The official part of training camp is over for the New Orleans Saints. Who helped themselves?
Before we look at the draftees, I want to focus on several young players with little or no NFL regular season experience who have improved their chances to make the team, in my opinion:
Defensive end Tyrunn Walker (6-3, 294): A 2nd year man out of New Iberia who played college ball at Tulsa, Walker was picked up in 2012 by the Saints as an undrafted free agent. He showed flashes last preseason but has really come on in this year's camp.
Walker consistently made plays in practice and in the first pre-season game as well. He does not really look the part though, with a bit of a big gut that makes him appear somewhat overweight. Yet, Walker is very quick for a big man and looks really instinctive. On a play in the Chiefs game, the running back appeared to past him but Walker turned around quickly to grab the back with an arm and spin him to the ground.
I think Walker will be on the 53-man roster this season and provide quality snaps as a rangy end. Keep an eye on #75.
Glenn Foster (6-4, 285): A rookie out of Illinois defensive end, he has also had a good camp. Foster played mostly inside at defensive tackle in college, but has shown pass rush ability playing as a 3-4 defensive end. He went undrafted and was not even invited to the scouting combine. Yet, Foster had a great pro-day(ran in the 4.8 range) to open the eyes of scouts. He has a chance to make the 53 but should for sureto stick on the practice squad.
Eric Martin (6-2, 250): Another undrafted rookie, the Nebraska product has looked good, showing pass rush ability as a rush linebacker, a position where the team needs depth. Martin had a solid season in 2012 but still was not drafted. He is very intense and a solid tackler. He should also be a fine special teams player who makes the 53 or practice squad as a very soild developmental project.
Kevin Reddick (6-1, 246): A rookie from North Carolina, the inside linebacker should get more snaps while Jonathan Vilma recoves from knee surgery. Reddick has a chance to stick on the 53 man roster. I was surprised he was not drafted.
Reddick is athletic and should be a good special teams player. He needs to do a better job of shedding blockers since he does get caught up "in the trash" at times. His chances increase greatly with the Vilma injury.
Rod Sweeting (6-0, 187): The Georgia Tech product is an undrafted rookie who has made plays throughout camp and could stick as a back-up corner. He has good recovery speed, not surprising after he ran a 4.42 at the combine. He likes to hit, a good trait for a physical corner with ball skills. I had him rated as the 20th corner in Draft Day Report, but Sweeting has helped himself so far.
Marcel Jones (6-7. 320): Last year's 7th round draft selection from Nebraska got injured and missed all of the 2012 season but he is making his mark in this camp. Showing his versatility, Jones has lined up at offensive right tackle while having a chance to also play inside at guard. I think he makes the 53-man roster. If he proves he can also backup up at center, he helps himself even more. Jones may just be the right tackle of the future, too.
Preston Parker (6-0, 200): The third year wide receiver from North Alabama was released by Tampa Bay last season. Parker had a good camp with a noticeable first preseason game, catching two touchdowns. There is a real battle for the fifth receiver spot. He can play in the kicking game as a return man and help in kick coverage which should help his cause.
Khiry Robinson (6-0, 220): The West Texas A&M running back looks like the second coming of Chris Ivory, now with the Jets. Robinsonhas the same number 29, similar dred-locks and a physical running style. He has had very good camp, scrimmage and pre-season game efforts.
Quick for a big back, Robinson cuts quickly and has quick feet. He also showed he is a good receiver out of the backfield. On a Saints team deep with quality backs, he looks like a practice squad prospect. The team has a P-Rob, corner Patrick Robinson, and now they may have a K-Rob to develop for the future.
As for this year's draft picks, it looks like the Saints had a solid hual so far as well.
#1 -- Safety Kenny Vaccaro from Texas had a solid camp; he also led the team in tackles in the first pre-season game with six. He likes to play physical and is versatile enough to play some at nickel cornerback.
#3A -- Offensive tackle Terron Armstead from Arkansas Pine Bluff is an athletic big man with the feet to play left tackle and handle speed pass rushers. He is raw, however, coming from a small school. The hope is Charles Brown stays healthy so Armstead won't have to play this year. He has the talent to play in this league for the next 10 or 12 years, barring injury.
#3B -- Nose tackle John Jenkins out of Georgia has shown flashes of ability and had a sack in the preseason game. He came to camp at 359 pounds but has gotten his weight down to 347. He would be more effective and have more stamina at 340 or a bit less. He is not only a run stuffer in the middle but quick enough to penetrate and cause problems in the opponent's backfield.
#5 -- Wide receiver Kenny Stills from Oklahoma is the speed receiver the coaches hope can replace injured Joe Morgan. He had a good camp, showing the 4.38 burst he displayed at the scouting combine. He looked rattled in the first pre-season game with a pass drop and fumbled hand off on an end around, a play on which he may have scored. Stills showed the ability to get open behind the defender deep but needs to finish the play and catch the ball. He has the inside track to be the number three receiver if he can be more consistent.
#6 -- Outside linebacker Rufus Johnson out of Tarleton State is adept at rushing the passer. Saints head coach Sean Payton likes what he has seen from Johnson but says he needs to learn to do other things to become a complete linebacker. He has a chance at the 53 man roster because the team is a bit thin there. He should be a practice squad player at worst and a pass rush specialist on the active roster at best.
Payton confirmed after Thursday's final training camp practice that Jonathan Vilma had knee surgery in Philadelphia, but it remains to be seen where he is health-wise upon his return.
"This is a little different of a procedure so we will see how he does when he gets back," Payton explained.
Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton also missed practice, as did outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson. Neither of the outside players will play against the Raiders.
"Galette won't play and we will probably hold Marques (Colston), too," said Payton.
After the Saints face Oakland, they will have practices closed to the public and two road preseason games to sort out the 53-man roster and eight-player practice squad spots.
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