When the New Orleans Saints take the field tomorrow night at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, they'll do so with the knowledge that the team's starting players at each position; will see almost little to no action at all, with it only be the team's first Pre-Season game of the year.
Players such as Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Michael Thomas, and Cam Jordan "might" play a series and possibly two, before giving way to back-up players that will play for a majority of the game -- including a handful of undrafted rookie or veteran free agents who are competing for spots on the Saints Final 53-man roster.
What Saints fans will also see tomorrow night is a handful of young veteran players that haven't always met expectations and have been criticized heavily at times in recent seasons, who likely will have something to prove.
A few of those players have had outstanding Camps thus far in the first 2 weeks of practice, but while “looking good” or even great during practice is one thing, it’s a whole different story entirely while trying to do it against opponents during an actual game.
This morning, the Saints News Network takes a look at 5 young players that have been doubted by fans for one reason or another during their time in a #Saints uniform so far, who need to prove themselves during tomorrow night’s game at Cleveland against the Browns …….
5. HAU'OLI KIKAHA, DEFENSIVE END / EDGE RUSHER
Coming off a torn ACL to his left knee (the 3rd time in his career, all to that very same knee) that he suffered during OTA's in June of 2016, Kikaha seems to be showing no ill-effects of the injury so far and looks to be completely healed just a year later.
Kikaha has looked very good at times through the first 2 weeks of Camp, bringing consistent pressure from his right defensive end / edge pass rusher spot and has even notched a few "would be" sacks during practice.
What Kikaha has to prove against the Browns is simply that he can play without the mental concerns of re-injuring himself, and play worry-free football and just do what it is that he does best: getting "heat" on opposing QB's.
4. KEN CRAWLEY, CORNERBACK
Crawley struggled at times last season as all rookie NFL CB's often do, and was even victimized a few times on some big plays, most notably in a Week #2 loss against the New York Giants that made some Saints fans doubt his abilities (and they still do). But Crawley's play eventually improved throughout the season, although he was no "lock" to make the Final Roster this year coming to Camp.
So far however, Crawley during the first 2 weeks of Camp may be playing the best that he has since the Saints signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent last year out of the University of Colorado. He has been making plays in the secondary almost on a daily basis during practice, with a whole slew of PBU's (pass break-ups) and a few interceptions so far to his credit.
What Crawley has to prove is that if he is called upon by the Saints coaching staff to step in once again and play at a moment's notice, should either of the other starting CB's get hurt just as they did last year; that he can do it well and do it consistently and effectively. He can start that process with a good game against the Browns.
3. BRANDON COLEMAN, WIDE RECEIVER
If they actually handed out Training Camp MVP awards for "looking the best" during practice, then Saints 3rd year WR Brandon Coleman would hands-down be the winner of this year's award; since he has looked fantastic throughout Camp thus far with a whole series of long and impressive TD receptions, one after another.
Coleman, who actually had been on many lists that placed him on the Saints Final 53-man Roster "bubble" and in danger of not even making the team, has also benefitted from the return of WR's coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson; who has given Coleman a much-needed boost of self-confidence as evidenced by the "swagger" that Coleman has been displaying with each practice.
Coleman's main issue the first few seasons has been dropping passes in key situations, and he needs to show improvement in that area since it still appears to be a problem for him. Additionally, he now also has to prove that he can "show up big" in the games that actually count, and not just in practice only. Coleman's issues have never been about his talent or ability, but simply just about making plays consistently.
2. STEPHONE ANTHONY, LINEBACKER
3rd year linebacker Stephone Anthony is a player who has immense talent and athleticism, but has struggled with the mental aspects of being able to read and diagnose offenses in his first 2 seasons, which have had some Saints fans now even labeling him as a potential "bust" --- ever since he was drafted in 2015 with the pick that the Saints got from the Seattle Seahawks in the Jimmy Graham trade.
But after the first 2 weeks of Camp, Anthony seems to have improved his play from last year, and has made a handful of impressive plays while playing at either "Mike" / middle linebacker or the "Will"/ weak side spots. The credit for Anthony's improvement from this time last year goes to new linebackers coach and long-time NFL defensive "guru" Mike Nolan; who has worked closely with Anthony in the off-season teaching him the finer points of playing the LB position.
Now Anthony has to be able to show his apparent improvement in game-situations against other opponents, and not just simply doing it in practice. If Anthony wants to make fans stop labeling him a "bust", then he can get the process started by forcing the issue --- with a very solid performance tomorrow night in Cleveland.
1. GARRETT GRAYSON, QUARTERBACK
Speaking of "busts", perhaps no one player has as much to prove tomorrow night than 3rd year QB Garrett Grayson; who has gone from once being considered the next Saints starting QB after Drew Brees retires, to possibly not even being with the team anymore once this Pre-Season comes to end. Grayson was actually cut by the Saints after the final Pre-Season game last year, but was signed to the Practice Squad a day later when no other NFL team claimed him.
Grayson spent the off-season with his former head coach Jim McElwain, his former head coach at Colorado State who is now the head coach at Florida; studying film and hoping to fully learn how to run the Saints offense. But Grayson has had a "mixed bag" so far during the first 2 weeks of Camp, making a few nice plays but also has made several bad throws that have gotten intercepted.
Grayson will likely see the most action of any of the Saints QB's tomorrow night (especially in the 2nd half), and he will have to prove that he does belong in the NFL by showing up and having a steady performance against the Cleveland defense and the young man who Grayson will hope to avoid: Browns edge pass rusher and #1 overall 2017 NFL Draft pick Myles Garrett........