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saint5221 07-24-2003 01:14 AM

Ten to watch for in training camp

10 Names to Watch For During Training Camp
By Scott Balot - Staff Writer - 7:05 pm CST

OK football fans, it’s that time of the year when tropical storms are brewing in the Gulf, the summer heat is melting the sidewalks, and the chance of afternoon rainstorms are around 100 percent in New Orleans. It’s also that time of year that every Saints fan craves: the start of training camp.

Every year, there are several players that impress during training camp, many of them long shots to make the final 53-man roster. Competition usually brings out the best in the players, and there will be plenty of competition this season for starting roles as well as roster spots. This is the time of year that can mean the beginning of a lucrative career, or the ending of one. Some players capitalize on the opportunity (see Michael Lewis), while others seem to falter in the southern Louisiana heat (see Onome Ojo). There are times when players get caught in a numbers game here in New Orleans, yet find a home elsewhere (see Marc Bulger).

Let’s take a look at ten players that could be making waves during this year’s training camp and may be in that number by the end of training camp:

1. Lynaris Elpheage-CB: Elpheage was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent this year. His lack of size is made up with blazing speed and game-breaking ability. He was an exciting player to watch at Tulane, but his stock dropped after poor workouts leading up to the NFL draft. Elpheage has a legitimate shot at making the final 53-man roster if he can prove to the coaches that he can contribute on special teams immediately. While his cornerback skills need much refinement, there will be several teams waiting to pick him up in the event that he is put on waivers. He won’t last long enough for the Saints to put him on the practice squad.

2. Zach Hilton-TE: The Saints haven’t had an impact tight end since Cam Cleeland’s rookie season in 1998 when he led the team in receptions. The Saints brought in Ernie Conwell in the off-season to help bolster the position. While Conwell is solid when healthy, none of the tight ends currently on the roster have shown game-breaking ability. Hilton will have to show a knack for getting open, particularly in the red zone, where he can use his 6’8� 262 lb frame to his advantage. While he is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster, an outstanding camp could skyrocket him up the depth chart, leaving the coaching staff with a difficult decision between Hilton, Boo Williams, and Walter Rasby.

3. Demetrius Smith-FB: Demetrius Smith is an imposing figure that will push incumbent Terrelle Smith for the starting job at fullback. While Terrelle has been a solid lead blocker for two different 1000-yard tailbacks, his lack of ball handling skills has tarnished what has been a relatively solid NFL career. Because Terrelle is used mainly as a blocking back, the Saints offense has become predictable when he is in, and they need more of a threat at the fullback position. The coaching staff seems high on Demetrius, but he will have to show that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as pound it up the middle while protecting the ball. Demetrius will have to perform at his highest level in order to have a chance at making the club, unless Terrelle goes down with an injury.

4. Tavian Banks-RB: Banks is trying to resurrect his football career after sustaining a serious knee injury. The Saints are in desperate need of a quality backup for Deuce McAllister. Curtis Keaton has not lived up to the fourth round pick the Saints gave up to acquire him, so Banks has a shot at winning the backup job. The Saints will give Keaton every opportunity to keep the backup role, however, the job will go to the most capable opposed to the most expensive. Banks has a shot to make the club if he can outperform James Fenderson, who has been a serviceable backup, but nothing special. Banks’ future will solely depend on how well he comes back from the knee injury.

5. Travis Carroll-LB; Carroll was one of the surprises from last year’s training camp, made the final cut and contributed on special teams before getting injured early in the season. Carroll will have to have another spectacular training camp in order to stick this year. He will have to prove himself invaluable on special teams, and will be fighting an uphill battle at middle linebacker with Orlando Ruff, Darren Smith, and Cie Grant. Carroll may get caught in a numbers game at the linebacker position, so it will be important for him to stay healthy to get in as many reps as possible.

6. Derrick Lewis-WR: New Orleans native Derrick Lewis has the upper hand on the fifth receiver spot on the roster. Lewis went to camp with the Saints last year, was released and signed to the practice squad, and then was activated for the final two games of the season last year. He will be battling two late round draft picks, Kareem Kelly and another New Orleans native, Talman Gardner. Lewis is a tall, lanky receiver that has good speed, and could be a solid fourth receiver if given the chance.

7. Chris Finlen-QB: The battle for the third string quarterback will heated between Finlen and second year quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan. Finlen spent time in NFL Europe playing for the Barcelona Dragons, completing 55.6 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 87.1. Finlen has all of the physical tools to play in the NFL, but like O’Sullivan, lacks experience. O’Sullivan still has a long way to go before becoming an NFL-caliber quarterback, but has one more year than Finlen in the Saints system. Finlen can push O’Sullivan for the third spot due to Finlen’s superior physical attributes.

8. Kenderick Allen-DT: Allen suffered a knee injury before his senior season, and never played up to his potential while at LSU. Allen possesses great size (6’6� 318 lbs) and could be a force in the middle if shows any passion in playing. Allen has battled injuries and a seemingly willingness to take plays off. While he is a long shot to make the team, Allen could benefit if Grady Jackson doesn’t report in shape, Jonathon Sullivan has a long holdout, or if Kenny Smith doesn’t blossom into the player he should be at this point. Injuries could also come into play with Allen’s chances of making the team. Ultimately, it will be up to Kenderick Allen.

9. Curtis Holden-LB: Once again last year, Holden was injured and never was able to contribute to the team once he was placed on injured reserve. Holden possesses all the physical skill needed to be an outstanding linebacker in the league, but injuries have slowed him down. Once again, if he stays healthy, he will make the team as a backup. If he suffers another injury, Holden’s time in New Orleans will probably end.

10. Todd Bouman-QB: It’s a no-brainer that he has the second-string quarterback position sewed up. Bouman will get plenty of work during training camp while Aaron Brooks rehabs his surgically repaired shoulder. Why does Bouman make the list? Bouman has a rocket for an arm and could be a starter in the NFL for a few teams. It is rare that quarterbacks in the NFL last the whole season without missing time, so the chances of Bouman seeing action this year are pretty good. Expect plenty of news out of training camp with Bouman being the subject, touting his arm strength and his ability to lead this team in the event of Brooks going down with an injury.

coastalkid 07-24-2003 06:37 AM

Ten to watch for in training camp
Excellent post. Some very good info here. I\'m particularily interested in Hilton (TE) and Smith (FB) as both are areas that could use some improvement. Thanks

Aaron2 07-25-2003 12:52 AM

Ten to watch for in training camp
I agree with coastalkid. Great post, and I can\'t wait to see that huge tight end of ours in action at the B&G scrimmage.

FWtex 07-25-2003 01:26 AM

Ten to watch for in training camp
Good thoughts ... but these look like long shots to make a difference. for the saints to make the playoffs this year i think it comes down to 5 positions.

1. MLB - someon has to step up and stuff the middle run and drop into coverage. Cie is my prayer!

2. def line and this all drops on the rookie sullivan. scary thought.

3. Safety- I only hope they are able to pull it off. this to me is a huge gamble on HaZ part.

4 . Backup RB. Must have someone to play for another teams starting spot next year.

5. O- line has to mesh with starters and backups.

This could very easily be the saint year bit it could also be a year of disaster. Personally I think the saints can take it all, but they have to play with a purpose all year!

SaintsFan 07-25-2003 01:30 AM

Ten to watch for in training camp
Great post, top notch.

coastalkid 07-25-2003 06:54 AM

Ten to watch for in training camp
I think we need to add a sixth position to your list. Full back. Terrell Smith is a very good lead blocker but has little if any value as a run threat or a receiving threat. This one dimensional type of guy just won\'t cut in todays NFL. We need to have a FB that can do multiple roles running, receiving, blocking out LB\'s. Smith has only one of those down.

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