Look I get it. It’s a “Game of Thrones” world and I’m just visiting. But I don’t watch that show because, like most shows, I didn’t watch it to start with and I just can’t commit to 100 episodes of anything, really. I’m just old school that way. Speaking of which here are five storylines to follow for that other show in town – New Orleans Saints football.
Mandatory Quick Start
Yes, it’s just the beginning of camp, which kicks off on July 19 for rookies, and the regular season is about eight weeks away but make no mistake, the brass will be barking throughout the end of summer about starting fast — in the individual games and the season as a whole.
It could be argued that no team has a bigger Week One game than the Saints as they travel to Minneapolis to battle the Vikings on Sept. 11. The team has opened the last two seasons at 0-3, which effectively knocked the air out of each campaign.
Alas, the NFL has done them no favors this year with the schedule. After facing the Vikings on the road, they play the Superbowl champion New England Patriots at the Superdome, and then head to Charlotte to play the Panthers. Another 0-3 start will fill New Orleans with dread and rattle a team whose coaches keep insisting are ready for primetime.
Next Man Up
The Black and Gold are already in “Next Man Up” mode with the loss of Nick Fairley for the entire season and Terron Armstead for what could be up to half of the season. The Saints’ recent drafts are going to have to produce with a quickness.
Sheldon Rankins, in his second season, will have to put in more minutes with the loss of Fairley from the defensive line rotation. And who is going to replace Armstead at offensive tackle? Good luck. It looks like that will be decided in camp between first round pick Ryan Ramczyk and veteran free agent acquisition Khalif Barnes.
The Saints other first rounder, Marshon Lattimore, will probably be called on early and often. Even if he doesn’t beat out P.J. Williams for the starting corner opposite Delvin Breaux, the youngster will have to be ready to play given that Williams has only played about six quarters in his two seasons due to injury.
And lets all pray to the Great Daiq Shop in the sky that center Max Unger doesn’t miss any games.
Thomas to No. 1
I was harping on it from Week One of last year. Michael Thomas is an absolute stud and, even though no one was saying it publicly, Thomas surpassed Brandin Cooks as the Saints go-to wide receiver fairly quickly.
Thomas, without any distractions, now enters his second campaign as The Man and, along with Willie Snead, poses a threat to every defensive backfield he meets. The Saints also went out and signed speedy vet Ted Ginn Jr. as a potential replacement for Cooks. There will obviously be a drop off in the receiving corps but, you know, they still have Drew Brees, who is pretty good. Jokes aside, Thomas will have a great burden to bear this year. The days of sneaking up on teams is long over but he seems ready for the spotlight. Bombs away.
You have to give it to Mark Ingram. The guy just goes out and puts in good work without causing any static. He shuts out the internet noise and just delivers. Ingram, entering his seventh season with the club, put together his best campaign in 2016 rushing for 1,043 yards and catching 46 balls for another 319 yards. He cracked double-digit touchdowns (10) for the first time.
The Saints rewarded their star back by going out and signing future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and drafting a potential stud in Alvin Kamara. Congrats, Mark!
You have to wonder how much longer Peterson can tote the rock given he has over 11,000 yards in his career but, on the other hand, the only thing that has stopped the former Viking is injury and suspension.
Just like when you’re buying a house it’s “location, location, location,” if you want to win in the NFL you better have a defense. The Saints desperately need one. Too many games over the past three seasons have been given away. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is going to have to get something more out of last year’s 27th-ranked defense or it's going to be another long autumn in the Crescent City.
In their, well, defense the men in Black and Gold did seem to improve last year, but when you’re comparing it to the 2015 season, how could they not?
The Saints still have holes in their line-backing corps and question marks along the defensive front but if third round draft pick Trey Henderson can lock down the defensive end spot opposite Cameron Jordan, things could improve dramatically. A solid rush that puts heat on opposing quarterbacks would be a lovely complement to a defensive backfield (Breaux, Kenny Vaccaro, Williams, Lattimore, Vonn Bell) that has a lot of talent. The Saints doubled down by signing and hoping for a healthy and resurgent Alex Okafor as well.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every PBS show should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Alltech’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
Playlist Recommendation: My Morning Jacket – “I’m Amazed”
Around the Way
Holy moly. The Pelicans really did go get them another Kentucky Wildcat! The Pels signed free agent and former All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo now joins Kentucky Wildcats Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Darius Miller and James Young on the roster. Somebody get Sam Bowie on the phone!