Training camp, five preseason games leave lasting impression
By sheldon mickles
September 16, 2012
As usual, the best thing that can be said about the NFL exhibition season is that it’s mercifully over for another year.
While it’s a necessary evil, the regular season can’t come soon enough — which is usually the feeling from the first day of training camp in late July.
Fans who have been starving for real football, which we haven’t seen since the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, will finally get the real thing Wednesday night when the Giants and Dallas Cowboys open the season.
Four days later, the New Orleans Saints open the season against the Washington Redskins and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Before the Saints move forward and begin their bid for a franchise-record fourth consecutive playoff berth, here are some impressions — some good, some not so good — from five weeks of preparation and five preseason games (the only thing worse than having four):
Defensive scheme promising
Two things new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is looking for this season showed up as the Saints recorded nine takeaways and 12 sacks.
That has to be encouraging to a unit that had trouble the past two seasons in getting to the quarterback and taking the ball away — especially in 2011 when they had just 16 takeaways and 33 sacks.
While they didn’t generate a great pass rush, we don’t know how much Spagnuolo really wanted to tip his hand in games that don’t count in the standings. If that continues four or five weeks into the regular season, however, it may be a problem.
First-team offense productive
The Saints weren’t exactly in regular-season form — at least not to their lofty standards — but it wasn’t terrible when you consider it’s difficult to get into a rhythm when you’re getting a limited number of snaps.
Drew Brees was in for only 14 series in the first four preseason games and directed his team to seven scores (four touchdowns, three field goals). Of the other seven drives, three ended in turnovers — which will be a point of emphasis going into the regular season.
Youngsters made their mark
Over the years, the Saints have developed many players that came from small schools — like wide receiver Marques Colston, All-Pro guard Jahri Evans and running back Chris Ivory — and this year was no different.
The star of the preseason among the newcomers was running back Travaris Cadet of Appalachian State, who led the team with 30 receptions and 246 receiving yards and forced the staff to keep five halfbacks instead of the usual three or four.
Also turning heads were defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a third-round draft pick from Regina; cornerback Corey White of Samford, a fifth-round pick, and undrafted free agent Tyrunn Walker, a defensive tackle and New Iberia native who led the team with three sacks.
Run defense must be better
The Saints allowed 4.3 yards per carry, which is better than the 5.0 yards a pop they gave up in 2011, but it’s still too much.
Of course, a major culprit was all the missed tackles they had in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars which helped the Jaguars average a whopping 5.5 yards per carry.
The Saints buckled down and did much better in their next game in holding the Houston Texans to just 3.8 yards per carry, so that had to be an encouraging statistic to coaches on that side of the ball.
Injuries piled up fast
Almost from the start of training camp, the Saints were beset by injuries.
Starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson were sidelined on consecutive days in the first five days of camp and the list grew from there with as many as 11 players being out on any given day.
While it helped some younger cornerbacks get quality repetitions, it slowed down the progress of wide receiver Adrian Arrington in his bid to earn the fourth wideout spot although he did make the roster.