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From the Coach’s Office: Minicamp in the books for Saints

Seneca Wallace (#10) and Luke McCown (#7) of the New Orleans Saints observe starter Drew Brees (#9) with quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi (center) and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. (right) during minicamp (Photo: Parker Waters).Seneca Wallace (#10) and Luke McCown (#7) of the New Orleans Saints observe starter Drew Brees (#9) with quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi (center) and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. (right) during minicamp (Photo: Parker Waters).

Do you know what they call it when it is 90 degrees outside with 90 percent humidity? In South Louisiana, football weather!

While it did not get quite that hot and humid, the final day of New Orleans Saints Minicamp was greeted by a heat index upwards of 92 degrees or an AccuWeather RealFeel® (which is as complicated as the NFL formula for passer rating) of 105. Summer has made a grand entrance.

Thursday was the third day of minicamp, which is different from the Organized Training Activities (OTA's) in that minicamp practices are mandatory. This year that makes little difference since the entire roster has been active in OTA's. Also, two-a-day practices are allowed in minicamp as long as the total field time does not exceed 3½ hours.

Tuesday and Wednesday included a second practice indoors. The Saints were on the field for a single practice on the final day, and New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton cut that workout short by one period. This was not only a concession to the heat, but also because the team appears to be picking up the instruction quickly.

Two-minute offense was an emphasis Thursday both in the walk-through phase of practice in the beginning of practice and the final team period. Of course, the other side of the ball also got their two-minute defense work during the team period.

After the initial period of walk-through and warm-up, the Saints progressed to an individual teaching period. This is really the meat of the practice where players are working on the skills that will be utilized in the ensuing group and team periods.

For instance, the quarterbacks spent time on running game meshes with the running backs while the receivers were working on ball skills. Then the quarterbacks moved to individual routes with the running backs working with Ryan Griffin while the wide receivers had Drew Brees, Seneca Wallace and Luke McCown throwing to them.

The next period included a segment of "routes on air" when all eligible receiver positions run the plays for the day against air, or without a defense. Drew Brees does something that I am surprised that the other quarterbacks have not picked up on. After his throw to the number one receiver, Brees resets his feet and eyes to the second and third receiver in the pattern. In this way he is not only practicing one throw, but all of the potential throws in the pattern.

This is a highly efficient use of practice time and a routine the other quarterbacks should follow.

The defensive linemen are utilizing 4-point stances in their alignment which accentuates takeoff, but can slow down lateral movement. Using this stance also provides flexibility as to position, allowing interchangeable parts between the defensive tackle and end positions and sides of the defense.

It would not surprise me if in the future the defensive ends flip-flop along with the outside linebackers. Several teams do this where a 3-technique defensive end aligns with the rush outside linebacker, known as Jack in this system. We saw an illustration of this in the Super Bowl by the Baltimore Ravens.

Employing this would allow OLB Will Smith to always play on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle, his best position.

A special teams' individual segment included kickoff coverage skills. The outside pair (R1 and R2; L1 and L2) worked on their coordinated skills of avoiding blocks, forcing the returner inside while the outside defender folds and stacks to fall in on the ball carrier. The inside six (R and L; 3, 4 and 5) worked first on avoiding blocks then constricting the running lane for the returner. Subsequently that group worked on taking on blocks by shooting their hands, controlling the blocker and discarding him with force in the opposite direction of the ball carrier.

The inside six also worked on their pursuit angles when the returner finally declares his path. It is important that no one run beyond the ball carrier, but pursue to get everyone to the ball. The coverage angles change during the return just as they do on any defensive play.

On field goals, the new holder is Thomas Morestead backed up by Luke McCown. Morestead replaces Chase Daniel who left for Kansas City in free agency. It is great when the punter can be the holder as that allows more time for the kickers and holder to work together.

A later kicking period involved the punting teams working on protection versus pressure from mid-field. The punt returner worked on standing on the 10-yard line and making the fair catch or let the ball go decision. It is simple to say "don't catch the ball inside the ten," but the Saints actually work on this. If the ball is kicked over his head, the returner fakes catching the ball by running away from the ball. A gunner either harassed the catcher, or moved beyond him to down the ball.

Once again, a great practice design by Special Teams Coordinator Greg McMahon allowed for multiple skill development in a limited amount of time.

There were two offense against defense periods, one with the defense utilizing their nickel and pressure packages, the other with two-minute offense and defense. The multiplicity of Rob Ryan's defenses really shows through in the pressure period. There is even a look where no one has their hand down, and there is constant movement to confuse the blocking pattern. This is great work for both sides.

The defense must eliminate "busts" in their pressure packages. Multiplicity and the potential for confusion by a defense is a great concept, but that also increases the possibility for errors by the defense. This was evident when Andy Tanner ran straight down the field uncovered for a score.

It is also great to watch the subtle movement in the pocket by the quarterbacks versus pressure. This is really obvious when watching from the end zone. Those small movements while keeping focus downfield can turn a potential sack into a score.

In the post-practice interview, Payton made a couple of notable points. One is that a challenge of OTA's and minicamp is teaching the young players how to practice with each other when not in pads. It is really a thing of beauty watching veteran players work together to better each other. That in itself is a skill that must be developed, keeping people off the ground while playing a collision sport.

The other important point was the role of these workouts in shaping the final 53-man roster. The coaching staff should not be too hasty in evaluating now, but look at the summer practice as the time to prepare the guys for upcoming opportunities.

The Saints have four more OTA practices next week before a break leading into training camp. We will be back out there next Thursday for the final media availability.

 

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