Yesterday here at Saints News Network, we took a look at 5 players for the Black and Gold from the defensive side of the football, that we'll be watching up close and personal when padded practices get underway later this week.
This morning, we now conclude our Camp Preview with 5 players from the offensive side.
So once again, it's time to grab yourself a hot cup of coffee or your favorite morning-time beverage, as we present the 5 Saints to watch when QB Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense, take the field at 2018 Saints Training Camp.
And we begin first with.........
RICK LEONARD, OFFENSIVE GUARD / TACKLE
When the Saints selected Florida State offensive tackle Rick Leonard with the #127th overall selection in Round 4 of the 2018 NFL Draft this past off-season, the initial response from most people that closely follow the event every year was: WHO is this guy? And WHY did the Saints take him?
Now obvious "overreactions" aside, many analysts and specifically a few well-known individuals within the National Media that cover the NFL Draft every year, took issue with the selection; which no doubt were heavily influenced by his below average grades from a variety of outlets around the country that predicted he would be taken in the Draft's later rounds or perhaps not even chosen at all.
Leonard was actually a defensive lineman during his first 2 seasons with the Seminoles, before making the choice to switch over to the other side of the line, where he very quickly emerged as a starter at right tackle. He ended up making a total of 19 starts at the position, in his final 2 seasons in Tallahassee. Nevertheless, while a majority of scouts throughout the League were impressed with Leonard’s athleticism and physicality "down in the trenches', they took great exception to what some considered to be a lack of proper technique to successfully play the position.
Several scouts feel that Leonard is still a "project" who needs more time to fully develop in order to be considered a legitimate NFL-caliber O-Lineman mainly due to a lack of experience. That much in all likelihood, is indisputable. But the Saints front office is confident that he will end up being a "steal"; even if critics of the pick will not be swayed. We should get a sense of just exactly where Leonard is at in his development, by the first few weeks of Camp. It goes without saying: Leonard will be THE most scrutinized 4th Round Saints draft pick, in the team's entire 52-year history.
TERRANCE WEST, RUNNING BACK
With the Saints set to face the impending 4-game suspension to starting RB Mark Ingram, West was signed by New Orleans to help the team with filling in for Ingram in both the power running game and as a receiver out of the backfield; which were tasks that he excelled at as a superstar FCS-level college RB at Towson University, and as a professional with the Baltimore Ravens.
West, who will be wearing jersey #38 at practice and during the Saints Pre-Season games, worked out for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in early May according to the Baltimore Sun, had most recently started 17 games over parts of the past three seasons, for the Ravens. But last season in 2017, West was a healthy scratch for six of the Ravens’ final seven games and didn’t get a single touch after Week #5. But the former small-school superstar still "has plenty of gas left in the tank" — and impressed the Saints coaching staff enough at a private work-out at the team's Airline Drive facility, to earn a 1-year deal with the organization at last month's mandatory Mini-Camp.
West's biggest accomplishment up to this point of his career was as Baltimore's starting back for much of 2016, after their team decided to move on from veteran Justin Forsett. West started 13 games and finished that 2016 season with career highs in carries (193), rushing yards (774), rushing touchdowns (five), receptions (34) and receiving yards (236), establishing his NFL career highs in all categories.
But clearly the Saints like West and his experience and notable abilities as both a runner and receiver, and feel that he "fits" their offensive scheme. With the Saints now less than 24 hours away from reporting to Training Camp, we'll see in the upcoming weeks ahead just how West looks within the confines of the Saints offense; especially in the up-coming Pre-Season games where he figures to get a long, hard look at being the primary ball-carrier behind Kamara, while Ingram is out.
CAM MEREDITH, WIDE RECEIVER
Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters a few weeks back that the 25-year old Meredith — who the team signed after the Chicago Bears declined to match the offer sheet offered to him by New Orleans worth a reported $9.6 million over two years ($5.4 million guaranteed) — appeared to be way ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus that he hurt in a Pre-Season game with Chicago prior to the start of last season. "He's ahead of schedule," Payton said. "It's encouraging."
Saints fans should be encouraged as well; given the likelihood of what a healthy and near fully-recovered Meredith would mean to the team's offensive attack moving forward into the upcoming 2018 regular season. Meredith has the size to be the PERFECT complementary receiving threat to #1 WR Michael Thomas in New Orleans’ offense. Additionally, it goes without saying that he'll benefit from a huge upgrade at the QB position and catching passes from Drew Brees as opposed to 2nd year Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky.
But the "gamble" that the Saints took by making an offer to an injured player whom the Bears felt was too much of a risk to re-sign to a new contract, looks like it could pay off in a big way. When you take into consideration just how badly the Saints struggled specifically with converting 3rd down-and-short yardage situations, putting a now-healthy Meredith into the mix potentially should yield huge dividends for them in that regard.
Nevertheless, with the uncertainty that had been hovering over Meredith's health status like a dark cloud since the signing became official; an "all clear" with regard to his availability to start the regular season in these next few weeks of Camp and the Pre-Season will be a welcome sigh of relief for the both the team and fans, as well as a positive outlook for a favorable return on the Saints' financial investment.
BOSTON SCOTT, RUNNING BACK / KICK RETURNER
In the NFL Draft every year, comparisons of college prospects to current or former stars that played in the NFL, are inevitable; and with measurements of 5-foot-7, 203 pounds, with 4.41 speed and a very similar elusive style, this year's rookie 6th Round draft pick / RB Boston Scott from Louisiana Tech University has indeed heard the comparisons between himself and former Saints and current Philadelphia Eagles RB Darren Sproles.
A Baton Rouge native, Scott attended Zachary High School, where he lettered in football, soccer and track but unfortunately because of his diminutive size, he never received much attention during his recruitment process, eventually settling to walk on at Louisiana Tech in 2013. But Scott ended up playing four seasons in Ruston; rising up the Bulldogs depth chart as both a running back and kick returner before earning honorable mention All-Conference USA recognition after his senior year in 2017.
As of this moment, Scott has a chance to win a key back-up RB role on a Saints team that does not have a clear option as the #3 running back on the Saints depth chart behind Mark Ingram and last year's 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara. But Scott appears to be far down the RB depth chart; meaning that his biggest impact as a rookie in 2018 is expected to be on special teams, where the Saints likely will give Scott a chance to become the team's designated kick returner on punts and kickoffs.
Saints head coach Sean Payton told neworleanssaints.com senior writer John DeShazier recently that he envisions the kick returner position will be determined during the next few upcoming weeks, and if Scott is able to show that he can successfully do both this Summer and become the designated returner for both punts and kickoffs, he'd be the first LEGITIMATE dual kick-return threat for the Saints since the one and only Michael Lewis a.k.a., "the Beer Man". (Although obviously capable of doing so, Darren Sproles surprisingly didn't return very many kicks during his time with the Black and Gold).
Assuming that Scott ends up winning the competition in these next few weeks of Camp and the subsequent Pre-Season games, it potentially would give the Saints something — a player capable of taking it all the way "back to the house" on both punt and kickoff returns — that they've lacked now for half a decade.
TAYSOM HILL, QUARTERBACK
If you're reading this as a Saints fan, you already know Hill's story by now; and truth be told, it's an interesting one. But just to play the Devil's advocate: what does it say about just how good or bad the Saints back-up QB situation is behind Drew Brees right now? Do you REALLY think the Saints can consistently win games if Drew Brees misses any time with an injury or — God forbid — is lost for the entire season or even for the remainder of his career? Do you believe that Hill, Tom Savage, or undrafted rookie JT Barrett can step right in at a moment's notice or perhaps maybe even on the sport of Pro Football's biggest stage, and be successful?
As most Saints fans know, Hill was a record-breaking QB as both a passer and a runner back during college at Brigham Young University (BYU), but went undrafted largely because of lingering injury concerns as well as underdeveloped skills as a classic pocket passer. But now with Sean Payton guiding him, all eyes are on Hill to see if he can become the next player on the list of notable QB's that Payton has developed throughout the years (like former Cowboys QB Tony Romo).
Hill's athleticism is his biggest attribute, and I'd personally compare him to a poor man's version of former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame QB Steve Young — with the same running prowess but minus the pure throwing ability and precision accuracy that Young possessed during his legendary career.
But whether or not Hill can LEGITIMATELY be the "heir apparent" to Drew Brees is still up for debate and likely will continue to be debated for at least the next several weeks; especially during next month's Pre-Season games. When the Saints host the Rams at the Superdome in their final Pre-Season game on August 30th, we'll probably have a pretty good handle on whether Hill is truly capable of "living up to the hype"......