With the start of the 2018 NFL Regular Season now only just slightly over 2 weeks away, the New Orleans Saints will seriously start preparing for the new League year beginning later on this morning against the Los Angeles Chargers — who they will face in back-to-back Joint Practice sessions today and once again tomorrow morning; in advance of Saturday Night's nationally-televised game between the two teams on CBS. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Central time at the Stub Hub Center in Carson (suburban Los Angeles).
One player in particular that everyone watching: the young man wearing black jersey #92, and the rookie defensive end for New Orleans who fans have had little opportunity to see thus far this Summer, Marcus Davenport.
Davenport has been largely out of the picture for the past month since the team's Training Camp and Pre-Season first began, but it appears the rookie first round draft pick from the University of Texas-San Antonio FINALLY will be getting back on the field, likely starting with today's Joint Practice session.
Davenport participated in the team’s last few practices in Metairie prior to the conclusion of Training Camp a few days ago, and head coach Sean Payton believes that the soon-to-be 22 year old will be able to make his NFL Pre-Season debut in the Saints’ 3rd preseason game against the Chargers on Saturday Night.
“I anticipate him being able to work this week and get some playing time,” Payton said to reporters this past weekend after the final Training Camp practice.
Davenport has been sidelined with what is believed to have been a minor groin injury, which was an additional injury that the rookie had besides the torn thumb ligament on his right hand that led him to have minor surgery back in mid-June — a procedure that both he and Payton had originally said would not interrupt Davenport’s playing or practice time.
But it's been evident that with the return of veteran Alex Okafor from last year's torn Achilles tendon injury along with the notable rapid development of 2nd year year player Trey Hendrickson, that the team decided to keep Davenport "under wraps" and off the field so that his injuries had time to fully heal.
And with those injuries presumably now healed, today should be the first significant action for the young Texas native.
"You don't have to encourage anyone when he is on the sideline seeing his brotherhood working, and he's a step behind," defensive end Cameron Jordan said to reporters this past weekend.
"When I say a step behind, I mean he's on the sidelines looking, and he's not in the line of fire. You see he wants to get out there. He's trying to push his reps where his body will let him."
The raw but extremely talented and athletically-gifted rookie, who the Saints traded both their 1st round draft picks this year and next year's 2019 NFL Draft next April to the Green Bay Packers for a chance to select, is capable of becoming a physically dominating and fast-moving pass rusher off the outside edge for the Saints defense someday,
It's still expected that despite this Summer's series of set-backs, that Davenport will see a prominent role at right defensive end in his very first NFL season behind Okafor.
In four seasons at San Antonio, Davenport recorded 185 tackles, 37.5 tackles for loss, and 21.5 sacks, as he garnered nation-wide attention by becoming ranked among the most elite pass-rushers in all of major College Football at the school.
“I was aware of him early on, and you’re looking closely at the position fit and looking at the prototype and size,” Payton said to reporters when prompted by a question asked about what the team expects from the talented-but-largely unproven 6-foot-6, 265 pounder.
“He’s someone that we felt fit a lot of the things we were looking for and he can also play defensive end, and we kind of put a premium on that position. So from that point to when we are entering the draft, and we were selecting where we were in the later part of the first round, if we were to go up, it would have to be for a specific player."
"And, in fact, when we are grading these players like [Saquon] Barkley, or other specific players, the question might be before the final grade: Would we move to get this player? And [Davenport] was one that we felt we would do that for.”
Davenport, who missed the Saints' first two Pre-Season games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals, finds himself in a similar situation to last year's Saints 1st-round draft picks.
Both cornerback Marshon Lattimore and tackle Ryan Ramczyk missed the first Pre-Season game and a significant portion of Training Camp last year at this same time due to injury, only to return in the middle of the Pre-Season before they both went on to have impressive rookie seasons in 2017.
So in that regard, the missed time probably isn't as big of a deal that it was first was thought to have been.