Jul 28, 2019; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Butler (17) catches a pass over defensive back Kayvon Webster (39) during training camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

Derek E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports

Deuce McAllister on spirited day of padded practice for the Saints

Offense struggles, but battles at WR & RB in focus

Seth Dunlap
July 28, 2019 - 3:00 pm

Today was the unofficial, official start of Saints training camp as the pads came on and the players were able to hit each other a bit at practice.  For all of the talk about lessening the brutal physicality of football, let’s be honest; it’s not the same sport without guys running into each other on the field.

Players and coaches seemed to have a little more pop in their step coming off the field today.   Not unexpected for a group of professionals who are assuredly a bit tired of the non-contact drills they’re mandated to participate in most of the offseason.

“Pads come on, and the players are excited.  They got lucky though, it was overcast,” Deuce McAllister said after practice.  

Deuce was right about the weather, as it was a complete non-factor today.  There was no excessive heat, and the rain held out until after practice had ended.  A relatively perfect day during a time of year where you don’t’ get many of those.

It wasn’t a perfect day for the Saints offense, however, as they struggled at times to adjust to the pad-on approach when playing against a physical, playmaking defense that should be one of the better units in the league this season.

“I thought overall the defense probably had the better day of the groups,” Deuce noticed.  “I thought the offense had a couple runs, made a couple plays, but overall I thought the defense had the better day.”

If there’s one player on offense that’s standing out, it might be undrafted rookie receiver Emmanuel Butler who has flashed a nice combination of size and ball skills through three days at camp. 

“I think he’s had enough flash plays.  I think he’s had enough flash plays where it’s always you looking down and to say, man, that kid is making another play.  Who is that? Emmanuel Butler keeps showing up,” an obviously impressed McAllister said. “That’s something that Sean (Payton) and Drew (Brees), they’ve mentioned.  So if he can be a consistent receiver for those guys he gives them an option.  Has to be able to translate throughout the games and we’ll see how it goes.”

Butler’s arc to the NFL has followed a familiar path.  He wasn’t recruited by any big time college football programs and settled on an offer to play at Northern Arizona.   Then, all 32 NFL teams looked past him during the NFL draft, with Butler never hearing his name called during three days of selections.

“It’s a chip on his shoulder, but you’re looking for the right fit too.  When you have the opportunity to sign with a team you have to go where they’ll really give you an opportunity,” McAllister said of Butler’s decision to sign in New Orleans.  “That’s one thing the Saints have shown they will do, is regardless of how you get here if you come out and perform like he’s doing, you’ll get an opportunity.”

While must of the focus this camp has been on the battle at wide receiver, there’s an interesting tug of war developing within the running back group.  Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray are locks to make this roster, but the Saints are searching for a solid third option behind those guys.   That’s created a battle between veteran Dwayne Washington, rookie Devine Ozigbo, and potentially Theo Riddick, the ex-Detroit Lions back who has a visit today with the Saints.

 “I think you see opportunity. I think that’s what it is,” Deuce said.  “You bring in Theo Riddick they’re going to look at him and probably work him out.  See if that’s a fit that they like.  A player that has played in the NFL a lot.  Has probably caught a lot of passes and can be a backup for Alvin (Kamara), in case there’s a nick or two with him.  I don’t know how settled they are at that No. 3 position, but that’s a guy who can contribute on offense but a guy who has to play special teams as well.”

Training camp is just beginning but already you can see the battle lines being drawn as a small amount of roster spots are likely to be up for grabs next month.

Programming note: Listen for a special Training Camp edition of SportsTalk this afternoon with Saints color analyst & all-time leading rusher Deuce McAllister with Seth Dunlap from 3 to 6pm...on the flagship station of your New Orleans Saints - WWL, the Big 870AM, 105.FM, WWL.com and anytime on the RADIO.COM app.

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