The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
New Orleans Saints
Report date: July 19 (rookies), July 26 (veterans)
Location: Metairie, La.
1. Is this Drew Brees’ last camp as a Saint?
That nervous laughter you hear rolling up out of the bayou is the chittering of Saints fans who are slowly realizing that Brees is only playing on a one-year deal that he signed last offseason. Brees, cruising quietly in Tom Brady’s wake, remains a quietly dominant quarterback, throwing for over 5,000 yards as recently as, well, last season.
Come 2018, Brees is going to want to get paid bigly, even though he’ll be entering his age-39 season next year. So all eyes will be on Brees this year, watching for any signs of dropoff, any tics that would justify (or not justify) paying an aging-but-still-viable QB a gargantuan final deal.
Oh, and the best non-Brees QB currently on the roster? That would be Chase Daniel, who has thrown exactly one more touchdown in his career than you have. Yeah, it’s safe to say that Brees will be a topic of discussion in Louisiana from now until next spring.
2. Who’s the alpha dog out of the backfield?
Right about now, the Saints have the best fantasy backfield of 2011, with newcomer Adrian Peterson lining up beside Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Throw rookie Alvin Kamara, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, into the mix and oooo-weeee, you’ve got you a tasty running back gumbo! (It’s a law that you have to mention gumbo in any article involving the Saints.)
That’s a pretty serious thunder-lightning-hail attack for a team that happens to have one of the greatest passers in NFL history on its roster. The Artist Formerly Known As Purple Jesus is keen to prove that his best days aren’t years behind him, so the key for the Saints will be figuring out which situations work best for his and Ingram’s skill sets.
What’s Peterson got left in the tank after a decade in the league and 2,400 carries on his legs? We’re about to find out.
3. Who’s healthy on the line?
Not as many people as New Orleans would like. All that QB genius and running-back talent isn’t worth much if the defensive line beats the ball into the backfield, and it’s here that the Saints have some real concerns. Pro Bowl center Max Unger is sidelined after foot surgery; he hopes to be back for Week One, but that’s by no means a definitive.
Two slots down, monster left tackle Terron Armstead injured his shoulder during OTAs and is out for at least a good chunk of the season. Those are two key components of the Saints’ offensive attack; without them at full strength, New Orleans is going to be scrambling far more than it should.
The training camp battle to replace/understudy them—as well as defensive tackle Nick Fairley, out all season with a heart ailment—will be fierce, and one well worth watching.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.