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Saints Notes: Offensive line competition heats up, veterans to watch before Saturday scrimmage

Andy Tanner (#14) is running out of time in his efforts to try to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints (Photo: Parker Waters).Andy Tanner (#14) is running out of time in his efforts to try to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints (Photo: Parker Waters).

QUOTES

The New Orleans Saints went through a spirited two-hour plus session Friday with the temperature in the mid 90's.

Eight-year veteran WR Lance Moore displayed some of his skills during passing drills with a nifty one handed snare on a slugo route (slant-and-go) from an over-the-top offering from Drew Brees.

Andy Tanner, who has spent part of the past three seasons on the Saints practice squad , will have to either make the 53 man roster or find a new suitor. The product of Midwestern State continues to push the pedal to the metal for every practice. The crafty wide receiver has not only been a fan and media favorite, but has motivated his teammates to play at a higher level.

Luke McCown, now in his 10th campaign, is in a battle for a backup quarterback spot after serving in that role for the Atlanta Falcons in 2012. Some feel like his familiarity with the rival Dirty Birds and having them as the home opening opponent could serve as an advantage for the former Louisiana Tech signal caller.

"We're trying to execute," McCown explained. "We're running over plays, executing within our game plan. Atlanta is going to change. Even if I could tell the offense what the defense is going to do, that doesn't mean that's what they will do."

Saints head coach Sean Payton confirmed that Seneca Wallace will sit out the team scrimmage on Saturday. The reps under enter will be shared with Drew Brees taking a hand full while McCown and rookie Ryan Griffin gain the lion's share of the opportunities.

This move further indicates that 10-year veteran Wallace may have already shown the coaching staff what he brings to the table, helping to solidify his role as backup.

Payton detailed how the spotlight would be on the left tackle spot, the defensive backfield and the linebacker positions during the scrimmage. The offensive and defensive lines overall would also draw lots of attention.

TIME ON THE LINE

I had a chance to sit down with offensive line coach Bret Ingalls, a 31-year veteran in the coaching ranks. In his fifth season with the Black and Gold after spending the first four tutoring the running backs, he expects significant experimentation with some of the younger players, trying to find the right fit.

"We put the tape on and saw how these guys are working their butts off," Ingalls said.

Marcel Jones (#70) could find himself starting next to Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans (#73) on the right side of the offensive line (Photo: Parker Waters).Marcel Jones (#70) could find himself starting next to Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans (#73) on the right side of the offensive line (Photo: Parker Waters).

Marcel Jones (6'7-320), a 7th rounder out of Nebraska in 2012, is one to watch. "He's big, strong and can control his opponent," Ingalls said. "He has good body control. He'll get some reps at right tackle and right guard."

A 6th round choice in '12, Andrew Tiller (6'5-326) continues to make strides. "He's got strong hands and size, said Ingalls about the Syracuse product. "He can be very productive. This is really his first training camp."

Ricky Henry, entering his third professional season, is one that will feel the pressure to make his mark. "He's a mauler, trying to knock somebody out every play," Ingalls noted.

Brian de la Puente started every game at center last season for the Saints. Although he has been a solid starter, de la Puente has shown tremendous improvement during OTA's and early in training camp. "He's working hard," Ingalls analyzed. "Getting better lowering his hips and using better leverage. He's improving everyday. He's got great hips."

Ingalls said that Terron Armstead, the tackle taken in the 3rd round last April, could be a special player in time. "He's a great athlete with lower body strength." Reps will help Armstead during the maturation process.

One dark horse that will be worth keeping your binoculars on during preseason games is Tim Lelito, a rookie free agent out of Grand Valley State. Wearing number 68, he will get a long look at both center and guard. "He's done some nice things," Ingalls smiled. "He's got good core strength, is bright. He's opened some eyes."

Payton admitted that the young offensive linemen will be under close scrutiny. "I'm interested in seeing them (scrimmage), to see how they hold up after 12 reps. They will get a lot of work not only tomorrow but during preseason."

The Black & Gold scrimmage is scheduled for 8:50-11 a.m. Saturday.

One player you've got to think that the team will find a way to hold onto is 2012 rookie free agent Saalim Hakim, the younger brother of former NFL veteran WR Az-Zahir Hakim. Saalim has reportedly run a sub-4.3 forty. "He's explosive," Payton declared. "He could be helping us in the kicking game. He's good after the catch. He can help us."

VETERANS TO WATCH

Preston Parker spent the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was primarily a return specialist. He possesses explosive speed and continues to appear out of nowhere during the development of a play.

Now battling for a roster spot in New Orleans, Parker grabbed attention from the Saints coaching staff after catching three passes for 56 yards and returned a 45-yard kickoff return against the New Orleans Saints in 2011.

Parker led Florida State in receiving as a sophomore and junior. At 6-feet and 200 pounds, he could bring a nice blend of veteran leadership, size and game-changing skills to the mix. He finished his college career at North Alabama.

Jim Leonhard (5'8-188) plays much bigger than his program size Entering his 9th NFL season, he continues to show game type savvy as he roams the defensive backfield. He may not possess outstanding speed, but Leonhard doesn't take a false step and anticipates when the ball will arrive in the receiver's hands. He had two instances where he batted away a perfectly thrown pass Thursday.

Speaking of the defensive backs, native New Orleanian and free agent signee Keenan Lewis is always around the ball. He has made some outstanding plays as a pass defender. The Saints have clearly upgraded the cornerback position by inking the West Bank product.

Some players will have to step up their game, with either father time or new arrivals breathing down their necks.

Zach Streif has played in 90 contests with 30 starts. He is also one of the team's six season long captains. Without the versatility of some of the young players, Streif will have to demonstrate that he has a firm grasp of the right tackle position. If it winds up being a close battle with Jones in particular, he could be a surprise cut.

McCown appears to to have a delayed throwing motion. It takes a moment or so for him to deliver the ball. The Saints passing game relies heavily on the ability of the quarterback to unload the ball quickly and on time.

Tight end Benjamin Watson is a coach's pleasure to observe. He catches the ball flawlessly, runs crisp routes and never takes plays off despite entering his 10th year in the NFL. He is one veteran who will surely stick and become an impact player in two-tight end alingments.

I expect Akiem Hicks to have a big season. He seems to have the skills to dominate in spurts. Spending time as a DE and NT increases the opportunities for the massive second-year talent.

TAKE DOWN OF THE DAY

Credit security from the JPSO for tackling an inebriated fan who had wondered onto the practice field, 30-40 yards from the players, to "get something off his chest to Sean Payton."

The fan was assisted to the ground by deputies, handcuffed and escorted from the facility.

 

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