The early phases of the NFL 2021 season are starting to take place. With most teams opening minicamp over the last few weeks, it finally feels like the first building blocks are getting laid by NFL franchises. The Saints minicamp started a few weeks ago. Sean Payton’s team began their work in what could be a big 2021 season. There is a ton of talk surrounding the Saints; there always is. The Big Easy faithful are eager to see what their team will look like come September. And, while there is always a lot of mystery around minicamp stories, it is the starting point for a team’s season. So, it’s time to examine some of the key takeaways from Saints minicamp.
A QB Battle Awaits in Training Camp
Following the retirement of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, the quarterback position became a hot topic surrounding Saints minicamp. New Orleans changed their offseason work throughout the OTA, voluntary and mandatory periods. Usually, teams tend to focus on on-field drills due to the limited nature of the offseason period. Instead, the Saints minicamp saw the team primarily focus in the weight room and on conditioning.
Therefore, when training camp opens on July 27th, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston will start with a clean sheet of paper. Per AL.com, Hill suggested that the players experienced minimal contact with their coaches; “We really haven’t had a ton of contact with the coaching staff this offseason.” The lack of on-field action or working with coaches in meetings suggests that New Orleans will arrive at training camp with two QB0s. Unlike other teams like the Detroit Lions, who gave almost all the 7-on-7 reps to Jared Goff, New Orleans didn’t get that far. Saints minicamp answered zero questions regarding the quarterback position. Instead, this could be the story that defines New Orleans’ pre-season program.
Positional Changes for Sophomore Players
One of the critical elements in this transitional period for the Saints must be their drafted players. Two of which are Cesar Ruiz and Zack Baun. Both players endured a difficult rookie season in 2020, which is understandable due to the unique circumstances. This year, there is no excuse for either player. They’ve got a year’s worth of NFL experience underneath them, as well as an entire offseason program. The duo must also adapt to new positions.
Ruiz is once again getting asked to play at right guard. The former college Center failed to beat out Erik McCoy to the starters’ job last year. Ruiz got most of his snaps at right guard, and it didn’t prove easy. Ruiz will once again arrive at camp with his eyes fixed on the right guard position.
Zack Baun endured a challenging rookie year, and the challenges will only get bigger in 2021. Baun flashed at the University of Wisconsin as a fascinating EDGE prospect in a base 3-4 defence. New Orleans doesn’t run that defensive formation; consequently, Baun played a diminished role as a primary run defender at the second level. In the first few days of Saints minicamp, word broke that Baun would move to the weak-side linebacker position. Rookie Pete Werner is currently rumoured to take that role, although Baun vs Werner in training camp could develop into a fun story to follow. There is no doubt that Baun possesses something; whether he can make it work in the Bayou may depend on his summer performances.
A New Methodology at Saints Minicamp
Historically, teams utilise the minicamp and OTA periods to evaluate and assess how players look in little on-field drills. It is always tough to ascertain the legitimacy of a players performance in minicamp. However, it is a time that coaches can speed building chemistry and installing critical components of the gameplan philosophy at 30% intensity. Instead, as Taysom Hill mentioned, New Orleans neglected a large part of that during Saints minicamp. It is arguably a risky ploy, especially a roster that experienced turnover during free agency and the draft.
Conversely, Coach Payton is no fool; players like Michael Thomas, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk are still there. The coaching principles won’t change; understandably, Payton opted to slowly drip the players back into the NFL world by focusing on the strength and conditioning side. The Saints aren’t a team with an entirely new staff like the Lions; the foundation is already there. It is an exciting way to tackle the short offseason program, and one wonders whether other teams will follow suit in the future. For the Saints, Sean Payton is the unquestionable guru in NOLA, there is always a method to his madness, and this small detail could make a difference when everything becomes real.
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