Another year, another preseason game against the Saints. This week, Brian Gagnon from BRB's sister site for the New Orleans Saints, Canal Street Chronicles, came by to answer some questions about the Houston Texans' familiar August foe.
1. Chase Thomas was a big draft crush of mine earlier this year, and I was not alone in my surprise to see him go undrafted. How has he looked in camp and preseason games? Does he have a shot to make the roster and become another undrafted success story?
Thomas was actually just cut by the Saints a couple of days ago and picked up by the Raiders. Early indications were that he was making a few plays in camp, but apparently not enough to keep him around even this long. This comes as a surprise to me since I recall some draft experts giving him, I believe, a third round grade heading into the draft. I thought the Saints got a steal by grabbing him as a UDFA, but apparently that was not the case.
2. The Texans fan base and University of Texas fan base intersect pretty heavily, so I'm sure they are interested in watching Kenny Vaccaro play in the NFL. How has he looked?
I've heard endless praise about Vaccaro's intensity in both games and camp. He's yet to really make any huge plays that demonstrate his coverage ability, but he's got a nose for the ball. His closing speed has been impressive, and he seems to arrive to the ball seconds before incumbent starters Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins would ever get there.
3. What should we expect this season from a Saints offense that is welcoming back their mad scientist of a head coach?
Obviously, I think it's safe to expect a great offense from the Saints, especially with Payton back. But to get a bit more specific, I think you're going to see an improved run game, and considerably less interceptions from Drew Brees as a result. Back in 2011, the Saints had the #6 running game, which allowed their passing game to reach another level. If Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles can stay relatively healthy all year, I think you will see a much better run-pass balance than in 2012 when they never really got the run game going and Drew had to force some passes.
4. Is the New Orleans defense looking any less vulnerable than they did last year? Are there any under the radar defenders we should keep an eye out for?
While I do think they're going to be less vulnerable, I don't think you're going to see a top 10 defense emerge here. But that doesn't need to be the case for them to be successful with an offense like that (see 2009 season- bad defense but lots of turnovers). If they could just be mediocre and force some turnovers, their offense can do the rest, and I think that's VERY possible with this aggressive defense.
Some defenders to keep an eye on would be our two young pass rushers, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, both of whom were very efficient pass rushers in limited time last season. Victor Butler's injury, while a terrible loss, opens the door for them to stand out. Akiem Hicks is a guy who I think is on his way to being dominant. As a rookie out of a Canadian college, Hicks was more than capable of holding his own last year, which bodes well for his second season. He has the versatility to play both DE and NT in the Saints' new 3-4 scheme, and I think Rob Ryan will utilize his athleticism.
5. PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: The 2013 New Orleans Saints will finish with a record of ___________ and earn _____ place in the NFC South.
I think the Saints and Falcons will both finish 12-4, but I see the Saints reclaiming their title as the NFC South Champions. With Payton, they have owned the Falcons, so I'm confident (and admittedly a bit biased) that they will be able to handle them this season.
Thank you to Brian for joining us. Make sure to go on over to Canal Street Chronicles for their take on this weekend's contest.