Whether you’ve kept yourself plugged in this offseason or you’re just now returning to the NFL media cycle this article has you covered with all the key storylines I’ll be watching (and you should be too) when the full Saints roster finally returns to the field on Wednesday 26th July.
Is Michael Thomas Finally Healthy?
No, you have not transported back in time, sadly we are still talking about Michael Thomas’ health rather than his pure dominance on the field. At one point early this offseason I didn’t think I would be writing about Michael Thomas in Saints uniform again. With a hefty cap hit and still health in question it looked like Thomas’ time in New Orleans was over but, the arrival of Derek Carr (more on him shortly) and Thomas’ under-reported thirst to still play in the black and gold brought him back on a re-done incentive ladened 1-year contract.
Meaning here we are again, with the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is he healthy and back to his dominant best? Well, all signs are positive on that front Thomas unexpectedly was on the field during OTAs giving all Saints fans hope that he is finally back and can put together a full complement of offseason practices for the first time since before the 2020 season.
Now let’s be measured with our expectations, does he need to be full go on day one? Ideally yes that would be great but we’ve seen what happens when Thomas has been rushed back on the field too soon before, he was lost for the whole 2021 season, so there’s no harm in the Saints bringing Thomas along slowly and if they do there shouldn’t be a huge amount of concern. However, if there isn’t positive progress being made throughout the first week it will feel a little too familiar for Saints fans.
Of course, him being on the field is huge for the Saints with no other true X WR on the roster. His Rapport with Carr already seems strong, according to multiple Saints media outlets he was working off to the side with Carr for a good deal of OTAs but we are yet to see him run full-speed routes against CBs. Therefore the enticing prospect of a three-receiver set of Thomas, Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed is just that, a prospect, thats why this is the first storyline i will be watching in the first week of camp.
How does Derek Carr look?
The Saints did the right thing in my opinion making the first splash signing of the 2023 season by signing Carr to a 4 year deal, which I think was a really good deal for not only Carr but the Saints as well. He fits the Saints system perfectly as the Saints system shares a lot of DNA with Jon Gruden’s and Carr had some of the best years of his career during Gruden’s tenure as the Raiders HC.
Now we know the theory of the signing was good, now we need to see the results on the field. The early reports were great in OTAs, Carr was showing good command of the offense already making checks at the line of scrimmage to get the offense into more advantageous plays, which is something I’m sure will continue with more time to gel with the playbook, OC Pete Carmichael Jr AKA Sneaky Pete and the weaponry around him.
It goes without saying how important Carr is to the success of the Saints season so it’s crucial that he gets off to a good start in training camp.
Is The D-Line Back?
Since 2017 we have become used to seeing the Saints dominate upfront, getting pressure regularly only sending four rushers and stifling run defense. Unfortunately, this changed in 2022. With no meaningful push from the d-line outside of Cam Jordan, the Saints relied mainly on their creative use of LBs Kaden Elliss and Demario Davis and other blitzers to get pressure and unusually struggled against the run. The former is no longer on the team and is playing for some team with a disgusting bird logo and the latter is the same as Cam is 34 years old. Meaning the Saints need to see significant improvements from the rest of the line.
The Saints clearly saw the drop in play too and made a concerted effort this offseason to bring in new faces. The Saints added DTs Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd in free agency after losing both David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle to division rivals. Saunders has shown promise as a pass rusher but should fit more as the dominant run stuffer that the Saints have missed since Malcom Brown left a couple of seasons ago. Shepherd is more of an unknown and has looked really good for stretches, especially as a pass rusher but has only been a part-time player for most of his career so far.
These moves were followed up with the additions of DT Bryan Bresee and DE Isiah Foskey with their first two picks in this year’s draft. Add those to DE Carl Granderson who really came on strong to end the 2022 season and is pencilled in as the current starter opposite Jordan. Former 1st round pick Payton Turner who is nose-diving towards bust status but has shown a couple of flashes to keep you hoping. That gives puts this position group high on the list of things to keep an eye on during camp as this unit could easily end up being the Achilles heel that derails the Saints high hopes for the 2023 season.
The Health Of The O-Line
Speaking of Achilles heels, sadly the o-line also falls into this category too. However, unlike the D-line the question mark isn’t talent but health. Starting RG Cesar Ruiz has been present but has not yet participated in any of the Saints offseason programme neither has starting LT Trevor Penning after both suffered late season-ending foot injuries.
Both are vital to the Saints success up front this season, Ruiz showed great promise last season and was really starting to live up to his first-round pick status. As for Penning he showed signs of dominance as a run blocker last season but work was still required as a pass blocker and without the time already missed this offseason that area of his game is unlikely to have improved so getting on the field and staying there throughout camp and the season is a must. Penning starting at LT would give the Saints such an upgrade in athleticism over last year’s starter James Hurst, which would immensely help the weirdly nonexistent screen game and outside runs.
All of this is without mentioning that Alll-Pro RT Ryan Ramczyk is playing with a degenerative knee condition and Andrus Peat is generally good for missed time. So this unit getting on the field together early and most importantly often to gel with new starting QB Derek Carr is without question something to monitor.
Will The Saints Finally Just Use Taysom Hill Everywhere?
This maybe more of a personal key storyline but have the Saint finally worked out how to deploy Taysom Hill? And will they build on it to make him even harder to defend? Last season we finally saw them lean into the fact that nobody can stop Taysom running the ball ( at least not consistently). This in fact still wasn’t even done enough in my opinion, The Saints successfully sprinkled in the right amount of Hill passing to keep defenses honest, but now like with anything in the NFL what’s the next step? How does this evolve before finally the rest of the league catches up? That’s what I personally want to know.
Hill is, when used correctly my favourite Saints player to watch a ‘Quarterback’ with his size and speed barreling over linebackers and defenceless DBs will never get old for me. However, it’s time for Hill’s role to finally evolve. In my opinion, he should very rarely come off the field. His threat to run, pass and catch passes is a massive headache for defences to account for, so why make it easy for them by taking him off the field? I personally don’t know, thats a question for Pete Carmichael and the rest of the Saints offensive staff.
All of the offseason talk has been encouraging, Hill and the Saints staff have spoken about wanting his role to evolve especially as a pass catcher which is great but we’ve heard this before, with similar reports about Hill’s move to TE all of last offseason. Now is the time, to make all of the football nerds head’s explode every Sunday on Twitter. Hill should be everywhere, outside, in the slot, at QB and in the backfield. With the latter in my opinion being his most effective alignment, where he would be a threat to run, pass, catch passes and even block (just to add another layer of complexity for opposing defenses to work through).
So please Saints you have one of, if not the most versatile offensive weapons in the league, if only for me bring out every trick you can think of and give this Taysom Hill fan a season to remember. For that to be possible the Saints have to got to start the work when camp opens on Wednesday, so at the very least I will be keeping a keen and close eye on any report I see on Taysom Hill’s usage and you should too!
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