1. VICTOR-IOUS RETURN.
With all the outside talk about the New Orleans Saints needing to add a linebacker to the corps, it’s easy to forget that there already is a relatively new one on the roster – Victor Butler. Butler, a free agent addition in 2013, missed all of last season after tearing his ACL during offseason workouts. He worked hard to make a return during the season but finally was shut down when it was deemed he simply wasn’t ready. Well, he should be ready now, and his return should be the equivalent of the Saints adding a prized free agent to the roster. If Butler can do the things that the Saints believed he could do when he came over from Dallas – and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan best will know if Butler is ready, having coached him in Dallas, and best will know how to use Butler’s talents – then it should help upgrade a unit that looks to build on a standout 2013 season.
2. SALUTE CADET.
This is Travaris Cadet’s big chance. Perhaps no Saint stands to benefit more from the Darren Sproles trade to Philadelphia than the third-year running back, who will get the opportunity to fill in the “Sproles” role as jack-of-all-trades back and potential return man. Cadet’s knowledge of the offense will be critical (Sproles was lauded for his football IQ and ability to make the correct read in all situations), but Cadet has had a couple of seasons to absorb the playbook. It won’t be fair to expect him to possess Sproles’ quickness or suddenness (rookie receiver Brandin Cooks might best mimic that), but he has shown ability on kickoffs and he’ll have an opportunity to show he can handle increased duties on offense.
3. FLY WITH BYRD.
Safety Jairus Byrd, the jewel of the Saints’ free agent class, has made a name for himself on Sundays – 22 interceptions, 33 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in five seasons with Buffalo. But all that production begins during this time, the offseason, where the preparation is paramount. The Saints are counting on Byrd, and his takeaway mentality, to rub off on his new teammates and instruct them on the finer points of creating extra possessions for his offense. As good as the Saints were on defense last season, the one soft spot was turnovers forced. New Orleans created just 19 turnovers last season and it wants to increase that number. Byrd was signed to help and hopefully tutor his teammates in that area.
4. EXTRA WORK.
With no Jimmy Graham available, Saints tight ends will have a chance to get in some extra reps with quarterback Drew Brees. That’s not as critical for 11-year veteran Ben Watson as it is for second-year man Josh Hill, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last year, and this year’s rookie tight ends who are acclimating to NFL life. The increased workload should be beneficial in terms of gaining knowledge of the playbook, and it should give coaches a more detailed look at the prospects who are hoping to grab a roster spot.
5. ROOKIE CLASS.
Cooks is absent this week, but the other rookies hope to show they’ve retained the information they were given at their rookie mini-camp. Specifically, the Saints’ second-round pick, cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, may be worth keeping an eye on. At 6feet 3, 218 pounds, he’s the biggest corner on the roster and his development may be crucial for the Saints as they prepare to face a bevy of tall, speedy receivers this season, especially in the NFC South Division. Competition at corner should be fierce – Patrick Robinson also is returning from a torn ACL, Corey White gained valuable experience when he stepped in to start for injured Jabari Greer last season, and they’ll be in the mix behind projected starters Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey. But Jean-Baptiste should know by the Saints’ history under Coach Sean Payton that the coaches go by what they see on the field, meaning he’ll have every opportunity to earn snaps.