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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Ross Jackson

Jameis Winston progresses and key takeaways from the Saints Superdome practice

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Funny how much a change of venue shifts the feeling of a training camp practice. What otherwise would have been a lighter day for the New Orleans Saints as they return home following their preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, felt monumental in front of 30,000 claimed tickets. Attendance became the early highlight of the day, but as the two-hour event rolled along more and more caught our attention. Here are our takeaways from the Saints’ open practice in the Caesars Superdome.

Biggest story: Michael Thomas not present

It was easy to notice the absence of Thomas as the final group of players hit the Superdome field. No. 13 is usually off on the sideline throwing passes back and forth with a trainer, preparing his hands for the day. He’s an imposing physique, always hard to miss. That left what felt like a glaring hole on the sideline as players warmed up to get ready for the day.

Brooke Kirchhoffer of WWL-TV asked head coach Dennis Allen after practice if Thomas had been given a rest day. Allen then clarified that the receiver was “dealing with a hamstring.” He further confirmed that none of the day’s missing players were given any kind of a rest day so that all absences were related to health.

We don’t yet know the severity of Thomas’ hamstring injury. Perhaps it was just precautionary with the change of field turf still being fresh in the Superdome, or perhaps it was requisite due to the injury itself. We’ll see how quickly he makes it back out to the field. The last time he would have been seen practicing would be in Green Bay. So he’s had some additional time to rest. Clearly, after fighting so hard to get back out on the field for camp in the first place, dealing with another injury must be frustrating but more importantly, handled with caution.

Jameis Winston update: Practice participation takes a step forward

The Saints starting quarterback made strides on Sunday afternoon getting involved in 7-on-7 drills for the first time since his recent injury has kept him off the field. In Green Bay, Winston was present but only participated in walk-throughs and routes on air (and stretch, of course). So to see him getting into 7-on-7s was a good sign.

Allen said that they hope to get him involved in team drills soon as he continues to make progress. No promises, but usually when Allen evokes the phrase “soon” in any context, that tends to be the reality. We’ll be keeping a keen eye on this going into Monday’s practice session.

Play of the day: Jarvis Landry does what he does

One-hand catches are routine when Landry in practice. Usually during some casual throw-around moments, simple things like that. But with cornerback Vincent Gray in coverage the former LSU Tiger brought things from the casual to the competitive.

Landry was lined up on the outside and ran a fade down the right sideline to the back of the endzone in redzone 11-on-11s. He found good outside positioning on Gray, allowing the passer a window over the top. Quarterback Andy Dalton put the pass exactly where it needed to be and Landry simply stuck his right hand out as the ball traveled over his left shoulder toward the back pylon and plucked the ball out of the air drawing “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd.

Landry will be consistently recognized as a guy whose hands will help move the chain for New Orleans. But his value goes far beyond that. Expect Landry to be a regular red zone option for his quarterback as well.

Versatility: Kirk Merrit showing where he an impact

The Destrehan native has landed with a team in the Saints who will always look to find more ways to allow him to impact the game. Merritt has shown quite a bit over the course of camp in the conversation of versatility. He’s proven that he can be a viable option in the passing game from outside and in the slot, he showed off his return ability in the Green Bay preseason game with a 59-yard kick return, and on Sunday showed that he could take snaps from the backfield as well.

Several times throughout the afternoon Merritt lined up at running back. While I did not see him take any carries out of the backfield, he did run a few routes and even brought in what looked like it could have been a touchdown during redzone 7-on-7 drills. Merritt played both receiver and running back at Destrehan High School and now, the Saints are getting a look as his potential. This is the kind of role that brought Ty Montgomery to New Orleans years ago. Could it be the mechanism by which Merritt lands on his home team roster?

Ryan Ramczyk returns

After not being present for the Wednesday joint practice and not taking snaps during the Packers preseason game, it was good to see the All-Pro tackle back out on the field Sunday. The Saints got a lengthy look at Ramczyk bookending the offensive line with Trevor Penning. A combination they hope to be their tackle tandem of the future.

Linebacker shakeup

Even with a pair of linebackers missing (Pete Werner and Chase Hansen) there was a visible shakeup at linebacker when undrafted free agent Nephi Sewell lined up next to Demario Davis and Kaden Elliss on the second level. We first noticed during walk-throughs but the trend continued when Sewell was granted first-team 11-on-11 snaps as well. It’s standard for the Saints to get a look at as many linebacker combinations as possible, they’ve done that for years. However, things have been different with some solidified starters and immediate backups looking more firmly implanted. Yes, the Saints were without Werner and Hansen again on Sunday, but would usually default to veteran Eric Wilson in that spot in that case. But instead, Sewell got the call.

Still anxious to see: Rashid Shaheed

The Weber State record-holder got his hands on a few more kick and punt return drills on Sunday. One of the kick return drills looked very promising in particular. The team looked to be working on lane assignments int he return game, which gave Shaheed a little more of a return opportunity than we’re used to seeing in practice.

Now, this was still a non-contact drill so you can only take so much from it. but his understand of how to attack the coverage and his pure speed were both impressive. I had expected to see him get some return opportunities against Green Bay, maybe that comes this weekend instead as the Saints host the Los Angeles Chargers.

Attendance: Who was missing besides Thomas?

Players we did not see at today’s practice:

  • DE Taco Charlton
  • LB Chase Hansen
  • TE Taysom Hill
  • OL James Hurst
  • OL Cesar Ruiz
  • CB Alontae Taylor
  • WR Michael Thomas
  • TE Adam Trautman
  • RB Dwayne Washington
  • LB Pete Werner
  • OL Landon Young

An unfortunately long list of absences for the open practice on Sunday. While we can confidently say that everyone was out for something related to their health, we don’t yet know the severity of any individual injury. Allen has confirmed that Thomas’ injury is a hamstring issue, Taylor’s is a hip flexor, and Hurst is dealing with a foot injury which he sustained at joint practices last Wednesday.

The alarming part is how clustered these absences were at multiple position. Three offensive linemen, two linebackers, and two tight ends all missing. While it did allow for more of a look at some of the additional options at each position, you still hope for these players to be able to get back in the mix sooner than later.

Other practice notes: Chris Olave feels like it's all settling in

The rookie receiver caught his first NFL touchdown last weekend. Yes, it was a preseason score, but still felt nice to get it out of the way I’d imagine. Olave recollected that the playcall on which he scored was one that they’d worked on a bit for the game situation they were in. His role became about finding his space, which he did with veteran instincts.

With the Saints having waived running back Devine Ozigbo earlier in the day, the running back battle is narrowing. With Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram locked in, Tony Jones Jr. and Dwayne Washington have clearly impressed. Meanwhile UDFA Abram Smith is continuing to see action. Smith is a clear practice squad candidate. The big question will be whether or not the Saints keep three running backs or four. If three, then there’s still an important battle to watch between Jones and Washington once the latter returns to the field.

Kicker Wil Lutz is 39 of 41 on kicks in camp. He also added a 59-yard field goal in Green Bay. On Sunday he missed one of his five practice kicks, his first miss in those drills in weeks. However, he ended the practice with a 57-yarder that split the uprights to cap off a drive in which Andy Dalton had 38 seconds to lead the offense to field goal range. Having Lutz back could be the difference in several games for the 2022 season.

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