Saints camp: Three goals and top battle

Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) won't have tag-team running back Mark Ingram for the first four games.Photo: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the Saints' priorities

Three goals:

  • Figure out roles in the most competitive areas of the defense. Veteran free agents Patrick Robinson and Kurt Coleman join a youthful secondary that lost free safety Kenny Vaccaro, a starter for the last five seasons, Demario Davis joins an extremely competitive linebacking corps and No. 1 draft choice Marcus Davenport is expected to compete for the starting position at right end. In addition to battles for starting positions, there are significant roles in the nickel and dime schemes that have to be sorted out. There will be a revolving door of combinations in all three areas of the defense at last through the first two preseason games.

  • Decide on the best way to adjust to Mark Ingram's absence for the first four games. Ingram is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, but he will be sidelined for the first four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. So there are big shoes to fill for the first quarter of the season, and the Saints don't want to do it by over-working Alvin Kamara. That means finding out if Terrance West, Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams, or Boston Scott are ready to average double-digit carries during those four games or if it's better to limit the carries for whoever winds up at the top of that pack and leaning more on Drew Brees and the passing game until Ingram returns.

  • Establish the pecking order at wide receiver. Head coach Sean Payton likes to utilize four or five wide receivers, but last season there wasn't anyone dependable after Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints tried to upgrade this area by signing Cameron Meredith as a free agent and drafting Tre'Quan Smith in the third round. They also brought back Brandon Coleman. They think their depth is improved, but it remains to be seen who will be most dependable.

Top battle:

--Right defensive end. The Saints made a pricey trade to move up in the first round and draft Texas-San Antonio end Marcus Davenport to add an impact player to their defense. But is he ready to make the leap from Conference USA to starting in the NFL after just one training camp? He's likely to be the starter at some point this season, but if he isn't ready right away the Saints do have other options. Alex Okafor would be even more difficult to unseat as the starter if he weren't coming off Achilles surgery. Nonetheless, the Saints felt confident enough about his rehab to re-sign him. Also, Hau'oli Kikaha is a solid backup the Saints could lean on if Okafor's rehab and Davenport's adjustment to the NFL don't go as efficiently as they hope.

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