2012 training camp preview: New Orleans Saints

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

More NFC South training camp previews: Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers

Training camp goals

1. Avoid another circus. The Saints would love nothing more than to have a camp that is devoid of the myriad distractions that dominated their offseason, which is what suspended coach Sean Payton asked of them when he left in April. Payton told his coaching staff and the players to do their jobs and get ready for a season that will be different without him and without acting head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games.
The Saints' record-setting offense will be under the spotlight because Payton won't be available, leaving offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. to call the plays. That transition shouldn't be foreign since Carmichael called the plays in the second half of the 2011 season after Payton fractured his leg.

2. A new-look defense will have to come together quickly. The Saints will get down to work under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose scheme is quite different than that of Gregg Williams.

[Related: Who will top Drew Brees' record contract?]

Under Spagnuolo, the Saints will try to generate a pass rush from the front four instead of leaving their linebackers and secondary vulnerable at crucial times when Williams rolled the dice with all-out blitzes. Ends will also be called on to drop into zone coverage more than in the past.

Spagnuolo favors the zone defense because it limits the big plays that are prevalent these days. The Saints gave up 99 big plays last year on running plays of 10 yards or more or pass plays of 20 yards or more. The goal is to drop that to 75 or less.

Player to watch

Running back Mark Ingram. The Saints' coaching staff felt Ingram, who had no real offseason because of the lockout, was just starting to scratch the surface when he was injured twice.
Ingram, who had rushing games of 91 and 80 yards, suffered a heel injury in late October and then was sidelined with turf toe in December. That put him on the bench for the final month of the regular season and he also missed the playoffs after having surgery.

Ingram had a cleanup procedure on his knee in May, which knocked him out of the OTAs and June minicamp. But the Saints are hoping he'll be healthy for the start of training camp.

On the hot seat

Kicker Garrett Hartley. The Saints have always valued Hartley for his strong leg, but he missed the 2011 season because of a hip injury that he suffered in an exhibition game. He was ably replaced by 42-year-old John Kasay.

While Hartley was expected to return this season, the Saints surprisingly re-signed Kasay, who was 28-of-34 on field-goal attempts last season and 2-for-2 in the playoffs. Even though it's not uncommon for teams to bring in an extra kicker for camp, this move shows that the Saints are trying to keep Hartley motivated in reclaiming his job. Hartley has made 85.7 percent of his field-goal attempts since joining the team in 2008.

Full Saints team report

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