Training camp season is almost here. The freshly cut grass, the crack of pads and the sweltering summer heat signals the start of the NFL preseason. Training camp is the first signpost of the new season, and anticipation is building around one team’s training camp; the New Orleans Saints. Sean Payton’s team enter the 2021 season forced to embrace a new era. Legendary quarterback Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season; the Saints are now inhabiting a world without a franchise quarterback.
New Orleans re-signed Jameis Winston in the free agency period; Taysom Hill replaced Brees for four games when Brees missed time due to injury. Lastly, the Saints drafted Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book. The quarterback story will provide fans and analysts with plenty of content over the summer. It’s time to examine the quarterback competition that will take place in training camp.
Get yourself someone that looks at you like Sean Payton looks at Taysom Hill. The Saints head coach first saw Hill start a preseason game for Green Bay several years ago. Payton immediately grabbed Jeff Ireland to hold an impromptu scouting session. The duo liked what they saw; after Hill got cut by Green Bay, the Saints claimed him. Hill initially emerged for the Saints as a Swiss-Army knife player. He would pop up on special teams plays, plus he would enter the game on offence all over the formation.
That all changed as Brees went down with 11 broken ribs last season, Hill was QB2 on the depth chart, and Payton inserted him into the starter’s job for four weeks. Hill hadn’t started a game at quarterback for four years until he took the reins in New Orleans. New Orleans went 3-1 in Hill’s emergency relief appearances.
Hill played at an acceptably adept level to suggest he could become the future quarterback for the Saints. His unique skill set is incredibly appealing to offensive-minded coaches, and he got the job after Brees got hurt. It’d seem as if he is the favourite to take the job.
Hill may be the favourite; however, Jameis Winston will have his own designs on the starting quarterback’s role. The former first overall pick spent most of the season on the sidelines. He did make sporadic appearances, twice against the Bucs, in a blowout win and the NFC Divisional round game. Winston got selected first overall for a reason; his big arm, physical stature and power were key reasons why draftniks fell in love with him.
Unfortunately, two things stopped ended Winston’s time in Florida. His turnovers and disciplinary problems saw him get ousted. Sean Payton and New Orleans offered him refuge, a year spent learning from Brees, and Payton should stand him in good stead for 2021. The story of Winston’s career will have many chapters; the training camp story could get labelled redemption if Winston takes the QB1 shirt.
These two players are incredibly different; it’s worth analysing their strengths and weaknesses. We will start with Taysom Hill. Plenty of people view Hill as a gadget player; I’m afraid I have to disagree; in the brief time Hill played, he showed enough quarterback traits to suggest he can play at the NFL level.
After spending so much time with Brees, it is no surprise that Hill now looks very similar to his mentor. Hill’s ‘blue 80’ cadence even sounds like Brees. Taysom Hill’s mechanics are smooth. His footwork when dropping back from under center is polished. Hill’s Next-Gen Passing chart displays that he was solid when throwing in the intermediate areas of the field.
Sean Payton didn’t fully unleash Hill in that four-game stretch; he used the BYU product like a classic pocket passer. Hill demonstrated decent arm velocity and aptitude for going through his progressions. Hill kept the ball for too long, and at times he seemed nervy in the pocket. It is understandable, given that they were his rookie snaps at quarterback, that Hill felt edgy; sometimes, he looked trapped between wanting to bounce out of the pocket with his legs when it was apparent that Payton wanted him to stay in the pocket.
Hill played a safe style of quarterback; he managed the game and tried to limit mistakes. It looked like Hill was playing custodian of Drew Brees’ offence.
Conversely, through his six-year career, Jameis Winston hasn’t played a safe style quarterback. He is an aggressive gunslinger who takes chances with his passing. Winston, like the early version of Matthew Stafford, believes he can make any throw. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Winston’s mechanics; it’s his mental skills that blighted his time in Tampa. Quarterbacks get separated by their decision making; Winston’s is erratic. Take the passing chart from the 2019 season; Winston can throw the ball to any part of the field. He can throw short, intermediate and deep. But, there are three interceptions in the middle third of the field. That suggests that Winston is attempting tight-window throws and misreading the defence.
How Will the Training Camp Battle Play Out? And What Does Sean Payton Want?
As of right now, there is no QB1 in New Orleans. The nature of the Saints’ mini-camp work extended to gym workouts rather than on-field drills. Therefore, it is difficult to glean the favourite. However, the Saints offence got built around Drew Brees’ skills. Brees was the ultimate pocket passer; we mustn’t forget that New Orleans was a high-octane passing offence in the post-Superbowl years. Before he physically declined, the Saints were a dynamic offensive force.
Logic would suggest that Winston is much closer to Brees than Hill. Winston is a dropback passer with the ability to air the ball out deep. That is something that disappeared from the Saints playbook in the last two years. If Winston demonstrates that he’s learnt from Brees regarding the mental game, Winston could shine. With a ton of Alvin Kamara usage allied to Payton’s expertise, things could click for Winston in New Orleans.
On the flip side, Hill’s unique skillset is something that will excite people. In an era where dual-threat quarterbacks are starting to come back into fashion, Hill is a fascinating proposition. He runs a heavy, downhill style that makes it seem like a cannonball is rolling down Mount Rushmore. GM Mickey Loomis said yesterday that they are still high on Hill. Although, starting Hill could force a significant change. In my opinion, Hill’s legs need to get used more if he is to play quarterback.
Sean Payton may alter the offensive scheme to a power-run style out of heavy personnel. After inking tackle Ryan Ramczyk to a considerable extension, the fortification of the offensive line is complete. Alvin Kamara is still the best do-it-all back in the business, and Adam Trautmann is a gritty blocking tight end. Utilising a lot of misdirection, pre-snap movement, and RPO could make life simpler for Hill. So much of offence gets focused on adding as much sugar to the pre and post-snap look; Hill is the perfect player to exploit that in a multitude of ways.
Hill vs Winston is arguably the training camp position battle to follow in the NFC. Both have their strengths, as well as weaknesses. Both players are exciting to watch for very different reasons. One is much more traditional; the other is anything but traditional. Sean Payton is one of the ultimate chess players within the NFL. Will he zag while everyone zig’s? Or can he revive a former first-round player’s career? Moreover, Sean Payton helped take Tony Romo from undrafted to perennial Pro-Bowler. Plus, he took Drew Brees from an outcast in San Diego to a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Whoever gets the nod from Payton will be must-watch TV. Strap yourselves in, the NFL season is around the corner, and it starts in the training camp confines of the New Orleans Saints.