With the final exhibition game over, New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton move on to what has to be the hardest part of their jobs: narrowing their pre-season roster to the regular season maximum of 53 players.
The team had already made two tough cuts early when they parted ways with players with somewhat of a history with the team: linebacker/special teams captain Troy Evans and wide-receiver/punt returner/2009 preseason stand out Rod Harper.
One player who had been on the bubble for the past two seasons though can probably breathe a bit easier these days is wide receiver Adrian Arrington, who this writer admits was the player I was rooting would make the roster. The Michigan product had bounced around from injured reserve to the practice squad to occupying a spot on the Super Bowl championship roster though was never given an opportunity to contribute towards the Saints historic win.
Arrington had an outstanding pre-season catching 11 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns, making the most of the chances he was given. Though the Saints are thick at wide receiver, with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Courtney Roby as the team’s top five receivers, Arrington’s impressive performances in exhibition games meant that his days of riding the pine on the practice squad were over and that he’d either end up on the Saints 53 man roster or some other teams.
Another pre-season star that benefited from a good pre-season and the misfortune of others is running back Chris Ivory, the favorite of many of the sports writers who covered training camp. At first pegged as a camp body, season ending injuries to running backs Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill, who were considered the team’s third and fourth running backs, gave the Tiffin product an opening not even the Saints award-winning offensive line could create, and Ivory made the most of it.
While not having the exhibition breakouts on the level of Hamilton or Pierre Thomas’s, Ivory’s short reception for a 76-yard touchdown against San Diego got people talking. Though the Saints have added two more experienced running backs since Hamilton and Hill went down, I’ll be surprised if Ivory gets cut.
The quarterback situation is more about positioning than a fight over a roster spot. Though the Saints went back and forth throughout 2009 on having two or three quarterbacks on the 53 man roster, Missouri standout Chase Daniel did well enough in pre-season to likely avoid an exile to the practice roster, since cutting him might result in him being scooped up by another team.
Daniel and Patrick Ramsey had about even (and far from Brees-like) showings in the team’s preseason finale. Daniel threw for more yards and had a touchdown, however Ramsey had a higher completion ratio and didn’t get picked off. I think the Saints will keep three quarterbacks on the roster though Ramsey will serve as Drew Brees’s primary backup.
The defensive side of the ball will feature the most post-cut arguments. While the Black and Gold’s regular season starters on all sides of the ball were established for weeks, the question of reserves and future Hall of Fame safety Darren Sharper’s future with the team have been topics of debate.
Sharper’s starting position was lost to Malcolm Jenkins when it became apparent that his recuperation from surgery wasn’t progressing as hoped. Despite having a great 2009 season, teams, even those desperate for help with their secondaries, passed on signing Sharper. However if the team doesn’t have confidence in his capacity to return and with roster spots needed for back-ups, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name did not appear on the roster come Saturday.
The final decision reached on the safeties will cause some gnashing of teeth as a familiar face is likely to be gone no mater which direction the Saints front office goes in.
The team’s re-signing of defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy is an omen that LSU draftee Al Woods’s hopes of landing a spot on the active roster are close to nil. The Saints also have to make touch calls on defensive end and linebacker, with rookie defensive end Junior Galette having his boosters. If Galette survives the roster purge, it’ll be at the expense of a veteran. My gut feeling is that he won’t make the cut though he is certain to be signed to the practice squad if some other team doesn’t sign him to their 53-man roster.
Along with Galette, defensive ends Jimmy Wilkerson, Bobby McCray and Jeff Charleston are likely all crossing their fingers since the team is unlikely to keep 6 defensive ends on the roster.