The Saints have joint practices with the Los Angeles Chargers this week, followed by a preseason game on Sunday. There are likely to be more important things to take from the practices than the game itself. As HC Dennis Allen has already stated he feels the joint practices are where they get their best work during training camp.
So what matchups are to most important to monitor? I’ve got 5 here that I think will tell us a lot regarding the development of some of the players most linked to the Saints success this season.
Trevor Penning Vs Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa
Trevor Penning has been developing nicely so far this off-season, Hes only missed 1 practice so far after missing all of OTAs and minicamp recovering from the foot injury he sustained at the end of last season, and he saw extended snaps in the preseason opener. Per PFF Penning saw 23 snaps in the opener 11 as a run blocker and 12 as a pass blocker giving up zero pressures on those 12 pass blocking snaps.
He will have a stiffer test on his hands this week though, with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Both rush from both sides of the line so Penning should see a lot of both players. Both are skilled, athletic and powerful rushers who have dominated the NFL in a multitude of ways for a number of years. They will give Penning a real test and it will be a good gauge of where Penning is with his development.
We do need to temper expectations on this. Penning is likely to take his lumps over the coming days against Mack and Bosa and the sign that he is developing is not that he wins every rep but that he holds his own in pass protection and gets some wins, at this stage Penning just needs reps and reps against this level of competition will only work in his favour.
Juwan Johnson Vs Derwin James
Derwin James is the Taysom Hill of defense, in 2022 he took snaps at FS, SS, Slot Cornerback, Outside Cornerback, Linebacker and as a pass rusher. Except he is slightly different to Taysom in that he might be elite at every single one of these spots. He is a matchup player in Brandon Staley’s defense and is used a lot due to his size to match up with athletic TEs.
Cometh Juwan Johnson who is soaring right now towards a pro bowl calibre season. He’s been excellent in camp and his chemistry with Carr looked to be fermenting along nicely, on the first drive vs the Chiefs on Sunday. For him to continue this momentum and meet these lofty expectations that I and many other Saints fans are setting for him, he needs to be able to win these kinds of matchups.
At times last season as a relatively unknown player, it felt like Johnson was a player the defense forgot, that will not be the case this season with more tape for teams to watch and the fact that teams (especially the Chargers) know that Derek Carr loves to throw to the TE. Every opposing defense will be prepared for Johnson to be a focal point of the Saints’ attack and will plan for that accordingly.
Carl Granderson/ Payton Turner Vs Rashawn Slater
Carl Granderson and Payton Turner have both had really strong training camps and have given media and fans hope that finally, the DE position opposite Cam Jordan will be in good hands. Both were solid in the preseason opener, especially Turner who hit a filthy spin move to clatter poor old Blaine Gabbert on Sunday.
This week though they will be facing a different animal in Rashawn Slater, who was a second-team all-pro as a rookie which is incredibly hard to do as usually O-linemen are not recognised that early in their careers. He missed most of last season with a triceps injury and has been reportedly dominating camp so far.
If Granderson and Turner manage to have some success against Slater this week then that is an accurate indication that they are for real and that the Saints pass rush will be a force once again. If they are stonewalled it doesn’t necessarily mean that the promising camp has been a lie but it would just mean we need to bring our expectations back down a little.
Mike Thomas Vs Everyone
This will be the first time we will see Mike Thomas for extended snaps against anyone other than the Saints CBs, specifically Marshon Lattimore. Yes, Thomas played in the preseason opener but only 12 snaps, of those 12 snaps only 8 were passing plays. So an extended look at Thomas against a solid but not elite secondary like he’s been used to facing in Saints camp.
Thomas has had plenty of time to ramp up and build chemistry with Carr. now so it’s important that we start to see some results. There’s a lot riding on Thomas this year as the depth is quite behind him and doesn’t appear as strong as we suspected it would be. Shaheed’s injury and the other vets not really stepping up does put a bit more pressure on Thomas to be at least part of the player he used to be, if he’s going to be this week would be a great time to show it.
Adebo and Taylor Vs Chargers WRs
Paulson Adebo and Alontae Taylor are still in a close battle for CB2 spot opposite Marshon Lattimore. the next test comes in the shape of a pretty loaded Chargers WR room, led by Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, with 1st round rookie Quentin Johnston and Josh Palmer as explosive 3rd and 4th options.
Adebo is still out in front currently but Taylor who was the pre-camp favourite has started to claw his way back in the race, some might look at his spotty performance against the Chiefs as a factor in this race but the only part that mattered was Taylor’s play on the outside (he tipped the pass that resulted in the interception whilst playing outside CB) the fact that he played poor in the slot does not factor in this battle.
Another reason it’s a bit week for this battle? quite often joint practices bring out the officials. This will help to decide if Adebo is being too physical and winning reps where in a game he would have been called for a hold.
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