Finally the long months of non-football has ended.
It is just preseason, but the hope of another Super Bowl run has begun for the "Who Dat Nation" and while it is just the first preseason game it is very obvious that the New Orleans Saints are major contenders to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 49.
There are four elite teams in the NFC in Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans and which one of those four teams can stay the healthiest and get home-field advantage will pave the way to Super Sunday in February of 2015.
Friday night was the first dress rehearsal and a couple of things stuck out to me.
First of all, if there was any question that rookie first round pick wide receiver Brandin Cooks was not the real McCoy he put that to rest real quick.
Cooks caught 5 passes for 55 yards and one score and displayed the electrifying speed and elusiveness I saw for three seasons at Oregon State.
He doesn't have much of a learning curve to maneuver around at the NFL level.
Cooks is fast, no doubt about that, but he is also a good route runner, elusive after the reception and he has sure hands.
But what really sticks out about him is his football intelligence. You can't teach someone to be a natural at what they do and to have the ability to pick up certain things quickly.
In the first preseason game Cooks played the X, Y, Z and slot positions at wide receiver and he also returned punts.
For a rookie that is impressive to play all the wide receiver spots and build that trust with his quarterbacks that he will be in the correct spot when trying to locate him downfield.
Yes, he is fast, elusive, sure-handed, and a fine route runner, but you can't teach instincts and intelligence and he has that also.
In a year in which you had so many quality wide receivers come into the league via the draft like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Jr., Jarvis Landry, Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Cody Latimer, Cooks has stood out from the crowd and he gives this football team the most exciting open-field threat they have had since Reggie Bush.
And while Cooks did not make a big impact in Game #1 as a return man he impressed me with how he caught the punts and one in particular which came off the side of the punter's leg like a knuckleball and he made the secure grab.
There are certain things in sports you can't teach someone and one of them is catching a punt securely. Either you can catch and return punts or you can't. Cooks can do this and do it very well.
From training camp to the first preseason game the one thing everyone will say about him is "Wow".
The other real strong positive I took from this game is that I had and still have some concerns about the play of the offensive line in 2014.
Back in the starting lineup from 2013 are Ben Grubbs, Jahri Evans and Zach Strief, but there will be a new starting center and Terron Armstead has only played a handful of games at left tackle.
Last season for almost 80% of the season the Saints just couldn't crank up a rushing attack and Drew Brees got hit and sacked more than any other time in a Saints uniform.
But last night without the Saints two starting guards in Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans the Saints rushing attack was very impressive and it all started upfront.
The guys that jumped out on film to me early were left tackle Terron Armstead and center Tim Lelito.
Both newcomers as fulltime starters played well against one of the elite defensive fronts in the NFL in the St. Louis Rams and helped pave the way for Khiry Robinson to rush for 23 yards on 5 carries and Mark Ingram to rush for 83 yards on 8 carries.
Both scored rushing touchdowns. Both runners really impressed me with their "head of steam" in hitting the hole and their tackle breaking skills, but both got really good help upfront initially.
Robinson is a physical player that has good field vision and once he gets his shoulders squared you don't want to meet up with him one-on-one. In Mark Ingram you see a more confident player and he is finally starting to trust his instincts and natural vision to finish off his runs with power, like Robinson.
And he is healthy.
But it all starts upfront.
What I saw was a much more physical nature from both Armstead and Lelito as run blockers and that is what this team has lacked since the 2011 season.
I never doubted the pass blocking skills of Armstead, but I wanted to see a more rugged style of play as a run blocker and I saw that early on. With Lelito his work in the off-season to master the technical part of playing center is clearly shown and this young man is a really good young prospect.
With Armstead I am very confident he has the skills to be a Pro-Bowl performer and quickly in the NFL.
For the Saints offense to really hit high gear they need a strong rushing attack and the Saints upfront group in Game #1 was more than impressive and to be honest I came away very impressed with back-up offensive guard Senio Kelemele also.
The 6-3, 300 pounder from Washington is a former fifth round pick in 2012 by the Arizona Cardinals and he also was impressive clearing holes for both Ingram and Robinson.
While it is still early I liked what I saw from the Saints starting offensive line and many parts of the second team offensive line mainly as run blockers, but also in the pass protection part of the game.
While the learning curve was sharp for 2014 first round pick Brandin Cooks, the curve will have to be taken at a slower level for second round pick cornerback Stanley Jean Baptiste.
Baptiste struggled when he was not lined up in "press" coverage situations and while he has the athleticism and size NFL teams covet at the position he technically is not ready for fulltime duty at the NFL level.
It was pointed out during the broadcast that Baptiste was always asking for pointers during team drills.
The reality is that he has Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey constantly giving him the full details on playing the position from play to play in practice.
Lewis told me in the off-season that he was taking Jean Baptise under his wing as a player and that every snap in practice and in a game situation he would be in his ear explaining to him the nuisances of the game and encouraging him.
Every Nebraska coach I spoke to raved about Baptiste's physical skills, but pointed out that he was a "reps" guy and it would take a little time for him to adjust to the NFL.
In training camp and in Game #1 of the preseason they are dead-on right.