WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WEST VIRGINIA (WVUE)- - 1.) Brandin Cooks wins the day.
I don't think I'm overstating it. Under Sean Payton, no Saints first round pick has made more of an immediate impact this quick into training camp than wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
From the very first day, Cooks has consistently made plays for the Saints offense and special teams and has not stopped. He capped off the week with an MVP-type performance in the black and gold scrimmage. Cooks caught a deep ball from Ryan Griffin where he beat Patrick Robinson on the second drive of the scrimmage that set up a touchdown and added an electric kickoff return where he burst through the seem of the special teams.
His best play came on a simple out route from Griffin where he caught the pass, stopped on a dime, completely faked out Rod Sweeting, then scampered into the end zone.
All of his teammates have gushed about Cooks' playmaking ability. Who can blame them? Despite his size, there doesn't seem to be a thing he can't do.
Coach Payton certainly senses the excitement surrounding Cooks and is trying his best to deflect it. Payton was somewhat guarded in his reaction to his performance and didn't make him available to reporters afterwards. It's his way of trying to keep a lid on all the buzz. That's understandable, he's the head coach and we are only one week into training camp. Too much hype can lead to unrealistic expectations (see Reggie Bush).
But as I've said many times before it's hard to not get excited about Brandin Cooks.
2.) Ryan Griffin is growing up.
I don't want to jump the gun on this competition; I know the backup quarterback position won't be resolved until preseason. But not only is Ryan Griffin a younger, cheaper option to backup Drew Brees, at this stage of camp he's completely outplaying veteran Luke McCown.
With Brees out Saturday, Griffin effectively executed the Saints offense against the first and second team defense. Griffin opened up with nine straight completions Saturday and finished with two touchdown passes.
McCown had his moments as well but he seems to be battling some indecision when he drops back to pass. His late throw to Cooks cost him when Marcus Ball picked it off and returned it for a big gain.
3.) Travaris Cadet is emerging
All four of the Saints running backs had good moments Saturday. But to me, Travaris Cadet stood out above the rest.
Cadet had an outstanding run where he cut back against the grain and raced 25 yards for a touchdown. That type of vision and quickness sets him apart from the other backs in the room and is big reason why I believe his role will expand tremendously in 2014.
4.) West Virginia makes it mark
I've covered six black and gold scrimmages before and usually they're difficult to watch. Execution is pretty sloppy and the flow of the game can be fragmented.
That was not the case today.
This scrimmage had a lot of plays with both sides of the ball stepping up. Coach Payton said the weather played a role in moving the pace quicker. Thus, they were able to get a lot more work in this year.
One week into camp, I'd say the weather has allowed the Saints to have much smoother practices and ultimately the team is getting what they wanted out of this change of venue.
5.) Other Observations
• Tyrunn Walker is once again having a very good camp while flying under the radar. He had a sack today.
• By my count, Junior Galette had two sacks today, although it could have been more. Galette looks every bit the pass rusher he's become over the last few years.
• Jimmy Graham and Kenny Vaccaro mixed it up again. After Graham hauled in a pass from Griffin, Vaccaro brought Graham to the ground. Graham got back up and had a few words for Vaccaro. This is nothing new between these two players. It happened last year as well. I actually think it's good at times to have that competitive tension.
• Graham had a little fun with the officials today. After catching a touchdown pass from McCown, Graham did his usual goal-post dunk. The fans loved it; the refs didn't and threw a flag on him. Graham won't be able to do much of that during games this season.
• Coming from the CFL, I was skeptical about Marcus Ball. But he's played well. Not only did he pick off McCown, he also had a sack on the last play of the scrimmage. With Ball, Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush, Vinnie Sunseri and rookie Pierre Warren all making plays, the safety position should be loaded in 2014.
• Tulane's Derrick Strozier had a nice play when he took a sweep around the left end for a ten-yard touchdown run.
• Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin rotated with the first team at center. Lelito had a great block on a screen pass that sprung Mark Ingram for a nice gain.
• For the second day in a row, Derek Dimke went 3-3 on his field goals while Shayne Graham went 2-3. This may become a much bigger battle than I anticipated.