s like a little brother to me,” Harper said.

Harper and Ingram talk every couple of weeks, checking in on each other’s families, offering encouragement.

And Harper thinks Ingram was better than ever before going down with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder with four weeks to play.

“He was having a great year,” Harper said. “I told him this past year, he’s faster, he looks quicker.”

Ingram emerged as one of the league’s better all-around backs in 2015, racking up 769 rushing yards and 50 catches for 405 yards as a receiver before the injury.

Harper isn’t surprised. The veteran safety thinks Ingram will just keep getting better.

“He’s just got to continue to grind it out,” Harper said. “He’s been great, and there’s no reason for him to let off the pedal or think he’s anything less than that.”

Source: Saints sign Erik Harris out of the CFL

The Saints have imported another player from Hamilton.

New Orleans has reportedly signed the Candian Football League’s Erik Harris  to a reserve/future contract following a workout Tuesday morning, a source confirmed.

The news was first reported by 3DownNation.com, which covers the CFL.

Harris was a member of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux used to play.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Harris played linebacker in the CFL but has the versatility to also play safety. His official listing on the Tiger-Cats’ website is as a defensive back.

Harris finished with 43 tackles and two interceptions last season.

Back in December, coach Sean Payton said the Saints now spend more time scouting the CFL.

“I think anywhere there is football being played you have to pay attention to it,” Payton said. “It’s very limited we’re really looking at the college game, we’re looking at our league, everyone else’s practice squad players, and then the next spot is north.”

Drew Brees says he’d like to see video instantly available on sideline tablets during Super Bowl 50 panel

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, left, and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees take the stage to participate in a news conference on technology Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in San Francisco. With the 50th Super Bowl days away, the NFL is looking toward the future and how technology can change the game on the field and how it's viewed by fans over the next half-century.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, left, and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees take the stage to participate in a news conference on technology Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in San Francisco. With the 50th Super Bowl days away, the NFL is looking toward the future and how technology can change the game on the field and how it’s viewed by fans over the next half-century. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

SAN FRANCISCO — Drew Brees has already seen advancing technology make his job on Sundays a lot easier.

And Brees believes the technology can get even better, both for players and fans alike.

Brees made his first public appearance of Super Bowl week on Tuesday by appearing on a panel with Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, NFL digital chief Brian Rolapp and a Microsoft representative to talk about the advance of technology in the game — The Advocate’s request for an interview with Brees afterward was denied — and there was one key thing on Brees’ wish list.

“I’m really excited about where the technology’s going with video on the sidelines,” Brees said. “It would really help with the preparation.”

Brees has gotten a chance to experiment with video on the sidelines in the Pro Bowl before.

During the 2015 Pro Bowl, Brees remembers watching a play where Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown ran a route over the middle behind the defender. Brees took it over to Brown, showed him the video and told him that if he crossed in front of the defender, Brees could find him for a big play.

Two series later, Brees and Brown hooked up for a big play on the same play call.

But Brees is already pleased with the advances the Microsoft Surface tablets allow on the sideline. When he first got into the NFL, he’d come off the sideline after a drive and get handed a sheath of stapled together photos of every play, making it hard to get through every look.

Now, he can get a closer look at what the defense is doing much faster.

“You just click on that first play, and up pop four images: a pre-snap photo, a post-snap photo and two other photos that might be half a second later, so you really see the development of a play, and what the defense did in coverage and all those things,” Brees said. “You can make adjustments, you take them right out on the field again, and you see all the angles, multiple angles.”

Part of the panel’s discussion topics centered around ideas submitted by fans for technological advances, and one in particular sounded good to Brees.

A fan wanted to put a camera in the helmets of each of the players, allowing fans to see what Brees sees as the pocket is crashing down around him.

“Football’s a whole different game if you’re on the sideline, and obviously, I have the best seat in the house,” Brees said. “The speed of the game, the collisions, the raw strength and power, all those things. … If you could ever put a fan in that position, it would open their eyes to a whole new realm of what professional football is.”

Saints round out coaching staff with Ronald Curry as offensive assistant

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton watches the action from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton watches the action from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The New Orleans Saints coaching staff is set.

New Orleans has hired former 49ers wide receivers coach Ronald Curry as an offensive assistant to replace Greg Lewis, who left to be a full receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Curry, a former dual-threat quarterback who shifted to wide receiver in the NFL, played seven years in the league, and he’s been with the 49ers for the past three.

Now, Curry will rejoin Saints wide receivers coach John Morton, who worked with Lewis last year.

New Orleans also announced that outside linebackers coach Brian Young has a new title as pass rush specialist.

Curry’s move is the final hire as the Saints brought in assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell, moved Dan Roushar to the offensive line, brought back Joe Lombardi as quarterbacks coach and hired Peter Giunta and Aaron Glenn to coach the secondary as senior defensive assistant and cornerbacks coach, respectively.

Saints sign Kyle Prater to futures deal

The Saints are going to give Kyle Prater another chance.

The team signed the wide receiver to a reserve/future deal on Tuesday after he went through a workout, according to a source.

Prater (6-foot-5) spent some time with the Saints last training camp but was released on Aug. 17. During his time in practices, he was targeted 13 times and made nine receptions, according to The Advocate’s charting.

Prater had one catch for 19 yards during the preseason.

New Orleans has also signed fellow receivers Reggie Bell, Shane Wynn and R.J. Harris to futures deals.

Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones and Marques Colston are also under contract.

 

Terron Armstead and John Jenkins earn salary bumps

The Saints have two players who have earned salary bumps through the Proven Performance Escalator.

Offensive tackle Terron Armstead and defensive tackle John Jenkins will both receive salaries of $1.69 million in 2016, according to a source.

Armstead was previously slated to make $705,000. Jenkins’ salary was listed at $700,000.

The Proven Performance Escalator is a clause built into the collective bargaining agreement that guarantees players selected in third through seventh rounds of the draft raises based off playing time. Any player selected in those rounds who plays an average of 35 percent of the snaps over a three-year period or 35 percent of the snaps during two individual seasons earns the escalator during the fourth season of his rookie deal.

Cornerback Corey White and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks earned the incentive for the Saints last season. White was let go shortly after earning the raise.

Saints mailbag: Who would you draft for New Orleans?

Answering reader questions following the Senior Bowl.

There’s nothing saying he will be any different.

The Saints had lunch with Noah Spence at the Senior Bowl, and went on a fact-finding mission to find out about the drug issues that led to him being bounced from Ohio State, but that doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to change their typical methods of operation.

But the difference between Spence and, say, Randy Gregory, is that Spence had a full year to rehabilitate his image. Gregory’s issues last year came right before the draft. The difference in timelines should help Spence get drafted somewhere closer to what his talent dictates.

Having said that, I’m not going to pretend to know what the Saints are thinking. Perhaps he blows them away during the interview process and Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis decide to take a chance. I’d be surprised if it happens, but you never know.

I’m not nearly far enough along in my draft preparation to give a firm answer or start banging a drum for a guy. I’m still at the point in this where I could be talked into different players and different positions.

I haven’t been shy in saying I think the Saints’ biggest need is at weakside linebacker. You could talk me into a defensive tackle or a defensive end. But all things being equal, I’m going to side with the weakside linebacker.

The two best players at that position, from where I’m sitting, are Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith and UCLA’s Myles Jack. I think Jack might be more polished right now from the limited film I’ve seen on him, but Smith has much more upside.

The issue with Smith is that he suffered a knee injury and could miss some time to start the season. In this scenario, if you told me Smith’s knee was going to fine, then I’d take him for the Saints.

It’s doubtful both players are there when the Saints pick at No. 12. But if both fell, in reality, I’d probably take Jack over Smith since he’s the safer pick. But if Smith falls, and the Saints feel comfortable with his health, I’d have no issue with them taking him at that spot.

I really don’t care if he misses three or four games to start the season. This is about the next five years and he has the potential to be a very, very good NFL player.

I’m a big believer of filling all your pressing needs during free agency so you don’t enter the draft feeling as if you have to fill a hole.

It’s fine to enter the draft with needs and wants. But I’m talking about the gaping holes where everyone can see you need more talent. This will force you into reaching for players in the draft. That’s not a good way to live.

A lot of that depends on how the Saints handle their own free agents this offseason. All three of the tight ends could end up elsewhere next season. If one or two of them go, then that’s suddenly one of the biggest needs this offseason.

On the luxury list, I’d like to see the Saints add a veteran defensive tackle, a linebacker for depth and maybe even a guard. None of them have to be Day 1 players. Just build up the middle class of the roster so there aren’t major depth issues.

I have a feeling a lot of people aren’t going to like this answer, but if his medicals check out and I’m supremely confident in his ability to return to 100 percent and he’s the highest-graded player on my board, I would absolutely take him.

You keep Dannell Ellerbe around, find another player to serve as depth, and wait for Smith to return. The short-term view shouldn’t dictate this situation. I know everyone wants to win now, and I agree with that to a certain degree, but would you have sacrificed seven games of Todd Gurley to get the next 73 he’s under contract for? I make that deal in a second.

I think that is Keenan Lewis’ job to lose. I know he’s had a number of operations over the last 12 months, and that should be cause for concern, but I’m not going to doubt his ability to return at this point. If we’re in August and he doesn’t look right, then I’ll worry. For now, I have him inked into the starting job.

I’d say both of those guys. If Tyeler Davison makes the jump, then that will be a big development for the defense.

But I agree Peat is at the top of the list for the simple reason the Saints are hoping he competes for a starting job next year.

I am eager to see how all those guys show up next season. There are a lot of bright spots, but those feelings are contingent on players developing and taking the next step. New Orleans could have a nice young core if things go as planned.

Character counts: Saints spend full year trying to find draft prospects with right makeup

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MOBILE, Ala. — Evaluating potential draft picks requires NFL teams to do much more than scout a player’s size, speed, athleticism and game tape.

The NFL is littered with players who failed to live up to their potential because of off-the-field issues.

“We also look at the makeup,” New Orleans Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland said. “What a player’s made of from the intangible side, that’s extremely important. As time goes on, and as you study the history of the league, you’re going to find that players that have the intangible qualities we’re looking for have a longer career.”

New Orleans has reemphasized the importance of finding players with the right kind of character over the course of the past year, cleaning out a locker room that grew toxic for the first time in Sean Payton’s tenure in 2014.

“Character encompasses a lot of qualities,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in his postseason press conference. “It’s coachability, it’s off-the-field character, and it’s a lot of different things. … You have to pay attention to all of it, you really do.”

But a team can’t always take prospects with squeaky-clean records. Some players make a mistake in college, learn from it and grow into the kind of stars an organization builds a team around.

Figuring out if a player has left his troubles behind is one of the toughest parts of the draft process.

“It starts way back in May,” Ireland said. “We start gathering information from the combine scouts, and then we attack it in the fall, get as much information from the sources we collect information from — that’d be coaches or trainers or whatever it may be. This time of the year, we talk to the kid individually, try to find out what was he thinking in that situation or what kind of kid he is and form our own opinion. … There’s a lot of work that goes into character. We’re not just taking someone else’s opinion.”

Andrus Peat’s former Stanford teammates expect Saints tackle to make big strides in second season

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MOBILE, Ala. — Two of Andrus Peat‘s best friends expect the Saints tackle to  break out in his sophomore season in New Orleans.

Not because they’re his friends, but because Stanford offensive linemen Josh Garnett and Kyle Murphy have seen Peat make that kind of leap before.

Peat, who played in spots as a freshman at Stanford but failed to lock down the starting job, responded by taking two giant steps forward and earning All-Pac 12 second team honors as a sophomore in college.

“It was a little rocky when he came in, but the second year, when everything clicks for him, he was an All-American player,” Garnett said. “I know a lot of people are going to be real surprised by what they see from Andrus Peat.”

Garnett, Peat’s former roommate and his linemate at left guard, and Murphy, who started at right tackle, have begun their own NFL journeys at the Senior Bowl this week, and both men still talk to Peat on a regular basis.

Both members of the Cardinal watched Peat’s rookie season closely. Drafted No. 13, Peat arrived in New Orleans with the opportunity to learn behind Zach Strief, and although he got off to a slow start after reporting in less-than-ideal condition to training camp, Peat rebounded to start seven games: two at left tackle, four at left guard and one at right tackle.

Watching Peat serve as the Saints’ sixth offensive lineman this season showed Garnett and Murphy just how tough the transition to the NFL level can be.

“Having him play guard was something kind of eye-opening,” Murphy said. “I thought he was the best tackle in the country last year, so you never know how it’s going to be.”

Peat, who has admitted he opened his rookie season in poor condition, is trying to put those mistakes behind him.

The big tackle has changed his diet, according to Garnett, in order to build off of the momentum he built by joining the starting lineup late in the season, after he recovered from a sprained MCL that cost Peat two games.

“There’s things that he’s adopted now that made him get into great shape,” Garnett said. “He’s made a lot of changes, a lot of great changes, and I’m so excited to see what this guy’s going to do next year.”

Peat showed plenty of flashes in his rookie season, particularly at tackle. When he got an opportunity to start at right tackle against Jacksonville, Peat turned in one of his better performances of the season, swallowing pass rushers with his massive size.

Garnett and Murphy have seen those kind of flashes before.

And there’s no doubt in his former teammates’ mind that Peat will live up to his lofty draft position.

“I expect huge things out of him,” Murphy said. “I expect him to be an All-Pro type player in the next couple of years.”