03 August 2014

Great Expectations

Over the past two months, the budding hope for the Saints' 2014 season has only intensified.

courtesy of nola.com

Where the offseason--through free agency signings, a promising draft, and the retention of key players--built on the strong returns from 2013, this year's training camp has thrown more gas on to the now blistering fire of great expectations for the 2014 Saints.

Still a week removed from the team's first preseason game, there's an enveloping sense of championship-season-in-the-making. Though these expectations are similar to other preseasons of the Sean Payton era, this year feels just a bit different.

During the 2009 preseason, there was confidence and hope after a few seasons of falling short in a variety of ways. In 2011 there was intrigue amidst the chaos of the lockout, yet one that failed to hint at the dominance we'd eventually witness during that season.

Now? I can't shake the feeling there's a deep-rooted, impenetrable belief that this season is destined to be a defining moment of the Sean Payton era, at least from a purely 'football' perspective. That, of course, offers needed context considering the impossible-to-predict renaissance of 2006, the enduring beauty and joy of 2009, and the face-melting thrill-ride of 2011.

In spite of the regression that was a side effect of Bountygate, there remains the hope that what once seemed inevitable--Lombardi Gras II--still has a heart that beats on, one that refuses to recede into history with a listless fade.

There's a finality to the Payton-Brees Saints that's yet to be determined, and if the abundant evidence from this preseason is any indication, that resolution portends something inescapably special. Forgive me for refusing to let it go completely, but Roger ain't getting the last word here. Fuck that. You know it's what they're all thinking.

If you think this all sounds like hyperbole that's a result of my bias as a Saints' fan, well, you're probably right. But you should know that I am not alone.

In early July, the venerable (and hopefully not senile) Archie Manning said of this Saints' team: “I think the Saints’ line-up on paper to start the season is maybe as strong as I’ve ever seen before.” A week or so later, Albert Breer, the striving heir apparent to Peter King, referenced the Saints' "supreme confidence." 

Confidence is at such a peak level that Drew Brees indicated he wanted to play football for another ten years. He wasn't joking. Not to be outdone, Sean Payton said he's ready to coach until age 80.

Sensing the moment, Thomas Morstead pondered punting a football over a mountain, or a hill, or something.
Drew Brees then went on to call Pierre Thomas "the best all-purpose back in the league."

And for good measure? Brees has been doing stuff like this when practice ends:

As an aside, while we're hyperbolizing, it's not implausible to think that Brees is set for a career year, in spite of how good he was in '08, '09, '11, and '13. Favre did it at 40. Peyton did it at 37, after several neck surgeries. Let's not go kicking dirt on Drew Brees's prime quite yet. Haven't you been paying attention these past fourteen years?

Terron Armstead, who has apparently had a standout camp, will play a central role in helping Brees maintain the otherworldly benchmarks Brees has set. Here's Brees on Armstead:
“You love everything you see. Not only just his talent, but you see it in his eyes ... What I see with him is intensity and confidence, and that is what you love to see in a left tackle, ready for any type of challenge.”

Remember, Armstead ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any lineman in the history of the NFL Combine. You should probably read that sentence again. This dude is quite an athlete. He also has the Pine Bluff, AR-connection with Willie Roaf. That seems like some kind of affirming fate.

And in case you missed it, Armstead also appears to be rather strong:

If all that not's enough, Brandin Cooks has wholly captivated his Saints' teammates, media, and fans more so than any other player. Ben Watson said of Cooks, "this kid is at a different speed."  Keenan Lewis has since dubbed Cooks "Lightning."

Darrin Gant of Pro Football Talk, after watching Cooks effortlessly outrun Saints' defenders, commented: "... the video of [Cooks] pulling away from the Saints defense is frankly alarming."

Frankly. Alarming.

Thank you for that, Darrin. We'll all be sure to run that into the ground by week four. But for now, thanks!

In an interview this past week, Jim Henderson said Cooks hasn't dropped a pass thrown his way at camp.

And finally ...

Are you paying attention, Atlanta?

Because this is what's coming in week one, against a team that owns you.

Brees, Graham, Cooks, Khiry ... Junior, Akiem, Cam, Vaccaro ...

I hate to leave out Colston, Stills, Jahri, Jairus, Bush, and Keenan. But there are almost too many good players to name right now. Meantime, Matt Ryan is probably futzing over what to wear for his HBO debut on Tuesday.

You know what this is shaping up to be? Elephants versus pissants, in the parlance of Thomas Pynchon. I wonder if Hard Knocks, as it chronicles the Falcons' buildup to their season opener against the Saints, will remind its audience that Sean Payton is 12-2 versus Atlanta? You know, just for context, and for shits and giggles too.

One thing I'm sure HBO won't mention, but bears repeating, is that Sean Payton has not lost a game in the Superdome since October of 2010. 2010! The opposing defensive coordinator in that last Dome loss? None other than Rob Ryan.

Now Payton and Ryan are teamed up again for another crack at a Super Bowl title. Hyperbole aside, a 6-2 road record in 2014 and things will be looking swell for homefield advantage and another Super Bowl appearance for the Saints.

Last season, they pried the door back open a little bit.

This year, let's hope they kick that motherfucker down.