Derek Carr’s backup battle, Lattimore to return: What to know before Saints minicamp

Sports

METAIRIE, La. — When New Orleans Saints running back Jamaal Williams was asked to describe Klint Kubiak’s new offensive system on Wednesday afternoon, he paused to think of how to describe it.

“It gives me nostalgic vibes of what I’ve seen in the past and … played against, so, I likey,” he said with a smile.

Williams wasn’t talking about 2022, when he scored 17 touchdowns while with the Detroit Lions, or even the successful offenses of past Saints teams. He was specifically recalling when Raheem Mostert, then with the San Francisco 49ers, rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the 2018 playoffs. New Orleans intends to run a similar version of that style of offense made famous by Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, the fathers of Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and Kubiak.

It’s the kind of success Williams can get behind.

“I’ve seen this offense before,” he said. “Going against it, watched it. I remember Raheem Mostert going crazy against us in Green Bay. … It’s THAT offense. I love it.”

The Saints, who recently announced former quarterback Drew Brees will be inducted into their Hall of Fame this fall, are clearly trying to move past their own nostalgia after moving on from longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. This offseason has been targeted toward moving away from the old playbook, made famous by Brees, and into a new one — one specifically targeted toward the new generation of Saints players.

“It was kind of more Drew Brees style, the last playbook,” Saints wide receiver Chris Olave said. “All credit to them though, they built that around him, around those players. But this playbook is more for matchups, and I feel like it’s going to be better for us.”

That’s something that will continue when the Saints open mandatory minicamp next Tuesday. Here’s what the Saints have done so far and what to watch in the last practices before training camp begins in July.

Jake Haener isn’t conceding the backup quarterback spot

Rookie quarterback Spencer Rattler received a lot of the early attention after the Saints took him in the fifth round of this year’s draft. But it’s second-year quarterback Haener who has looked consistently impressive in the early days of the backup quarterback competition.

Allen said that Rattler, who has thrown three interceptions during the portion of OTAs open to the media, is learning that the throwing windows close more quickly in the NFL than in college. But Allen said that’s all part of the learning process.

“I’m encouraged by what I see out of him, and certainly there’s a lot of improvement left to be had, but I think he’s making some good progress,” Allen said.

Haener said that he wasn’t discouraged when the Saints selected Rattler just one year after taking him in the fourth round.

“I’m going to be as prepared as I can be,” Haener said. “Just because there’s a little competition, [it] doesn’t scare me. This is the NFL and, at the end of the day, if I want to accomplish my goals, I have to compete with a lot of different people.”

Haener is the only quarterback who has yet to throw an interception during the portion of OTAs open to the media. Starting quarterback Derek Carr threw his first interception in the open portion on Wednesday after his pass was batted at the line and then tipped into the hands of linebacker Demario Davis.

Haener’s rookie season was derailed after he was suspended for the first six games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He said that he came into this year with a new sense of confidence, partially due to the new revisions to the playbook.

“There’s a lot on your plate as a rookie. There’s new people, new system, new coaching. You’re in the NFL now,” Haener said. “I feel like this system helps us to see things a little clearer. I guess the terminology … it’s not what Drew did. When it was taught to Drew in 2009, I wasn’t even 10 years old yet. It made sense to Drew, but it might not make sense to Jake Haener in 2024, 15 years later.

“I think now, it’s just more like, things make sense and there’s a rhyme or reason to things, and you can learn things faster and quicker. So I feel really confident going through the huddle.”

More participation from the cornerbacks is expected in minicamp

Allen said that he expects everyone to be at mandatory minicamp next week after some key players were missing from OTAs.

That means running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore are likely to be in attendance. Lattimore and Kamara both missed OTAs in 2022 and 2023 before returning for minicamp.

Neither has been in attendance during OTAs this year, although teammates and coaches have said that Kamara was around the facility in the offseason. Lattimore was injured in Week 10 of last season and has not been around the Saints’ facility this offseason.

Saints defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson said that he wishes that Lattimore had been at OTAs to get some work in on “little details” but expects to see him next week.

“I’ve only had one year with Lattimore. Obviously he’s extremely talented. Obviously I wish he was here,” Robertson said on Wednesday. “I do think there’s some things that he could do to be better, but from an athletic perspective, he’s extremely talented. Now, if he could put that together … with some technique and a little bit more knowledge of the game as far as how he’s being attacked, I think he’ll be exceptional.

“I mean, because he’s a phenomenal corner in this league, so you can’t take that away from him. But I do think he is missing out on an opportunity to get better as of right now.”

The Saints also expect to work second-round pick Kool-Aid McKinstry into practice next week after he sat out the first portion of OTAs with a foot injury.

“I’m … itching to get out there with the guys and build that bond, that chemistry that’s going to be very special to this secondary,” McKinstry said. ” … But just control what I can control, and what I control right now is going hard in treatment and getting back to myself.”

Questions in the trenches won’t be answered anytime soon

Offensive lineman Trevor Penning said moving from left tackle to right tackle feels like a “fresh start” after he was benched last year. Rookie first-round pick Taliese Fuaga is learning to play on the left side after playing right tackle throughout college.

How those players will handle their new positions likely won’t be answered until the pads come on during training camp. It’s one of many questions for an offensive line that no longer has swing players such as retired James Hurst and now-Raiders lineman Andrus Peat. There’s also been no sign of right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who is battling what could be a career-threatening knee injury and isn’t expected to participate in minicamp.

New free agent addition Oli Udoh could be one of those swing players, although he has yet to fully participate in the open practices.

“I think he’s got flexibility to play both [tackle and guard],” Allen said. “And I think we’re going to look at, OK, where are we at on the offensive line and where can he best help us in that situation? I don’t think we’ve made any decisions in terms of exactly where we’re playing. I think we’re going to end up getting the best five out there and that’s what we’re going to do.

There’s just as many questions on the defensive line after rotational pass-rusher Tanoh Kpassagnon injured his Achilles and is out for a large portion of the season at minimum. Free agent addition Chase Young also isn’t expected to participate in minicamp practice while rehabbing from offseason neck surgery.

“He’s been here everyday and he’s in all the meetings. When we’re out here in practice, he’s doing the rehab,” Allen said. “I see a guy that’s highly motivated to have a great year. I think to this point he’s been on track in terms of the healing process.”

The Saints will likely need young players such as Payton Turner and Isaiah Foskey to realize their potential in order to have a successful pass rush this year.

The Saints had only 34 sacks as a team, and Cameron Jordan, who will be 35 in July, finished with just two. Carl Granderson, who led the team with 8.5 sacks last year, said he can’t wait to see Young get back on the field.

“He’s real talented. I’m excited. He should be coming back pretty soon. Him on the other side, he can play a little bit of inside too,” Granderson said of Young. “We’re going to have some dawgs out there. We’ve got me, Cam, Chase. … I’m just excited for everybody just to come … we’re just going to get after it.”

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