The New Orleans Saints officially began their 2019 Training Camp a few hours ago, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as what some fans were hoping for. The team was practicing in helmets, t-shirts, and shorts; the full gear and pads will not come on until Sunday morning.
Nevertheless, Big Easy Magazine was there covering all of the action of today’s opening session, and here are a few of my thoughts and observations from the 1st official day of action:
A FEW RECENTLY-SIGNED FREE AGENTS SHINE IN FIRST OFFICIAL PRACTICE OF CAMP
Keep in mind, this was only the first day of Camp, and the pads and full gear won’t come on until Sunday’s Practice. That said, one thing that stood out to me personally was how the Saints utilized all of their recently-signed free agent veteran offensive skill players, namely three players that caught my eye repeatedly: TE Jared Cook, RB Latavius Murray, and WR Rishard Matthews.
Cook was the most impressive by far, and it’s pretty obvious that if the “worst-case scenario” were to happen and Thomas does, in fact, hold out much longer than anticipated (more on that in a minute), Sean Payton and the coaching staff intend on giving Cook more targets and pass-catching opportunities. If they’re essentially forced to compensate for Thomas’ possible absence.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 26, 2019
Drew Brees smiling as he talks about a play that he and new TE Jared Cook executed today in practice that they had talked about this summer but had never come up yet.
— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) July 26, 2019
Meanwhile, Murray looked very crisp in his carries in the running game as well as well as catching passes out of the backfield; and while I’d be hesitant to guarantee that Murray will make Saints fans forget all about former star RB and now Baltimore Ravens RB Mark Ingram. the good news is that Murray appears to be up to the task of at least matching the production that Ingram had alongside 3rd year superstar RB Alvin Kamara for the past two seasons (2017 and 2018).
Matthews also turned a few heads once again since his arrival last month, and the wily veteran is just one of a handful of several WR’s on the current roster who has a LEGITIMATE shot at earning one of the team’s remaining WR spots, that will now be evaluated even close now while Thomas isn’t practicing with the team.
PLAY (PLAYER) OF THE DAY: UNDRAFTED ROOKIE WIDE RECEIVER EMMANUEL BUTLER
Speaking of getting more opportunities to shine and get noticed while Thomas sits out, the one player that took advantage of Thomas’ absence just might have been undrafted rookie Emmanuel Butler, who clearly stood out on a variety of plays that he was the primary target of.
Saints rookie WR Emmanuel Butler has caught my eye out here. Every time I look up during team drills, he’s making a play, including a fantastic leaping grab down the left sideline in traffic. They’re not in pads today, but he’s stood out so far.
— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) July 26, 2019
Specifically, there was one play where the 6-foot-4, 220-pound former “small school “superstar from Northern Arizona (where he produced two back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons) was surrounded by no less than THREE Saints DBs, and yet still made a magnificent catch as he strode the left sideline.
In what has seemingly been every single Training Camp in the past few years, it seems that at least one Saints undrafted rookie wide receiver stands out or continually makes “big plays” in Training Camp. Perhaps in 2019, it’s Butler who will end up making the most of his chances. It goes without saying: he’s off to a pretty phenomenal start.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE MICHAEL THOMAS HOLD-OUT
$22 million. That’s a lot of money to pay for any NFL player, and especially a wide receiver. But then again, Thomas isn’t your ordinary wide receiver. He essentially is the main cog of the Saints offensive attack, and without him in the fold the Saints might barely be a Wild Card team. And that’s being generous.
With Thomas, they’re a bonafide Super Bowl favorite in the NFC. That’s how good Thomas is. and it’s the entire reason why I personally believe that you can expect Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis to eventually acquiesce and give Thomas a new deal in the upcoming days.
The Saints know they NEED Thomas, and Thomas knows it, too.
Now it’s a matter of dotting all of the “i’s” and crossing all of the “t’s”, and working out a deal that’s fair to both sides. At this point, they only seem to be haggling over a few extra million dollars — and for a player who in his 3rd NFL season caught nearly 100 more passes and totaled nearly 1,000 yards more than the next closest Saints WR stats-wise last year, he’s earned every single penny of what he’s asking.
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