Drew Brees outduels Tom Brady, young corners shine and other Saints-Patriots practice observations
Posted: Wed Aug 10, 2016 1:48 am
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The death of Drew Brees has been greatly exaggerated.
Three days after a four-interception practice, the Saints veteran quarterback responded with an impressive performance during intra-squad workouts against the New England Patriots on Tuesday at the Gillette Stadium practice complex.
Brees matched Tom Brady throw for throw throughout the day and masterfully executed a successful two-minute drive during situational team drills. Brees was clearly the most efficient quarterback on the field.
Afterward, Saints veterans Zach Strief and Luke McCown both told me unsolicited that Brees was having one of the best camps of his career.
He looked as good as ever during the two-minute drill, calmly completing passes and marching the Saints in the red zone, then capping the drive with a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks, who beat Patriots star corner Malcolm Butler in single coverage.
It was one of the clear highlights for the Saints.
Brady, meanwhile, was intercepted by Saints rookie Sheldon Rankins on the second snap of team drills and failed to earn a first down against the Saints' first-team defense in his turn in the two-minute offense.
--It's obviously impossible to make a full evaluation after one practice but Michael Thomas looks like a bona fide playmaker. The rookie from Ohio State already has earned the complete trust of every quarterback on the roster and has become a go-to receiver in key situations. That's heady stuff and a positive sign for a rookie two weeks into his first NFL training camp.
--Rookie Sheldon Rankins flashed the athleticism that attracted the Saints to him during the NFL Draft. On the second snap of team drills, the burly defensive tackle intercepted Brady on a screen pass at the line of scrimmage and then rambled down the sideline for an apparent score. The hand-eye coordination required to make the pick was impressive.
--Patriots coach Bill Belichick is sending a clear message to everyone that there will be no quarterback controversy here regardless of how well Jimmy Garoppolo performs as starter during the first four games of the season. Brady is listed No. 1 on the depth chart and received the bulk of the reps with the first-team offense. Garappolo will start in Weeks 1-4 but the clear No. 1 is Brady. Case closed.
--It's been well documented how well young cornerbacks P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris are playing and the trio flashed again on Tuesday. Harris made a nice diving interception of Garoppolo when he outfought Aaron Dobson for the ball on a crossing route. Crawley had a couple of nice pass break-ups and showed a nose for the ball. What's more, all three play with the swagger necessary for the position.
--Thomas Morstead is going to have a big year. Morstead's 45.6-yard average last season was the second lowest of his career but he's healthy again and it showed on Tuesday when he boomed several monster punts with impressive hang time.
--Sean Payton was unhappy with the competitiveness of his perimeter corps at the line of scrimmage versus Patriots defensive backs. More often than not, he said the Patriots disrupted the timing of the Saints' passing attack because they were able to successfully tie up his receivers in press coverage. As a result, Brees and Luke McCown were forced to check down their passes to running backs out of the backfield.
--Hardly earth-shattering news here, but Garrett Grayson is a distant third on the quarterback depth chart. Grayson has improved from his rookie season but at this point is not a threat to veteran McCown, who has a stranglehold on the backup spot behind Brees.