3 players we’re watching at Day 8 of Saints training camp

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After an event full day at New Orleans Saints training camp on Wednesday the team will retake the field today hoping that calmer heads will prevail. After a brief scuffle led to the removal of offensive lineman Trevor Penning and defensive lineman Malcolm Roach, the Saints will head into Thursday’s training camp practice looking to strike a better balance of constructive aggression and competition. While painting will draw our eyes there are a few players that will be watching during today’s session including yesterday’s bigger story with the return of safety Tyrann Mathieu.

S Tyrann Mathieu

Yesterday’s largest development was the long-awaited return of three-time All-Pro Mathieu. While he did participate in walk-throughs he did not participate in drills, team, individual or otherwise. Seeing him take a step forward into 7-on-7s or team drills would be a very big surprise as head coach Dennis Allen explained that the safety will have “a little bit of a ramp up.“ But if he does participate and even position or individual drills that’s still a step forward, and a step closer, for Mathieu and the New Orleans defense.

The story of Saints camp so far has been a dominant performance of their defense. Often times defenses simply click faster than offenses during training camp. However for the Saints, defensive production is no stranger. Mathieu’s addition to a unit that has been top-five in scoring over the past two seasons is sure to have a massive impact.

Part of what will make the defense a unique threat in 2022 the pairing of the former LSU tiger and fellow safety Marcus Maye. Allowing the two to get “time on task“ together throughout training camp will be a pivotal cornerstone to the development of this year’s defense.

WR Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas took a major step forward during yesterday‘s practice. Since he surprised the NFL landscape with his return the first day of training camp, Thomas has only participated in walk-throughs and individual and position drills. Yesterday that changed.

On Wednesday, the NFL record-breaking receiver took his first snaps in 7-on-7s. During which time he would catch all three targets he was thrown. He was targeted twice by starting quarterback Jameis Winston and once by backup Andy Dalton. On all three of those reps there was something promising to be seen in Thomas’s play. During one he showed off his violent ability to make a cut off his injured ankle, on another we saw his unique knack for creating separation and the final showed his strong hands and contested catch capabilities. Just seeing Thomas in 7-on-7s again today would be a great sign.

OL Trevor Penning

After three straight days of camp scuffles, things came to a head for Penning yesterday. He was sent in from practice along with defensive lineman Malcolm Roach following a tussle that led to quite a bit of commotion. Today, as the pads come back on in front of fans things are sure to be physical yet again. Can Penning bring the requisite aggression that makes him special without things getting over the top again? Alternatively, can the players he’s matched up against keep perspective and not be warped by the growing reputation of the rookie left tackle?

This will be an interesting storyline to continue to watch throughout camp. Penning has a long-standing reputation for being a mauler, a violent offensive lineman. Something the Saints should, and likely do, cherish about his play style. But once it starts to become a distraction, the coaching staff has shown no hesitation in shutting it down.

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Story originally appeared on Saints Wire