2019 Mini-Camp Takeaways: Saints Offense Could Be #1 Thanks to the Addition of #87


Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

In the four years since the departure of former Saints All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham (now with the Green Bay Packers), the high-powered offensive attack of the Black and Gold led by QB Drew Brees hasn’t quite gotten the production that it once did.

But one thing that became quickly evident as the team wrapped up its mandatory 2019 Mini-Camp earlier this afternoon is that thanks to the addition of another veteran tight end signed in NFL Free Agency a few months ago, Brees and the offense could become absolutely lethal this upcoming season; so much so that it could see them finish ranked atop the League at #1 overall.

That veteran tight end is none other than the man who wears #87: Jared Cook, who in spite of having turned 32 a few weeks ago, has been one of the stand-out performers during the team’s off-season training activities. The former Oakland Raiders star has been impressing both teammates and the offensive coaching staff alike. It’s become apparent that the former University of South Carolina star has a whole lot of proverbial gas left in his tank.

Cook has made highlight play after highlight play throughout the team’s scheduled off-season workouts, and that trend continued for the past few days as the squad convened for its annually-scheduled Mini-Camp that began Tuesday and ended this afternoon. It didn’t matter which of the Saints QB’s was throwing the ball to him, although Cook seemed pleased to have Brees throwing the ball to him yesterday (on Wednesday) after the future Hall of Famer returned to practice following a court appearance out in Southern California.

REPORTER’S QUESTION: Was it nice to have Drew Brees back out there?

Cook: “It’s always good to have him around, you know? He’s kind of our leader on offense; he’s the voice of the offense and he’s a guy that commands attention. So whenever you can hear a play coming out of his mouth, learning how he calls the cadence, learning how he gets in and out of checks at the line of scrimmage is completely different from when someone like Teddy or Taysom does it, you know?”

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

Playing with Brees in head coach Sean Payton’s offensive scheme should provide Cook with a golden opportunity to put up numbers that could actually exceed his production last season with Raiders QB Derek Carr, when he caught 68 passes on 101 total targets for 896 yards and 6 TDs. Many observers and analysts considered Cook the top option in Oakland’s 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 his 10 NFL seasons, first with the Tennessee Titans (who originally drafted him in the 3rd Round of the 2009 NFL Draft), the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay, and then with Oakland before he signed with New Orleans in late March, 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.

As we mentioned previously: although he’s in his early 30’s now, Cook remains one of the more athletic tight ends in the League. He still possesses an adequate amount of speed, allowing him to beat many linebackers and safeties, and his NBA “power forward”- like size makes him too big to defend one-on-one against most under-sized defenders.

Even at his “older” age, Cook is still athletic enough to run a (4.49) 40-yard dash time, and he is the perfect blend of size and speed to be a focal point of any type of offensive game plan. With teams focused on stopping Saints offensive superstars Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara it potentially leaves Cook with an advantage, using his distinctive capabilities to completely eviscerate opposing linebackers in open space.

Typically, most NFL linebackers in pass coverage drop back and cover underneath zones, though the middle linebacker may take a deep zone. But with the Saints having an established receiving threat at the RB position with Kamara, it is only natural for the linebackers to pay more attention to him. In turn, that likely will leave open zones behind them for Cook to work against.

Clearly, that’s what’s been happening throughout the off-season since Cook’s arrival in NOLA — and it’s the reason why the Saints offense could finish the 2019 NFL Season ranked #1 overall — thanks to the addition of #87.

OTHER 2019 SAINTS MINI-CAMP TAKEAWAYS AND OBSERVATIONS:

Once again, Saints WR Cam Meredith did not participate in team drills during any of the three practices at Mini-Camp, and remained either off to the side while working with a team trainer, or didn’t dress out in uniform at all.

As it’s been well-documented previously, Meredith — who the team signed as a restricted free agent from the Chicago Bears during 2018 NFL Free Agency last off-season — was active for the first few weeks of the 2018 Regular Season last year, until the team’s coaching staff decided to place him on Injured Reserve after it was determined that his knee hadn’t fully healed as it previously had been anticipated.

The team has been tight-lipped regarding Meredith’s current status, and one can only surmise that the organization is either being overly cautious with his seemingly never-ending recovery from surgery or perhaps Meredith has experienced some sort of set-back.

In any event, at this point it would seem that if Meredith can’t participate in Training Camp beginning at the end of next month or during the Pre-Season games in August, he is in SERIOUS DANGER of being released — and sadly becoming yet another Free Agent “bust” for the Black and Gold in recent years.

 

WHILE MEREDITH’S AWAY, THE OTHER WIDE RECEIVERS GET TO PLAY….

With Meredith’s absence(s), several other Saints WR’s have gotten the opportunity to shine brightly; and a handful of them stood out in the past several days. Most notably, former Tennessee Titans WR Rishard Matthews, who made several nice grabs after being given a try-out opportunity by the team. Matthews was officially signed by the Saints after practice on Thursday, giving him a further opportunity to make the final roster. To make room for Matthews, the Saints released former LSU WR and undrafted veteran Travin Dural.

Former LSU Track & Field star Cyril Grayson Jr. is another WR that has wowed onlookers; even though he never played for the LSU football program or head coach Ed Orgeron, Grayson can run a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, and undoubtedly his blistering ability to practically FLY down the sidelines and get open is something that the various DBs that were lined up directly across from him in pass coverage on several deep-ball passing plays were completely unprepared for.

If he continues this level of performance into Training Camp and then subsequently the upcoming Pre-Season games in August, it will be very hard for the coaching staff to not at least keep him on the Practice Squad. The young man has elite-caliber speed and if he can master the fine art of NFL route-running, he has all the potential in the world to possibly make the roster later on down the line.

JUST TO REITERATE…

Saints rookie center Erik McCoy lined up with the 1st-team offensive unit in every one of the three Mini-Camp practices; he was given the starting nod over veteran free agent Nick Easton, who the team had signed in Free Agency before drafting McCoy in Round 2 out of Texas A&M University. Easton, meanwhile, was filling in for right guard Larry Warford, who has been busy with rehabbing an undisclosed injury.

At this point, it would appear that Easton will get more snaps at the guard position rather than at center; meaning that the rookie McCoy could end up being the starter at center from Day #1. or as it’s commonly referred to: a “plug and play” performer. The 6-foot-4, 303-pound McCoy is well on his way to winning the starting job; and once Who Dats get to see him up close, it likely won’t come as much of a surprise. He’s that big, and clearly that GOOD of a player as well.

UPCOMING SCHEDULE:

The entire Saints organization will now go on their month-long Summer Vacation (mid-June thru mid-July), before everyone returns for the start of Training Camp in the last week of July (official dates will be released within the next few weeks in advance of the start of Training Camp). The first Saints 2019 Pre-Season game is at home in the Superdome against the Minnesota Vikings, on Thursday Night, August 9th at 7:00 pm.


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

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