A "beautifully boring off season," as I once called it, has finally come to an end. Training camp is upon us, and the competition for roster spots will heat up.
It's always fun to watch it come together. And there are always a few surprises.
Here now - my top eight competitions of Saints training camp 2013:
8.) Backup Quarterback
Gone are the days of Chase Daniel on one knee beside Drew Brees going through stills of opposing defenses. Daniel is now in Kansas City and the Saints have two veterans fighting to replace him.
Seneca Wallace has starting experience and can offer one thing no other quarterback can: the ability to run the read option in practice. With the explosion of that offense last year, that's critical for the defense's preparation. The Saints will play four games this year with a read option quarterback (Cam Newton twice, Colin Kapernick and Russell Wilson).
Luke McCown has a big arm and the advantage of knowing the system.
Ryan Griffin is someone I know a lot of coaches are high on, but given the roster availability, I think he will have to really turn heads to get on the active roster. Practice squad may be a more realistic expectation for Griffin's rookie year.
7.) 3rd/4th WR
Marques Colston and Lance Moore are back. Behind them it's, pardon the pun, wide open. Devery Henderson is no longer with the Saints and one could make a case that they didn't adequately replace Robert Meachem last year.
Joe Morgan has the most experience and has a clear identity to his skill set, which is crucial in Payton's diverse arsenal. Payton loves players who "know who they are." Morgan is a burner that can run the 9-route faster than anyone on the team. We saw flashes of that last year. It also appears the team has forgiven his off-field transgression this off season which bodes well for his future with the club.
Behind him are three players who have never played a down in an NFL game: Nick Toon, Kenny Stills and Andy Tanner.
What's important to remember, however, is given the presence of Jimmy Graham and their use of running backs in the passing game, this player doesn't necessarily have to catch a ton of passes. For instance, in 2011 Henderson and Meachem only combined to catch 72 passes. More importantly this player is counted on to being in the right spot even when they are not getting the ball and make timely plays when their number is called.
This battle is not so much a competition as far as who gets cut and who makes the team. Instead, it's more of a curiosity as to what kind of combination Ryan will use.
With Keenan Lewis, Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson, Ryan has three players used to playing on the outside. Which two will Ryan go with on the outside? And does the third man slide into the nickel role or will that go to Corey White or Vaccaro who played a lot of that role in college? Chris Carr is a veteran who has experience in the Rob Ryan system when he played for him in Oakland.
As we enter training camp, I have no problem calling the cornerbacks the deepest and most talented position group on the Saints defense.
What stood out to me about this position when I looked at the roster is the Saints have seven safeties heading into camp, and every single one of them has a legit shot at making the roster.
There are no camp bodies in this field. Isa Abdul Quddus, Rafael Bush, Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Leonhard, Jerico Nelson and Kenny Vaccaro make up the team's safety group.
Harper and Jenkins are the incumbent starters, but they will have to earn their spot with new Ryan. Abdul Quddus showed some ability last year and Bush was a standout on special teams. Leonhard is a guy very familiar with the Ryan family.
The Saints raved about Vaccaro's versatility when they drafted him, I'm curious how that translates in the safety room as well.
4.) Nose Tackle
The battle in the trenches isn't very pretty but it's one of the most important for the new-look defense.
In fact, when the Saints made the switch to the 3-4 this position was the one I felt like the Saints simply didn't have the personnel to fill.
They addressed the need via draft, but there are legitimate questions if a rookie like John Jenkins can step in and start at this position right away. They also have Broderick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Tyrun Walker and Tom Johnson on the roster.
3.) Inside Linebacker
In one of the few certainties on the entire defense, it's pretty safe to say Curtis Lofton will start at one inside linebacker slot. The other is not so easy to determine.
Jonathan Vilma looks as close to one hundred percent as he's been in a long time. But he wasn't a fan of the 3-4 when he was in New York. Vilma has since told me it wasn't the 3-4 but the personnel running it that concerned him in New York. We'll see how well he transitions.
There's also David Hawthorne, Will Herring and Chris Chamberlain in the mix. This could be a spot where an undrafted player like Kevin Reddick out of North Carolina sneaks his way onto the roster.
2.) Outside Linebacker
This is sexiest battle of training camp without question. For the last few years, this team has desperately needed a playmaker to consistently rush the passer on the edge.
The loss of Victor Butler will hurt. His talent and knowledge of the system were going to be relied on heavily this year. But it's a loss that can be overcome. I think the new system is tailor-made for Junior Galette and Martez Wilson. The coaches are also giving Will Smith a fair shot at transitioning to playing a new position.
The team may also have to turn to rookies like Rufus Johnson or Chase Thomas for production and depth at this key position.
1.) Left Tackle
No question who wins the job at protecting Drew Brees' blindside is the biggest camp competition. The solid, steady play of Jermon Bushrod is gone to Chicago. In his place are, at least at this point, three uncertainties.
Charles Brown should be the favorite, but he isn't. It has nothing to do with his talent but with his health. The guy just simply hasn't been able to stay on the field. That's the reason they invested in a tackle in the third round.
That player is Terron Armstead who is an athletic freak but is still a rookie and is very raw. Jason Smith is a former first round bust looking to revive his career.
Throughout OTA's, all three guys split first team reps equally. Thus, there was no real way to tell who has the lead. With no clear cut favorite, the pads will be the ultimate determinant in this battle.
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