The New Orleans Saints — a team that was only just one very controversial play away from making it to the Super Bowl a few months ago — will conduct their annual Mini-Camp beginning tomorrow morning; at the team’s Practice and Training Facility at 5800 Airline Drive in suburban Metairie.
All three practices are open to the general public, as long as weather permits.
Tuesday, June 11th: Noon – 1:20 p.m.
Wednesday, June 12th: Noon – 1:20 p.m.
Thursday, June 13th: Noon – 1:20 p.m.
Big Easy Magazine will be among the local New Orleans media organizations there to cover the 3-day event, as the team continues their off-season preparations for the upcoming 2019 NFL Season; with that in mind, here is a quick look at 5 particular Saints players that we’ll be keeping a close and watchful eye on.
CAM MEREDITH, WIDE RECEIVER
— Saints News Network™ (@SaintsNews) May 17, 2019
As most Who Dats are aware: Meredith signed as a restricted free agent from Chicago during 2018 NFL Free Agency last off-season and was active for the first few weeks of the 2018 Regular Season last year, until the coaching staff decided to place him on Injured Reserve after it was determined his knee wasn’t fully healed as it previously had been anticipated.
Meredith experienced swelling in his left knee throughout the first six games of the 2018 season, and the team ultimately decided to place him on injured reserve after he underwent arthroscopic surgery to correct the issue. The former Illinois State University star recorded just 9 receptions for 114 yards and 1 TD reception for the year in 2018; most of which came during their Week #6 victory last season over the Redskins at the Superdome, where he had 5 catches for 71 yards.
— ViewFromtheAll22 (@BartelloFootbal) August 31, 2018
In his limited amount of action, Meredith still managed to catch a majority (90%) of the passes that were thrown in his direction. Beginning right now and throughout the next several weeks leading up to Training Camp, the coaching staff will be monitoring Meredith very closely to see if he is in fact 100% fully healed and ready to become an impact player at the slot WR position.
Meredith even agreed to take a pay cut to keep him with the Black and Gold for the upcoming season; likely so that he can prove that he is NOT a Free Agent “bust”. Team brass ultimately decided to reduce Meredith’s total in salary and potential bonuses from $5.05 million to $2.95 million, guaranteeing him a total of $1.5 million. But thus far. Meredith has only been working off to the side during team OTA’s with a trainer — and his availability the next three days of Mini-Camp could eventually determine his future (or lack thereof) with the franchise going forward.
MARCUS DAVENPORT, EDGE RUSHER / DEFENSIVE END
Marcus Davenport makes a splash in his debut as a New Orleans Saint, writes @JohnDeShazier
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) August 26, 2018
Now over a year since the Saints took a gamble and traded away their #1 pick in this year’s 2019 NFL Draft to Green Bay for the opportunity to move up and get Davenport, the team’s loyal fans are still divided over whether the move was a good one. There is a large portion of Saints fans that feel the franchise made a mistake by moving up to the #14 spot (held by Green Bay) to get Davenport by giving the Packers the 27th and 147th overall selections in the Draft last year, for the talented 22-year old.
Did the Saints overpay for Davenport? Maybe. However, that’s purely up for debate.
But the organization knows what they have in Davenport, and they are willing to take the time that’s necessary to allow him to progress naturally and eventually blossom into the star they know he can become. Last season, Davenport didn’t start any games as the back-up at right defensive end, although he did play around half of the Saints’ defensive snaps in the 15 games he played, including the playoffs (he was inactive for three games because of a previous toe injury).
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 29, 2018
Davenport finished the season with 22 tackles (12 solos), 6 TFLs (tackles for loss), 4.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 28 quarterback “pressures,” 12 quarterback “hits,” and 1 forced fumble. He was coming on very strong before he hurt his toe in the Vikings game, and put up a total of four sacks in five weeks. He did eventually return for the final two months of the season, but later admitted he wasn’t completely healed and told reporters the injury was considered “season-ending.”
However, regardless of how the season ultimately ended, the organization remains steadfast in their belief that Davenport was the player they needed to not only hopefully help the team “win now” while they’re so close to winning a championship, but for the future of the franchise as well.
With the departure of former veteran edge rusher/defensive end Alex Okafor to Kansas City, the plan going forward is for Davenport to see more than 50% of the snaps, with that number likely to increase over time as he grows more and more comfortable with his role. But for those Saints fans who remain skeptical, this is the time now for Davenport to begin showing his true “value” to the team and the franchise — and whether or not he is going to be the “missing piece” to help Drew Brees win another Super Bowl before he retires.
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, QUARTERBACK
— wdsu (@wdsu) June 4, 2019
As of this very moment, there might not be a more polarizing player on the current Saints roster than Bridgewater; who most Saints fans are completely SPLIT DOWN THE MIDDLE on as to whether he will become the eventual “heir apparent” to the Saints starting QB position, once future Hall of Famer Drew Brees eventually decides to retire.
As we noted here at Big Easy Magazine last week after the team conducted its final practice of Off-Season OTA’s: with Brees’ excused absence from OTA’s for a court appearance out in Southern California, the 26-year old Bridgewater took full command of Sean Payton’s high-octane offense and not only did an admirable job, but might have even changed a few misconceptions regarding his abilities as a pure thrower from within the pocket and his potential to become a legitimate threat as one of the NFL’s top passers.
Bridgewater began 11-on-11 drills with a perfectly-thrown ball to veteran TE Jared Cook for what have would have been at least a 35-yard gain down the left sidelines. After misfiring on his next throw to superstar WR Michael Thomas and then appearing to regress even further after throwing an incompletion behind a well-covered TE Josh Hill, the former University of Louisville star looked a bit more like NFL QB legend Warren Moon than he did the Saints’ back-up #2 quarterback behind Brees.
— New Orleans Advocate (@theadvocateno) June 5, 2019
He saved his most impressive play for last; as sprinted out to his right on a play that clearly showed some of the mobility that many of his critics feel that he lost with the devastating knee injury that he suffered with the Minnesota Vikings during the 2016 NFL preseason. Bridgewater rifled a pass right past the outstretched hands of #1 CB Marshon Lattimore, who was in one-on-one in coverage against Thomas, for another 4-yard TD pass in front of the far right pylon of the end zone.
This was obviously not the same Bridgewater that we all saw in the regular season-ending loss to the division-rival Panthers back in late December, and it’s quite evident how much more confident and comfortable he is with learning Payton’s complex and diverse offense. Does that mean Bridgewater will actually become the next Warren Moon? Probably not; and it would be completely foolish of anyone to even make such a bold proclamation otherwise.
Nevertheless, the narrative among many Who Dats that Bridgewater can’t be the next starting #1 QB of the franchise has yet to be proven one way or another; but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if he can actually pull it off, Bridgewater clearly is a lot better than he’s been given credit for a large portion of Who Dats — and perhaps within the course of these next three days of Mini-Camp, the doubters will get to see it “first hand” for themselves.
CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON, SAFETY / SLOT CORNERBACK
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 10, 2019
Saints fans have been overjoyed in recent weeks by the fact that the team might have ended up getting a player who is not only considered a huge steal by most respected NFL draft analysts but actually appears to be capable of becoming an elite-caliber NFL defensive superstar at the safety position in due time. That’s exactly how many die-hard and passionate Saints fans have reacted since the team selected the young man some are referring to by the acronym “CGJ” — which are the initials for rookie 4th Round pick and former University of Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
The only rookie to make our list this morning, New Orleans was able to land “CGJ” after they traded up 11 spots from #116 to #105 overall (after a making a deal with the Jets, who the Saints gave their 5th Round pick to in exchange for the opportunity) to select Gardner-Johnson, who had been one of the top-rated safeties in this year’s recent 2019 NFL Draft Class.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 11, 2019
Johnson originally had been rated a Top 50 prospect coming into the draft process, but some “red flags” that were unfounded (and never verified), caused him to fall down several team’s Draft Boards. The notion that he’d somehow manage to fall into their laps all the way down into the 4th Round, however, was obviously something that Saints team brass never anticipated, which made the exciting young play-maker suddenly become a bargain that was simply too good for them to pass up.
Gardner-Johnson might have been extremely underrated and definitely was being undervalued, and since his arrival in New Orleans he has made impression after impression upon the media covering the team, the coaching staff and teammates alike; and now over the course of these next three days at Mini-Camp, Who Dats will get their first opportunity to see the new player wearing #22, who some observers feel someday might become a future NFL defensive superstar in the Saints secondary both as a safety or as a “slot” CB.
JARED COOK, TIGHT END
Drew Brees quickly impressed with new Saints TE Jared Cook: "He's got a great feel for the game, and I think he's going to fit very well in our offense."https://t.co/Qh6EaEZAUv pic.twitter.com/dvylpHVhkE
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) May 27, 2019
Some Saints fans were skeptical at first when the team signed Cook in Free Agency a few months ago since he is now 32 years old and is a 10-year NFL veteran with a decade of experience under his belt. But after a few practices during the team’s recently-completed OTA sessions, it quickly became evident that he’s still in top physical shape and appears to still have a few good seasons left remaining at playing at a high level which saw him set career highs last season in catches, yards, and TD’s.
But Who Dats are even more excited about the thought of how the Birmingham, Alabama native will now give the team some additional firepower for their high-scoring offensive attack that already features All-Pro WR Michael Thomas and 3rd-year NFL superstar RB Alvin Kamara. With the lone exception of one NFL season in 2015 (when he played alongside with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), Cook has never had the opportunity to play in an offense with an elite-caliber QB throwing him the football, and now gets to play alongside Drew Brees as the team prepares to make one last run at winning the Super Bowl.
Cook should have every opportunity to potentially thrive in the offense employed by head coach Sean Payton, that will allow the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder to utilize his speed and athleticism in an offense tailor-made for his outstanding receiving skills. Last season, Cook actually managed to shine with Raiders QB Derek Carr (who clearly is no Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees), when he caught 68 passes on 101 total targets for 896 yards and 6 TDs.
Saints TE Jared Cook talks about how he’s getting acclimated with the team after today’s OTA practice pic.twitter.com/0Zgugi3MAr
— WWL Radio (@WWLAMFM) May 23, 2019
Many considered Cook the top option in the Raiders passing attack for Carr in each of the past two seasons, as the still-dangerous Cook led Oakland in receiving yardage throughout that very same period. In 10 NFL seasons, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound Cook has played in 149 games (with 77 starts) and has caught 425 receptions (on 711 total targets) for 5.464 yards and 25 TDs.
Even in his early 30’s, Cook still remains as one of the more athletic tight ends in the League and still possesses an adequate amount of speed which allows him to beat linebackers, and his NBA pro-basketball-like “power forward” size makes him too big to defend one-on-one against most safeties. Cook literally is a physically-imposing presence, and when Who Dats get to see #87 running past linebackers and safeties over the course of the next few days — they’ll get to see what the rest of the NFL will see this upcoming season: a Saints offense that once again will be able to feature the tight end position as another “weapon” in their high-powered offensive arsenal.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius