Mike D's Top 10 Weekly Observations sponsored by Thibodaux Regional Medical Center/Sports Medicine Clinic @thibodauxregion
1. Brandin Cooks: I wrote in my 2014 M&D Draft Report that after watching Cooks at Oregon State for three years he reminded me so much of former Carolina Panthers and current Baltimore Ravens WR. Steve Smith.
He is everything that has been advertised!!!
In doing an interview with Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux in July, Mannion pointed out to me that most people don’t fully appreciate how fast Cooks is out on the field.
“It’s sometimes so hard to see what he does after the catch out on the field, but when you watch the game film you come away stunned with his speed and his ability to get away from defenders. It’s stunning sometimes and he never drops the ball either.”
Friday night Cooks caught five passes for 55 yards and one score, and he displayed those sure hands, great speed and 1st rate run after catch skills.
And he played every WR position and also saw work in the slot displaying his football intelligence and his ability to pick up new assignments and different route running details.
Football Savvy… Cooks has it and while Darren Sproles had exceptional quickness and make-you-miss moves the Saints have not had a homerun hitter in the same football vein like Cooks since Reggie Bush.
He is “Football Special” and he ain’t no Larry Burton, who was a track athlete playing football.
Cooks is a fast football player who ran track.
We just saw a glimpse of what he will bring to the football table in the first preseason game.
2. Stanley Jean Baptiste: Somewhere during the 2014 season the Saints will have to call on SJB to come in and play a big role in the secondary.
Like he was at times at Nebraska, Baptiste seems much more comfortable in “press” coverage spots than in the “off” coverage sets or in zone coverages.
It’s still a learning curve for the former college wide receiver.
During the radio broadcast on WWL-870 color analyst Hokie Gajan stated that “Baptiste is asking for advice from the two veteran cornerbacks in Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey on every drill and in reality they are really in his ear on every drill and practice session to be honest.”
I closely watched Baptise during the OTA’s in Metairie and Keenan Lewis was talking into his ear hole almost every drill session and helping coach the very talented 2014 second round pick.
In a workout session during the summer with LSU freshman WR. Malachi Dupre, Lewis told me that he was taking Baptiste under his wing and would help with his techniques and encourage him along the way in Year #1, just like Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu did for him in Pittsburgh.
“Somewhere during the season we will need Stanley to step up and he needs to be mentally ready,” Lewis said. “This league is unforgiving and you will give up some plays, but you have to be mentally ready to accept that and make a big play yourself without getting down on yourself. Ryan, Troy and Ike helped me through that process and I am going to help Stanley with that process here.”
Right now it is obvious that SJB is not quite ready for primetime, but I have written this before and I believe it. Like Terron Armstead last year there will be a time Baptiste will have to step into the starter’s role somewhere in 2014.
3. Terron Armstead: Last year we just saw a glimpse of the talents of the former Arkansas Pine-Bluff left tackle. From the OTA’s in the spring to Game #1 of the preseason what we are seeing is the progress of a future NFL Pro-Bowler.
After one of the OTA sessions Armstead jokingly told me he hoped the Saints would run the ball more this season so he could showcase his more physical nature.
In Game #1 the Saints ran the ball quite a bit to the left side when Armstead was in the lineup and he was getting a pretty strong push against one of the best defensive ends in the NFL.
His work with Willie Roaf in the off-season and his extra work on his techniques and becoming a more “power” packed player is evident.
The NFC East has the 3 best left tackles in the NFC in Jason Peters (Eagles), Tyron Smith (Cowboys) and Trent Williams (Redskins)…. It won’t be long before Armstead is the best left tackle in the NFC outside of the NFC East.
Armstead is a key piece in upgrading the Saints rushing attack that averaged just 3.8 yards per rush in 2013.
In 2009 the Saints averaged 4.5 yards per rush and in 2011 the Saints averaged 4.9 yard per carry.
4. Josh Hill: Last season the 6-5, 235 pounder from Idaho State made the team by his special teams skills.
We all saw early in the OTA’s and in game action Hill has really progressed as a blocker and he has good hands. His run after catch skills in Game #1 was impressive by the Big Guy.
5. Ramon Humber: Like Hill, Humber has made his mark with the Saints on special teams, but last season Rob Ryan used Humber during some situation plays on defense in 2013 and he did a really good job.
I like Humber and I think his football “light” has come on and you can tell with his improvement on getting off of blockers quicker and his skillset to get around bigger blockers.
The guy was always a heat-seeking missile when blitzing from the inside.
Sometime very soon Humber will get a chance to be a starter in the NFL.
6. Mark Ingram: The Saints offensive line did a very good job against one of the elite defensive units in the NFL early on against the Rams and the former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner made the most of it.
I wrote this late last season and I believe it today after watching him in the opener that the big difference with Ingram today is that he trusts his rushing instincts and his field vision better.
Many times when things were bottled up inside Ingram would try and outrace defenders to the edge.
You can almost forget about making a living doing that in the NFL.
Now, Ingram is more patient with his blockers, but also he is a more decisive runner and trusting his natural rushing instincts and field vision.
It’s interesting this is occurring during his contract year and the young buck, Khiry Robinson, is breathing down his neck in order to get more touches.
7. Tyrunn Walker: I wrote a piece for the Houma Courier and SaintsReport.com during the OTA sessions that I saw a much quicker Walker than I had seen in the past and he seemed to be a much better leverage player in the limited “hitting” sessions.
This is what the preseason is all about… evaluating the big offensive and defensive linemen in one-on-one “strikes” and Walker stepped up big Friday night.
Friday night Walker used his arms and hands well to come off blocks and he lowered his shoulders and got good leverage to knife into the backfield a few times for big hits.
In the past Walker was known for his run stuffing skills and he was a solid NFL player, but based off of the OTA sessions and Game #1 Walker looks like the most improved defensive player on the squad from a year ago.
Walker’s upgrade comes from him playing lower at the point of attack, he keeps his balance better and moves his feet quicker at the point of attack and he uses his quickness to leverage better into the backfield.
Along with Glenn Foster Walker has given the Saints a solid back-up unit and there is some real pass rush potential in defensive end Rufus Johnson, Jr., also.
8. Watching the opening preseason game between the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions I am leaning heavily today that Johnny Manziel, barring an injury, will be the starter against the NO Saints in Game #2 of the regular season.
9. I am convinced that the 2014 LSU Tigers have the most talent and the best depth I have ever seen on a Tiger team across their offensive line in my 27 years of scouting.
La’el Collins gets most of the ink upfront and he had a very strong junior season at left tackle and he could well end up being a first round pick in 2015, if he can upgrade his pass blocking skills, but watch for #65 Jerald Hawkins.
The redshirt sophomore is getting rave notices from his coaches, defensive linemen and his own offensive linemen teammates.
Tigers starting offensive center Elliott Porter says that Hawkins is one of the team’s best athletes and football players.
“I am going to steal your job for a little while and say that Hawkins will be a first round NFL pick when he decides to enter the NFL. Athletically he is special and he has worked hard to get stronger and upgrade his techniques as a pass blocker. The sky is the limit for him.”
10. Elijah McGuire: I will say that coming out of Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma McGuire was one of the 3 best football players I have seen from the Bayou Region in 20 years.
He was a one man show for Vandebilt and rushed for 2,603 yards and scored 31 touchdowns at quarterback as a senior.
A number of schools backed off from recruiting McGuire fearing he would not qualify academically, but UL-Lafayette made the right choice and brought him aboard.
All he did as a freshman for ULL was rush for 863 yards, averaged 8.4 yards per carry and score 8 TD’s. He also caught 22 passes for 384 yards and 3 scores and average 15.3 yards per return on 3 kickoffs.
UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth says that McGuire is primed for a huge sophomore season.
“He’s exciting isn’t he,” Hudspeth said. “He has that rare trait to make people miss in space and he has another gear to kick into out in the open. Very few athletes can score from anywhere on the field with the ball in their hands, but he can. This season we are going to give him a shot as a punt returner too. He can change field position for us and that is vital in today’s game. Elijah came in here kind of rail-thin, but he has worked hard in the weightroom to physically get stronger and he has put on 25 pounds of muscle. He’s electrifying out in the open… Let’s just make sure we get him as many touches as we can to give him that shot to hit the homerun.”
Mike Detillier is a spokesperson for @Thibodauxregion.
Thibodaux Regional’s new $63 million dollar Wellness Center/Sports Medicine Clini, the fist of its kind in Louisiana, is expected to open in January of 2016. It’s a game-changer for Louisiana in the wellness/sports medicine world.