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AFR: Pads come on, one rookie shines while the other struggles. Saints practice three recap

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The Saints put the pads on for the first time Saturday and almost immediately the tone was set by the defense. They clearly got the best of the offense and leading the way was a rookie, who's steadily been turning heads all camp.

Stephone Anthony once again got all the first team reps at middle linebacker and showed why the coaches drafted him with the 31st overall pick.

His football instincts make him look like a veteran. He just has a feel for where the ball is going to go. It showed up early on during 9-on-7 drills. Anthony consistently shed blockers to meet Saints running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

Anthony has been in with the starters since Dannell Ellerbe has been out with an undisclosed injury. However, even when he returns to full strength, I'm not sure Anthony will go back down to the second team, especially now with him playing the mike linebacker position and making all the calls.

Play of the Day I

Drew Brees has been pretty sharp. Imagine that. He dropped one in beautifully over the shoulder to Joe Morgan. Morgan was able to successfully get off the jam of Brandon Browner to run under the pass.

Play of the Day II

Brandin Cooks said he believes he can be the Saints number one target. I believe him. He has a very diverse skill set that's equal parts fast and quick. On Saturday he displayed his run-after-catch ability when he beat Keenan Lewis on a quick slant, caught the pass from Brees and raced 40-plus yards to the end zone. 

Injury Report

Marques Colston was in full pads but once again only participated on a limited basis.

Other Observations

  • Patience will be key with first round pick Andrus Peat. He still has a long ways to go. He got torn apart during individual lineman drills. Anthony Spencer, Cam Jordan and Parys Haralson all beat him badly. 
  • During that same drill, Akiem Hicks blew up Jahri Evans and knocked him flat on his back. It was impressive to see. On the offensive side of the ball,  Terron Armstead is a beast. He pancaked Parys Haralson to the ground when he tried to beat him to the inside. When talking about Armstead after practice, Payton spoke glowingly of his development and skill set.
  • If there's one thing that has been consistent through all three practices, it's that the secondary has been extremely active.
  • In fact, I'm not sure I've seen this many clean pass break-ups at this stage of any training camp under Sean Payton. Today, Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux both made nice plays on the ball. Breaux spent a few team periods with the first team.
  • For the first time in camp, rookie Damian Swann got some second team reps at cornerback.
  • Both Zach Hocker and Dustin Hopkins went 4-4 on their field goal attempts from 30-40 yards. However, Hocker's first attempt banged in off the upright. This battle is still in its infant stages but early on, I have to give the edge to Hopkins. He has yet to miss a field goal in any practice and absolutely crushes it off the tee on kickoffs. His kickoffs were 7-10 yards out of the end zone while Hocker knuckle-balled a few.
  • As expected, the physicality brought about a very minor scuffle at practice. C.J. Spiller took a carry up the middle, well after the play was over a few defenders were still swiping at him and making contact. Zach Strief took exception and pushed Lewis off of him. Lewis responded with a shove of his own and somehow it all ended with Strief pushing Anthony Spencer away. Par for the course in training camp.
  • On a couple of occasions, out the corner of my eye, I have noticed how quick a player was from across the field. Each time I've done that, that player was running back Khiry Robinson. He looks extremely light on his feet and explosive out of his cuts. 
  • It's important to note that while the defense has made a ton of plays thus far, the offense is working solely out of their base package of two wide receivers, a running back, a fullback and a tight end. They haven't dipped into any of their three and four wide receiver sets. When they do, I'll be curious to see how the defense responds.
  • Credit West Virginia for the pace of practices. The sessions are scheduled to go for 2 hours and 40 minutes but each have ended about 30 minutes early. Payton credits that to the conditions and not needing an extended time during hydration breaks.

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