The New Orleans Saints open their 2018 NFL Pre-Season this Thursday Night, when they travel to the northern Florida Atlantic coast to face the 2017 AFC South Division champion Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern / 6 p.m. Central and will be televised locally in New Orleans on FOX Channel 8.
With that in mind, here are my 7 Saints players for Big Easy Magazine that I recommend all ‘Who Dats’ keep a close eye on, while watching the Black and Gold in action on the Florida “First Coast” this Thursday Night.
DEMARIO DAVIS, MIDDLE LINEBACKER (#56)
Davis was the Saints’ top free agent target this past off-season, and it’s fairly easy to see why after the first 2 weeks of Camp. Pay particular attention early on during the game (Davis will likely only play for a series or two in the 1st quarter) at just HOW FAST he is, and you’ll understand why the organization was so high on him after his stellar season last year with the New York Jets.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) July 30, 2018
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 7, 2018
Davis has had a phenomenal Training Camp thus far, and the Brandon, Mississippi native has also shown the versatility to line up anywhere the coaching staff chooses to utilize his elite speed and play-making abilities in both the running game and in pass coverage.
His presence alone should make the linebacker corps as good as it’s ever been, and if the players around him (A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone) can stay relatively healthy, it could be a banner year (Top 5-good?) for the Saints defense as a whole.
BOSTON SCOTT, RUNNING BACK (#30)
I purposely listed the rookie Scott, who in a rather dynamic manner at times has flashed some very impressive moves thus far throughout the first 2 weeks of Camp, here right behind Davis for one simple reason: speed.
One thing that the Saints did in a rather sneaky fashion in this most recent Draft was add both a RB (Scott) and a WR (Tre’Quan Smith, and more on him coming up in a minute) to further upgrade the overall speed at the skill positions, and they clearly have gotten that and more with the former Louisiana Tech star and Baton Rouge native.
— Sharief Ishaq (@ShariefWDSU) August 6, 2018
Watch HOW QUICK #30 moves when the ball’s in his hands — and imagine how much fun that Saints head coach Sean Payton‘s going to have using him on the very same play with Alvin Kamara during the regular season.
DAVID ONYEMATA, DEFENSIVE TACKLE (#93)
Originally I had the team’s rookie top draft pick defensive end Marcus Davenport in this spot at first, but the team announced that he would not play in this game after missing the past week of practice with what they deemed to be a “minor muscle pull”, according to a team source.
So instead I’ll choose another player along the Saints D-Line for fans to watch, and what better player than Onyemata, who has grown by leaps and bounds since his rookie season of 2016; when ironically, his head was also “swimming” (as some have speculated might be what’s REALLY going on behind the scenes with Davenport) as he tried at first to make his adjustment from college to the NFL level.
Onyemata just yesterday was given a promotion as a “co-starter” at the 3-Technique / starting defensive tackle spot along with fellow DT (and 2016 pick) Sheldon Rankins; and even though he likely will only play a few series in the 1st quarter, pay attention to #93 while he’s in there and notice how he now plays with a lot more explosiveness, power, and agility that allows him to make tackles against opposing offensive players “outside the box”. Those are the things that Onyemata can now do in his 3rd NFL season, that he couldn’t do in his first one.
TAYSOM HILL, QUARTERBACK (#7)
Hill will finally get to make his long-awaited debut at the QB position for the Saints, since he played solely on special teams last year after the team claimed him off waivers from the Green Bay Packers following the final 2017 Pre-Season cuts.
Now we’ll finally get to see if the “hype” that’s been put on this young man and his undeniable blend of unique physical talents, can allow him to become a legitimate starter at the NFL level; much less even being mentioned as a possible “successor” to Drew Brees, when (and if) he retires.
Is Hill REALLY capable of becoming a viable and at least somewhat successful quarterback in the National Football League? We’re all about to get our answer soon enough.
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill currently has Hill charted with a 31-for-71, 2 INT performance overall in 2 weeks worth of team drills in Training Camp, which isn’t exactly all that impressive. We’ll see on Thursday Night just how comfortable Hill looks, when the competition gets a bit more heated than what it’s already been from his own defensive teammates recently.
DAN ARNOLD, TIGHT END (#85)
When your head coach compares you to one of the NFL’s greatest undrafted free agents of all-time, then you know that you’re doing something right. That’s the case for one of the great stories of all of 2018 Saints Training Camp this year, with undrafted wide receiver-turned-tight end Dan Arnold. Arnold was signed as an undrafted player last year after catching 65 passes for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Division III school Wisconsin-Platteville.
He made an impression on the coaching staff last summer but spent the year on injured reserve. But this year, Arnold decided to give playing tight end a shot, since the Saints were thin at the position and he felt it gave him a better chance at making the team. So he gained 40 pounds and definitely is still a receiving threat to be sure, but he now needs to learn the fundamentals of blocking at the tight end position — which obviously differs from the blocking assignments for a WR.
Nevertheless, he’s still made a lasting impression, and Payton even referenced a former undrafted player who followed a very similar path that Arnold is on, who eventually became an All-Pro tight end: former Dallas Cowboys star Jay Novacek. “I watched Novacek go through a camp at receiver for the Cardinals and go down to the last cut,” Payton told reporters the other day. “Didn’t make it and then all of a sudden he surfaces in Dallas with the right vision and has a great career. So it’s happened before, and he’s a bright enough kid, and he is big enough, he can carry the weight.”
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 6, 2018
Arnold still has to make a pretty big impression beginning this Thursday Night to make the team, and despite Payton’s reference to Novacek, Arnold has to be considered a long-shot at best to make the Final 53-man Roster.
But Saints fans LOVE the underdog, and you can bet they’ll be rooting for #85 — who’s expected to see plenty of action in this contest — whenever the Black and Gold is on offense against the Jaguars defense.
MARCUS WILLIAMS, SAFETY (#43)
2nd year safety Marcus Williams has had a phenomenal Camp thus far, and it’s become BLATANTLY OBVIOUS that the soon-to-be 22 year old is DRIVEN to succeed after his well-publicized missed tackle in the heart-breaking NFC Divisional Playoff loss to Minnesota.
For what seems to becoming a daily occurrence recently, Williams has been having one spectacular individual performance after another, and in grand fashion every time. And he’s even intercepted future Hall of Famer and Saints starting QB Drew Brees on several occasions already; just in the past week of practice alone.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 6, 2018
Marcus Williams picked off Drew Brees for the third straight practice today.
— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) August 6, 2018
No one player has dedicated so much of himself as Williams has this past off-season, and his notable mistake of a lifetime has only served as motivation for what he, his teammates, and the team’s passionate fan-base hope will eventually be the ultimate pinnacle of success someday; and perhaps as early as this coming February. But for now, keep an eye on #43 against the Jaguars on Thursday Night.
TRE’QUAN SMITH, WIDE RECEIVER (#10)
Smith is easily the “break-out” player in Camp this year; and it goes without saying that for the 2nd straight year, the Saints may have gotten another 3rd Round “steal” on the offensive side of the football, just as they did last year with 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 28, 2018
One of the reasons that he wasn’t drafted higher than where the Saints were able to grab him with the 91st overall pick in Round 3, is because Smith is still actually learning HOW to play the WR position, and scouts feel that he still has some growing to do in other areas such as hand-eye coordination and route-running.
The other knock on him (somewhat amazingly) is that scouts felt that he lacked top-end speed; and at the NFL Combine earlier this year, Smith only ran a 4.49 40; which isn’t necessarily the type of speed that you’d typically want in a deep threat / downfield target wide receiver. But obviously when he’s on the field, Smith has a “2nd gear” that allowed him to consistently blow past some of college football’s better defenders during his time with the Golden Knights.
— Julie Boudwin (@Julie_Boudwin) August 7, 2018
That much has become obvious now at the professional level as well, and it will be interesting to see how #10 fares against live competition from some of the League’s better DB’s, beginning this Thursday Night in Jacksonville…
Editor’s note: If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Barry’s exclusive in-depth interview with Saints linebacker Demario Davis!