My first impression of Saints OTA's had nothing to do with who was on the field but rather who was NOT there.
At some point this offseason during workouts, safety Jairus Byrd tweaked his back bad enough to have precautionary surgery to fix a disc issue. Thus, he was out today and for the foreseeable future. Coach Sean Payton said he'll return to New Orleans in a week to do his rehab. The injury doesn't sound serious, Payton even said had it happened in the season they likely would not have done the procedure, but it's certainly a significant development given the money the Saints spent to bring him in.
I don't look for him to be back on the field for OTA's. There's no reason to risk further injury during this portion of the offseason. The Saints are looking for BIG things out of Byrd this season so they decided to take care of this issue now so it doesn't flare up at a much more important part of the season.
It's WAY too early to start thinking about who is or is not the starter at certain positions but nonetheless a few players caught my eye with the unit they lined up in.
Patrick Robinson- 1st team cornerback. This will be the biggest defensive battle in training camp and it appears right now (very early) that Robinson is running with the ones.
Champ Bailey- 2nd team cornerback. Champ is a veteran and knows how this works. For now the 35-year old is the backup corner, not safety or nickel back.
Matt Armstrong- 2nd team center. Armstrong is an undrafted rookie but he is the only other player on the Saints roster that's played center other than his college teammate, Tim Lelito. Lelito, as expected, ran with the first team.
Victor Butler- 2nd team outside linebacker- Butler is the player I think will allow Rob Ryan to bring even more diversity to his defense. As a true 3-4 OLB, Ryan can now run a more traditional 3-4 at times with Butler in the game. Butler is back healthy after being injured on a collision with Mark Ingram last year at this time.
Play of Day
The emphasis on takeaways is abundantly clear this offseason. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he showed his defense film of Peanut Tillman, who's mastered the art of the 'punch out', when a cornerback punches the ball out of the receiver's hand.
Rafael Bush did this today early on when he punched the ball out of Marques Colston's hands on a slant route. Later in the practice, second round pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste did the same thing to Andy Tanner.
It's not enough to be a top-five defense this year for the Saints. They also want a defense that can make game-changing takeaways.
- I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and fluid Champ Bailey looked. Bailey is one hundred percent healthy and looked it when he undercut a corner route by Tanner on a pass from Luke McCown to break up a pass. It appeared the Saints were in Cover 2 and in that situation Tanner would not have been Bailey's responsibility. He essentially used his experience and instincts to make a play.
- Joe Morgan did not participate in team drills. It appears Morgan is still not a hundred percent from last year's knee injury he suffered during training camp. Clearly not all ACL tears are built the same. For example, Vinnie Sunseri tore his midway through the season. He was on the field with the second team at safety and looked healthy. In Morgan's case, the sooner he gets on the field the better. I think the Saints see a lot in him but he can't do them any good if he is unavailable.
- There's a lot of buzz about this year being a breakout year for defensive end/tackle Akiem Hicks. I would certainly agree and he didn't take long to make an impact at Thursday's practice. On the first play in the team drills, Hicks batted down Drew Brees' pass.
- Safety Kenny Vaccaro looks completely healthy. He was back to his usual spot as starting strong safety.
- Ryan Griffin had a nice throw to Nick Toon on a dig route for a big gain in team drills.
- John Jenkins, Tyrunn Walker and Steve Hull also did not participate Thursday.
He Said It
"Yeah, well I'm quite the soft-shoe. My wife is Greek and honestly she was the best dancer out there. You can look it up, she was dominating out there."