||08-02-2005 08:36 AM
Blog and Tackle:First days of camp
Blog & Tackle: First weekend in the books
Aug 1, 2005 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ 9:12 am
While new contracts for Deuce McAllister, Jammal Brown and Mike McKenzie grabbed most of the headlines for the first few days of training camp, the Saints quietly had a nice first weekend of work on Airline Drive. Despite oppressive heat that saw temperatures hover in the mid-90s with heat indexes reaching triple figures, fans came out in droves to get a first look at the Black & Gold.
Rather than bore readers with funny tales about life at Saints Camp, I'll go straight to my reporter's notebook with on-field observations from the first weekend of training camp.
With linebacker James Allen nursing a sore knee (an MRI came up negative), Cie Grant has been working with the first group of linebackers. In casual conversation, I've heard Coach Jim Haslett gush about Grant's abilities. If the former Ohio State star -- who played cornerback, safety and linebacker in college -- can avoid ongoing knee trouble, the Saints could have another really nice young player at linebacker. Interestingly, Grant has moved into the weakside spot with Colby Bockwoldt sliding over to the strong side in Allen's absence. Second-year man Courtney Watson remains in the middle. Add rookie Alfred Fincher to the mix at the position and you have a really interesting mix of young talent.
The Saints also have an interesting mix of talent at tight end. One of the more ear-opening statements Haslett made on Sunday was that the lanky Zach Hilton is working as the No. 2 tight end, just behind veteran Ernie Conwell. At 6-foot-8, Hilton is a VERY intriguing red zone target who has flashed soft hands and good athleticism in two seasons mainly spent on the practice squad. Free agent acquisition Shad Meier had been working as the No. 3 tight end, but Meier will be out for a couple of weeks with a slight tear in his meniscus (knee). Meier is one of my favorite guys on the team and I hope he bounces back quickly. In the meantime, former starter Boo Williams should see his reps increase. And don't forget that blocking specialist and locker room leader Lamont Hall is still in the mix at tight end too.
Other random observations from training camp: Antowain Smith is HUGE. This guy made a living pounding out yards between the tackles for two of New England's recent Super Bowl victories and you can see why: Smith looks more like a bruising tight end than a tailback. Between Smith (Mr. Inside) and Aaron Stecker (Mr. Outside), the Saints look to have a really nice 1-2 punch behind McAllister at running back ... Darren Howard, who has typically sported facial hair and some variation of dreadlocks or braids the past few years, is sporting a new look for training camp this season: Clean and mean. Howard looks years younger with a tight cut that's about as close as you can come to a shaved head and an almost cleanly-shaven (minus a little chin patch) face. Perhaps it's a trend, as Aaron Brooks also arrived at camp with a closely-cropped 'do this year ... One Saint who isn't going with the "high-and-tight" haircut --McKenzie -- is endearing himself to fans in his first training camp on Airline Drive. McKenzie, easily recognized by the flowing dreadlocks that tumble out the back of his helmet, brings something to the cornerback position Saints fans haven't seen in some time: Substance and swagger. The guy just looks the part and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Free agent signee Dwight Smith seems to bring similar assets to the safety spot ... Say what you want about Johnathan Sullivan, but he was the very last player signing autographs for fans after practice ended on Sunday. Drenched in sweat but wearing a smile, Sullivan mingled with fans for a good 45 minutes after Sunday's steamy workout ... All weekend long fans could be seen picking up free Saints yard signs emblazoned with the marketing campaign cry of "You Gotta Have Faith." The signs, offered to fans as a grassroots means of supporting the team, have been a big hit and are going fast. The signs are available in the Saints boxes offices in Metairie and at the Superdome ... Next weekend marks the first big event of training camp: The Black & Gold Scrimmage and Family Fan Fest in Jackson, Miss. Tickets start at just $10 and are available through all Saints ticket outlets.
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