The New Orleans Saints have a busy week ahead, and it all culminates with a trip out west to Southern California; where the Saints will conduct a series of joint practices with the L.A. Chargers, before facing them this Sunday Night in the 2nd Pre-Season game at the Stub Hub Center --- the soccer-stadium-turned-NFL-facility in Carson (suburban Los Angeles).
After Practice this morning, the team is off tomorrow and then have a brief 'walk-through' Practice on Wednesday morning, before boarding a chartered-team jet and flying out to California on Wednesday afternoon.
The Saints and the Chargers will then conduct back-to-back joint practices on Thursday and Friday afternoon at the Stub Hub Center, before playing the game on Sunday Night -- which will be televised by the NFL Network. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Central time.
With that in mind, this morning the Saints News Network looks at six Saints players who are currently either trending "up" or "down", as the Saints head out to Los Angeles for the 2nd game of their 2017 NFL Pre-Season.
ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
If you're familiar with the old expression "seeing is believing", then Kamara certainly gained a lot of converts after his limited but very impressive showing against the Browns last Thursday Night.
The rookie and 3rd Round pick tallied 35 yards on 4 carries to lead the team in rushing, but it was his "highlight reel" 22-yard run on the team's 2nd offensive series that had Saints fans who have heard about him but hadn't actually seen him yet (other than through his highlight film from when he played at the University of Tennessee), watching from home on their TV sets in total amazement.
But perhaps most impressive was that Kamara showed fans as well as the Saints coaching staff, one thing that seems to have gotten lost in the 'hype' of his multi-faceted talents as a receiver / runner: which is that he can actually "tote the rock" and be a lead running back (a la Mark Ingram or Adrian Peterson), should the need ever arise.
GARRETT GRAYSON, QUARTERBACK
Ugh. Where to even begin for this poor kid. For someone who is supposed to be in his 3rd NFL season, Saints back-up QB Garrett Grayson looked anything but a legitimate NFL QB, last Thursday Night. One analyst referred to him as a "deer in headlights", and I personally don't even know if he could start at the Arena Football League-level at this point.
For a QB that should be progressing at this stage of his career, Grayson appears to be regressing. He looked indecisive and appeared to struggle with making his reads, and despite the decent numbers that he was still able to put up (11 out of 16 for 126 yards), made the type of mistakes (like "leading" rookie WR Travin Dural with a poorly thrown pass that almost got his head taken off) typical of a player in the League 3 weeks, rather than 3 years.
This coming week in Southern Califfornia will be a critical juncture in Grayson's career (at least in New Orleans, anyway), and if he fails to impress the coaching staff either in the joint practices or the game on Sunday Night, he may want to start making flight reservations in advance out of NOLA for the first week of September.
AL-QUADIN MUHAMMAD, DEFENSIVE END / EDGE RUSHER
Talking about being "on fire", perhaps no Saints defensive player is having a better week in the past several days than rookie defensive end / edge pass rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad.
Muhammad had QB 4 pressures, one sack, and another shared sack against the Browns last Thursday; and clearly had one of the best performances of the night among this year's rookie Draft class. Not wanting that to be his only impression, Muhammad has since come up big in the past 2 practices at Training Camp with 2 more "would be" sacks on Saturday and another yesterday.
Muhammad is in a tough battle with several other players for a back-up role in the Saints substitution packages during pass-rush situations, but there is no way he would be able to clear waivers if the team tries to "stash" him on the Practice Squad. However, if Muhammad keeps up this great level of performance, they won't have to make that choice to begin with --- because he'll make it for them.
TED GINN, JR., WIDE RECEIVER
Now make no mistake about it: long-time veteran WR Ted Ginn, Jr. is in no danger of losing his job as the team's #3 WR or his spot on the team in general, but it's evident that he hasn't always been completely on top of his game.
Ginn has struggled with "drops" throughout his NFL career, and they've become an issue once again in the past week. He dropped a sure-TD pass from QB Chase Daniel while he was wide open in the end zone during the loss to the Browns, and followed that up with another dropped pass and then allowed a punt to bounce over his head in practice, that would have been likely recovered by the other team in a game situation.
Ginn's still blazing-fast speed and big-play ability will always keep him in the mix among the play-makers within the Saints offensive scheme; but chances are very good that he might potentially cost the Saints a loss or even two --- if he can't get the grip on the football that somehow always seems to escape him at the most inopportune of times.
ALEX ANZALONE. LINEBACKER
Anzalone ended up playing in a total of 40 defensive snaps (52%) against the Browns last Thurday Night, and his presence on the field provided just a small but yet very insightful view of the "immediate impact" that the soon-to-be 23 year old is expected to have for the Saints defensive unit in the upcoming 2017 NFL season.
Anzalone finished with a key 3rd Down pass deflection that forced a Browns punt; and also notched 3 total tackles to his credit in the stat column, in what was his first-ever action in an NFL game. Not wanting that to be his only impression, Anzalone has made more big plays in Practice since --- including another pass deflection against Drew Brees on an all-out blitz Saturday that led to a "Pick 6" by teammate Cam Jordan.
Right now, it appears that Anzalone is 2nd on the depth chart at "Will" / weakside linebacker, but if this level of play continues, it's simply just a matter of time before he becomes a starter. His sideline-to-sideline cover ability, athleticism, and versatility are way ahead of most NFL rookies at the position, and this kid has "future star" written all over him.
DAMIAN SWANN, CORNERBACK
Swann is battling for his final roster spot this year after suffering from a series of concussions which have slowed the first 2 years of his NFL career, and he didn't exactly do himself any favors last Thursday Night in Cleveland.
Swann was BEATEN BADLY on the Browns' winning TD pass from DeShone Kizer to WR Jordan Payton, when he attempted to press cover Payton -- who blew right past Swann with a running head start. With plays like like that one and with Swann already buried on the depth chart at CB, his future in a Saints uniform could now be in jeopardy.
These upcoming joint practices and the televised game on Sunday Night against the Chargers will be critical for Swann, because with the team likely to only carry a total of 5 CB's on the Final 53-man roster, Swann currently appears to be on the "outside looking in".