New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton likes pranks. He also likes sending messages – sometimes even at the same time.
Such was the case last year, when he placed gas tanks throughout the Saints’ locker room.
“He was asking the older guys how much gas do you have left in the tank?” Saints tight end Ben Watson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think that this year we found that we have plenty of gas left in the tank, but it is going to be a mixture. We have some young players, and throughout an NFL season, there’s going to be times where younger players are going to have to play more, older players are going to have play less and vice versa. Obviously Drew Brees is a guy that has been a leader on this team for a long time. He’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve seen him in my short career here with the Saints, so we’re really excited about that.”
Brees has thrown for at least 4,900 yards and 33 touchdowns in four straight seasons. He also turned 36 in January. Watson turns 35 in December. The team’s top returning receiver, Marques Colston, is 32. And Jimmy Graham, one of the best players in the NFL, was traded in the offseason.
That puts a lot of pressure on 21-year-old Brandin Cooks to produce. The 5-10 wide receiver caught 53 balls for 550 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games as a rookie before breaking his thumb last November. Now fully healthy, Cooks could emerge as the No. 1 threat in the Saints’ passing game.
“I really hope so,” Watson said. “He is obviously very talented, but he’s a guy I’m really proud of off the field as well – somebody who is a student of the game but also in life he’s taken tremendous strides. He’s very mature. We spend a lot of time off the field just talking about life, so it’s really exciting for me to see him go out and make plays. He’s very, very hungry. And when you have that hunger and you mix that with talent, I think the sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to have an opportunity to do a lot of great things in this offense. The offense is wide open and caters to a guy with his talents. That’s why he’s here obviously. The hope is that he has one of those breakout years.”
Even if Cooks exceeds expectations, though, will the Saints be able to score in the red zone on a consistent basis? That has been a major area of concern thus far in the preseason, and the fact that it coincides with the absence of Graham is not a coincidence.
Nevertheless, Watson isn’t worried.
“Every year, teams change. Every year, guys leave,” he said. “Jimmy is a player that is very unique. He’s an elite tight end. In my opinion, he’s one of the top one to three tight ends in the NFL for the last few years. You don’t look to find a guy to be him. Those kind of guys fall in your lap. That’s what happened with Jimmy. What we do want to do, however, is win football games, No. 1. When we do that, we need to score, but there’s other ways to score. We can throw the ball in the red zone, we can run the ball in the red zone – we have other guys. Every year, new guys come in regardless of what team you’re on. Scoring is not going to be the issue.”