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After three 7-9 seasons, I was left being very apprehensive of the Saints management and in particular Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton. What I found strange was that the team was trying to rebuild in certain areas, but remained the same and became stale in others. Massive free agent signings that didn’t pan out finally started to shine the light on Saints’ management. This offseason, I felt as if we saw a new approach.
What I liked:
Coaching changes: First, the Saints unloaded some coaching deadweight. In what I believed was the biggest subtraction by addition, the Saints breathed new life in to Sean Payton’s coaching staff. Gone were Greg McMahon, Joe Vitt, Bill Johnson and a couple of other assistants. For years the Saints special teams, linebacking and defensive line cores have been among the worst in the NFL. When has Joe Vitt been able to develop a rookie linebacker in his stint in New Orleans? In were Bradford Banta, Mike Nolan, and Ryan Neilsen. Just not being complacent shows that the Saints want to make a change. I think it also shows that this is a do or die year for Sean Payton. His friends are gone…. If he can’t win with better or new coaches, maybe he’s the problem.
Defensive additions: Marshon Lattimore and AJ Klein head up a slew of defensive additions that hopefully can complete the rebuilding project. Lattimore not only has the size and speed, but all the characteristics of a shut down cornerback. The only knock on him are his soft hamstrings and one year as a starter in college football. Its crazy to think that Lattimore will become the Darrell Revis in his first season. But according to many Saints beat writers, he’s already turning heads in minicamp, so if he can contribute at a high level this year, I feel like the secondary can be a strength for this team. AJ Klein, in my opinion, could be a sneaky good addition to this team. Behind Luke Kuechly, Klein was an understudy to the best linebacker in football for the past three years and athletically can hang with most running back and linebackers in coverage. He’s an upgrade over James Laurinaitis who lets be honest, was completely over the hill and was only brought in for leadership. Unfortunately the Saints found out the hard way that it wasn’t worth it.
Offensive Line: In return for Brandin Cooks, the Saints received the 32nd pick which eventually became Ryan Ramczyk, who some people believe was the offensive linemen in the draft. Many people groaned at the move, but with Zach Steif getting closer to retirement, this not only is insurance for this year, but the future could be really bright. Pro Football Focus rated the Saints as the 8th best offensive line in Football, with the addition of Larry Warford and Ramczyk, the Saints got younger and better this offseason. This is why I have no qualms with signing Adrian Peterson. When your offensive line can create holes on a consistent basis, anyone can run through them. Just ask Latavius Murry. Now all we need is our gifted left tackle Terron Armstead, to produce one healthy season.
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What I hated:
Injuries: The Saints were plagued with injuries last season and 2017 didn’t get off to a great start. After the draft, center Max Unger, had surgery to surgically repair his foot. There has been talk that its Lisfranc. I really don’t want to hear that our best center now has a massive foot problem. If he misses time, both the pass protection and run attack will suffer. Sean Payton believes Unger will be ready by the end of training camp, but I won’t hold my breath. After the new of Unger quieted down the firestorm from Saints Twitter, news came out that Nick Fairley may have a career ending heart issue. Even though this diagnosis was known before his playing days in the NFl, supposedly a new doctor recently told him that he can no longer play in the NFL…. Right after he received a decent pay day from the Saints. I joke. I joke. In all seriousness, I hope the best for Fairley and hope he can comeback with a clean bill of health. The heart is a complicated organ and he should take whatever precautions.
Pass Rush: Our new additions to the Saints this year will be Alex Okafor, Trey Hendrickson, and Hau’oli Kikaha (IR last year). Honestly its an upgrade over last year, were the Saints were so desperate that they signed Paul Kruger. But while I think the pass rush will be improved, I don’t really see a guy who can move the needle. I really like Trey Hendrickson. He has an unbelievable motor, but I don’t know how much he can contribute in his first year.
If the offensive line and defensive backfield are healthy, they can be two units on this team that will be huge strengths. The last time those two core units were a strength was around the 2009-2012 time frame. Golden Years. The rebuilding of these two units has taken a while, but I think the fruits will come. I really believe that if the Saints have a top 5 offensive line and we start evening up our dependency on the pass, we can make the playoffs. As the 76ers fans and Joel Embied say, “Trust the Process”.
UPDATE (6/18/2017): Terron Armstead underwent torn labrum surgery and will be out 4-6 months. My dreams of a top 5 offensive line is dwindling. Consistency and cohesiveness are huge marks of a good offensive line. Ramczyk, I presume will have the first crack at starting left tackle since Peat is bigger than him and would be more suited at guard rather than tackle. But at worst, Peat can move to the left tackle position and the Saints may have to rotate players at left guard until Armstead is fully healthy.
Losing Armstead isn’t a backbreaker like losing Brees, Micheal Thomas or Cameron Jordan, but its on the next tier. The Saints can overcome the injury (How do you like that 32nd pick now), but it will take time. Luckily the Saints have all of training camp to overcome the loss of Armstead. To all the Saints fans who have been panicking with the Armstead injury, he was pretty banged up for the majority of the 2016 and the Saints overcame the injury to have a great offense. With Sean Payton, I’m not worried about that side of the ball yet.