METAIRIE - The New Orleans Saints hit the practice field in full pads on a sunny and hot Monday afternoon, but the biggest news wasn't actually on the field.
Veteran starting right tackle Jon Stinchcomb was released by the Saints before practice, ending an 8-year run with the organization that included 80 starts, a Pro Bowl appearance and a Super Bowl ring.
"Obviously, something like that is difficult for us as an organization and here's a guy that has really been a part of our program ever since we've come here in '06, and well before that," said Saints head coach Sean Payton after practice.
|Saints OT Zach Strief (Photo: Parker Waters)|
Stinchcomb, who played his college ball at Georgia, was selected in the 2nd round of the 2003 NFL draft by New Orleans and became a full-time starter by 2006. Since that point, Stinchcomb had played in every game through last season.
The news struck a somber note among Saints players who have a great deal of respect for Stinchcomb as a player and a person.
"It's really bittersweet. It's like somebody coming and telling you that you're getting what you always wanted, but it's a detriment to your brother, and that's how I see Jon," said Zach Strief who will now battle for the open starting job at right tackle.
"We've been through these cuts before. It happens and you're shocked. Those decisions are made because Mr. (Mickey) Loomis and Sean think it's the best thing for the team, and it's just the unfortunate side of it, but we've been around it and it happens," Strief added.
With the move, there will now be two spots on the offensive line that will have different starters from 2010. Jonathan Goodwin signed with the San Francisco 49ers earlier in this accelerated off-season, and 13-year veteran Olin Kreutz was brought in to take his place at center.
But the sudden departure of one of the longest serving Saints was a bit more jarring.
"I think (Stinchcomb is) one of the greatest teammates I ever had. He's a true friend and everything you want in a teammate," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees. "He's a football player and a man and a leader and he's going to be missed. I thought he's been a mainstay for this team for a long time especially during our time here. I've had five great years with him. He'll always be one of my great friends."
Now the Saints move forward toward the new season while remembering the good times with Stinchcomb. "The last five years have been unbelievable, especially with (Jon) being a huge part of that," noted Brees.
The battle is now on for the job at right tackle, featuring younger options in Zach Strief and Charles Brown
"It was something that we decided to do. Obviously it wasn't easy to do and it was after a week here where we needed to get Zach and Charles more work and get them in that position. It's always the hardest thing about what we do," said Payton about the move and the competition now at that spot.
Both candidates have been put in different spots on the offensive line in either game action (in Strief's case) or in practice (as has been the case with Brown, who had previously been groomed at the left tackle spot. Now the second-year USC product has been moved over to the right side to battle for the starting job.
"I think he's done well in practice last week," said Payton about Brown. "He's athletic and smart. I'm anxious to watch he and Zach during this process."
The Saints play in their second preseason game Saturday at the Houston Texans, who face a shorter turn-around after opening their preseason on Monday night against the New York Jets. It will be another step in the evaluation process not only at the right tackle spot, but many other spots on the field as well.
"You're going to see different guys with the ones and the twos at a number of spots," Payton noted.
WHAT 42 CAN DO FOR YOU
This defense has players all through the depth chart who are battling for roster spots, and several young players doing all they can to make the decision process harder as far as cuts.
One who continues to make a strong impression is undrafted safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who has showed excellent hustle and recovery ability throughout camp. That showed up again today when he chased down Jimmy Graham.
Abdul-Quddus wears Saints jersey number 42 which most recently belonged to another safety, Darren Sharper. SportsNOLA's Brian Allee-Walsh reports that the latter worked out Monday with the New England Patriots and is waiting on an offer. The veteran free agent Sharper has not closed the door on a return to New Orleans.
- Early on in practice, Strief jumped one snap count, but overall looked solid for the session. The Northwestern alum was flagged twice in the game against the 49ers.
- The team focused on 3rd and short situations. When the first units were out there, weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas saw time and was around every play like he was against San Francisco. He made the tackle on Mark Ingram on the first play of the drill right after Will Herring slowed him up. Later on in the drill, running back Chris Taylor went through the defensive line and got to the second level where he was tackled by Fabian Washington.
- Thomas Morstead averaged around 4.4 seconds of hang time when working on punts during the session.
- Roman Harper continues to look comfortable in pass coverage. The strong safety blanketed David Thomas on one play during passing drills forcing an incompletion. Later in 7-on-7 drills, Harper was locked in tight coverage and just missed getting his hand in on a ball that was caught by Marques Colston in traffic.
- A couple of veterans made impressive plays when the offense lined up in the red zone. Defensively, linebacker Scott Shanle tipped up a pass then dove for an interception off backup quarterback Chase Daniel. On the offensive side, running back Darren Sproles showed his elusiveness by spinning away from defenders in the open field before scooting into the end zone.
- Chris Reis made a nice interception off of a Sean Canfield pass intended for wideout Adrian Arrington on the right sideline. Reis jumped in front of Arrington and held onto the ball to make the pick after bobbling it slightly.
RELEASED: JON STINCHOMB (OT)
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM: CHRIS IVORY (RB), GREG ROMEUS (DE)
DID NOT PRACTICE: EZRA BUTLER (LB), RAMON HUMBER (LB), CLINT INGRAM (LB), JOIQUE BELL (RB), TOM JOHNSON (DT), JOHNNY PATRICK (CB), ALEX BARRON (OT), LEIGH TORRENCE (CB), JO-LONN DUNBAR (LB)
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