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Saints offense now Brees to, ah, whomever

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METAIRIE, La. — The media had its first glimpse Thursday of the New Orleans Saints’ new-look offense, which will be operating this fall without three of quarterback Drew Brees’ main targets from the last few seasons.

Gone are All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Pierre Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills. In their places are tight ends Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill, running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

While Spiller is the only newcomer to the team, the others haven’t been as big a part of their productive offensive unit as Graham, Thomas and Stills — even though Cooks was well on his way last year before suffering a season-ending thumb injury in November.

The one area that has drawn the most attention during the offseason is tight end, where Watson and Hill, called on to help more as blockers the last few seasons, will likely see more balls thrown their way now.

“Honestly, you can’t dwell on who you don’t have or the circumstances there, but I love Ben Watson, I love Josh Hill,” Brees said. “I love the guys we have and I feel like those guys can make a big impact for us as well as the other skill positions — the receivers and running backs.

“I love Jimmy (Graham) and I miss Jimmy, not only as a player but as a person, (but) life goes on and I like the players that we have.”

Only three days into OTAs, Brees said he likes the versatility that Watson, Hill and free agent Orson Charles bring to the offense.

“Absolutely, (Ben) is a guy who can do it all, as can Josh (Hill) and Orson Charles,” Brees said. “I just love the way that these guys work, the way they work together. I just like their approach to everything they do. They are true pros.”

And as far as what Spiller can bring to the table after catching several short passes during Thursday’s work, Brees said, “There’s really nothing he can’t do.”

–After signing cornerback Brandon Browner in free agency to pair with two-year starter Keenan Lewis on the outside, the Saints are looking for someone to step in as their new nickel corner.

To hopefully cover themselves, the Saints picked up two cornerbacks in the draft, although third-round pick P.J. Williams and fifth-rounder Damian Swann will likely be competing with veteran free agent acquisition Kyle Wilson.

Of the two draftees, Williams would seem to have the inside track on the slot job after some analysts had him going late in the first round or the second before the Saints grabbed him with the 78th overall pick.

Williams slid down the draft boards after an early April arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence, a charge that was later dropped because of a lack of evidence. He also reportedly left the scene of an accident in October but returned 20 minutes later.

The 6-foot, 196-pound Williams played the nickel spot in his first two seasons at Florida State, where he built a reputation as a sure tackler. He also showed coach Sean Payton during the team’s rookie minicamp that he is capable of playing inside, but Swann will certainly get a good look as well.

–While Brees had some of his new offensive weapons at his disposal Thursday, when media were allowed to watch the team’s third OTA, he didn’t have his new center.

Former Pro Bowl center Max Unger, acquired along with a first-round draft pick in the deal that sent Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, was excused from practice for a birth in his family.

Despite Unger’s absence, Brees said the two are making positive strides.

“There’s a timing and a rhythm to a lot of what you do in that quarterback-center exchange,” Brees said. “Those are things that are just time on task that I’m confident we will have down here pretty soon.”

Quarterback Garrett Grayson, a third-round draft pick, also was not at the practice because he was participating in the rookie premiere.

–The play of the day in Thursday’s workout came from inside linebacker Stephone Anthony, the team’s second first-round draft pick this spring.

Anthony, who is considered a solid pass defender, came up with an interception against backup quarterback Luke McCown during 11-on-11 drills.

McCown pump-faked to his right and went back to the left. But Anthony, who played mostly as the backup Mike linebacker on Thursday, wasn’t fooled and stayed with the play to come up with the pick.

–Payton said two young players, Zach Hocker and Dustin Hopkins, will vie for the kicking job that came open when veteran Shayne Graham was released last week.

On Thursday, Hocker made all four of his field-goal attempts. Hopkins, who finished the 2014 season on the Saints’ practice squad, missed his final try and was 3 of 4 during the workout.

–Running back Mark Ingram, who was signed to a new contract in the off-season after a breakout season in 2014, was also among those missing the workout.

“We just held him back today, but he’s been full speed up until this afternoon,” Payton said. “He’s doing well. … There is no injury specific. We just backed off a bit.”

Among the other players believed to be held out because of injuries were nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley, defensive end Glenn Foster and rookie cornerback Damian Swann.


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