OTA observations: Jameis Winston playing through limp; Tyrann Mathieu already making his presence felt

Notes and observations from Saints’ first open OTA.

ATTENDANCE: The New Orleans Saints were without many key players during Thursday’s open organized team activity. Among those missing were: QB Taysom Hill, WR Deonte Harty, WR Mike Thomas, RB Mark Ingram, CB Bradley Roby, S C.J. Gardner-Johnson, CB Marshon Lattimore, S P.J. Williams, RB Alvin Kamara, LB Demario Davis, OT Landon Turner, DL Kentavius Street, OT James Hurst, OL Andrus Peat, WR Jarvis Landry, TE Adam Trautman, DL Marcus Davenport and DL Payton Turner.

 S Marcus Maye was present but didn’t participate. Davenport and Turner are among the players at the facility doing rehabilitation work, according to sources. Rookie WR Rashid Shaheed was present but did not participate.

 Coach Dennis Allen said after practice he has spoken with every player not present and is comfortable with their reasons for not attending. He said the team does not have any problematic situations.

WINSTON PARTICIPATES: Quarterback Jameis Winston took part in practice a little more than six months removed from undergoing ACL surgery. He practiced with a brace on his left knee and took part in every facet of practice, though he sat out the last period of 11-on-11 drills. The quarterback moved with a visible limp. He could push the ball downfield during individual drills but most of his passes during the team portion of practice stayed close to home.

 Winston connected on 5-of-8 passes during his first period of 7-on-7s, though one of his misses was a drop by Tre’Quan Smith. Winston only threw one pass off the mark, an attempt to Marquez Callaway with rookie Alontae Taylor in coverage. Another incompletion came when linebacker Kaden Elliss knocked the ball out of tight end Juwan Johnson’s hands on a curl route over the middle.

 Winston still has some work to do in his recovery. The silver lining here is that any limitations are forcing him to work the shorter areas of the field, an area where Winston has said he wants to improve.

MATHIEU IN THE MIX: You could see right away New Orleans has big plans for Tryann Mathieu. The safety lined up all over the field during practice. He lined up as the deep safety, in the box and played some snaps where it looked like he was coming off the edge. The Saints have talked about their plans to move safeties all over the field. We saw the first signs of that with Mathieu on Thursday.

 His presence at practice is also notable. With many veteran players staying away, Mathieu already is working to establish himself as a leader. At many points during Thursday’s session, Mathieu was on the sidelines giving pointers to younger players.

PUNTING AWAY: With Blake Gillikin managing an injury, Daniel Whelan handled punting responsibilities. The rookie certainly brings a big leg, hanging one punt for an impressive 4.91 seconds. But he looked a little inconsistent and mishit a few of his early attempts. Whelan will need to lock in and take advantage of the opportunity in front of him if he wants to force a competition with a player as talented as Gillikin.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: A lot of what we saw from the rookies during their practice earlier this month held true during the first OTA. Left tackle Trevor Penning moves well on his feet; wide receiver Chris Olave has special movement abilities; and Taylor just looks the part. On Thursday, the cornerback’s ability to turn and run stood out at moments. The team played a lot of zone coverage, which put Taylor in off coverage during 7-on-7s, but he did a good job recognizing plays and crashing down. He’s far from perfect, but he’s starting at a good point and should make the competition with Paulson Adebo interesting.

 QUICK FLASH: Here’s a statement we’ll probably regret making later: Tight end Lucas Krull looked pretty good. The 2022 UDFA moves well and knows how to get open. He made one of the best plays of the day when he went up to catch a corner route after moving into Taylor’s coverage zone. The rookie has an opportunity to make his mark on a depth chart that is currently wide open. We’ll see what he does with it.

QUICK FLASH 2: Safety Justin Evans stood out several times during practice. He’s smooth and moves well. The former second-round pick has battled injuries and is working to re-establish his career. That will be a long process, but he looks like he belongs and doesn’t appear to be limited in his movement ability. He needs to be considered in conversations about the depth at safety.

LINING UP: With Davis out of practice, Pete Werner and Eric Wilson handled the first-team linebacker snaps. Werner looked to be playing in the middle, at least early on. He made a couple of nice plays when crashing down and closing on passes over the middle.

With the offensive line largely out of action, many players saw opportunities at various spots. Forrest Lamp took snaps at guard and center. Ethan Greenidge played some guard, and Jerald Hawkins took snaps at right tackle. Penning played left tackle.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Dylan Mabin nearly intercepted an Andy Dalton pass intended for Kevin White along the sidelines. The quarterback floated the pass a little bit, allowing Mabin to close and nearly take off with the ball. Mabin showed good instincts, but it also was a tough decision by the quarterback.

The positives for Dalton: He looked capable of leading the offense, and he took an active role coaching up Ian Book on the sidelines.





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