The Saints have now trimmed the roster down to their initial 53-man roster. However, this is not the end of the roster construction process for this week. Other players will join the team’s practice squad in the coming days.
There will be many more changes to the roster as players go to IR, meaning players who were released will come back. Along with 16 players, many of whom Saints fans will be familiar with will return to the Saints’ 16-man practice squad. Players can be signed to the practice squad from 4 pm EST on Wednesday. So, let’s discuss why the practice squad is important and some names to watch.
There are several players who have had very good offseasons, who either are unfortunately playing at a position the Saints are very deep at, such as wide receiver, defensive end, and in the secondary. Maybe, some are rookies who haven’t had enough in-game action and need more time to develop to make it to the 53. Or Vets who are fringe roster players who can make an impact for the odd game here and there, on special teams, or in a rotation.
The practice squad is a perfect place to keep these players and I would argue having a strong practice squad is a very important and under-the-radar element of roster building. The players can continue to learn the team’s systems and continue to work with a coaching staff who knows their strengths and weaknesses, with the idea they could be called up to the 53 at a moment’s notice.
I’m going to highlight seven players who should be candidates for the practice squad. providing they clear waivers.
Four Offensive Players Who Could Join The Saints Practice Squad
Ian Book (QB)
Book is entering his second season in the Saints system after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft. Unfortunately, he has not developed as the Saints front office, coaches or fans would have hoped.
It is not all bad though, Book has shown some desirable elements. He’s shown good scrambling abilities and has made some throws that you need NFL QBs to make. It appears at this stage that Book’s role would be best as a backup QB.
The practice squad seems a perfect place for Book, it would give him more time to grow, and max out what he will be in the league.
For the Saints, it gives them a player to continue to groom and work with. In a pinch, Book would be someone that at least has chemistry with Saints pass catchers and knows the Saints system if disaster struck and they were down to the threads at quarterback.
Abram Smith (RB)
This is a player I really thought would make the 53-man roster earlier in the offseason. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite do enough as a runner to oust Tony Jones Jr, nor did he do enough on special teams to take Dwayne Washington’s spot.
Alas, it’s not all bad for the undrafted free agent running back. Smith played well in camp and showed good burst as a one-cut runner in preseason action, apart from a very poorly timed fumble on the goal line against the Texans. If there’s one thing that will put a bad taste in the mouths of a staff that mainly cut their teeth in the coaching game under former Saints HC Sean Payton, its running backs who fumble.
Now, a place on the practice squad does not signify the end of the idea that Smith can turn into a solid starter for the Saints. Tony Jones Jr spent most of this rookie year on the practice squad and now looks to be in line to make the 53-man roster two years in a row.
Smith just needs time, he split his time playing RB and Linebacker in college, so he is still learning the RB position. With time, there is certainly reason to feel confident he could be a rotational player at RB and a Dwayne Washington-level special teams stud.
Lucas Krull (TE)
Early in the offseason, the hype train for Luca Krull was full steam ahead, it was a straight-through train all the way to the 53- man roster. Unfortunately, once the pads came on in training camp the train come off the tracks. Krull had his moments but was not consistent enough to overthrow the others who had his position.
TE is notoriously one of the hardest positions for college players to transition to coming into the NFL. So some more time to develop on the practice squad would make some sense for Krull.
Having Krull on the practice squad would also make sense for the Saints. Tight end is a position that still seems like it could need some work. Also, worth noting Hill, Trautman, and Vannett have all had injury issues either in the past or this offseason. So, having someone on the practice squad who knows the system and could be an asset in the passing game if required makes a lot of sense.
Kirk Merritt (WR/RB)
The Saints looked to do all they could to find a way for Kirk Merritt the make the initial roster. They gave him a lot of opportunities at WR, which Merritt took advantage of well for the most part especially in camp and in the final preseason game.
Merritt was given the opportunity to return kick-offs, which he did well, his longest return was 59 yards, finishing with 84 return yards on two returns. That’s really good by anyone’s standards.
The last feather in Merritt’s cap? The Saints moved him into the RB room. Giving Merritt another position to show he could be used at and although Merritt didn’t end up playing any snaps at RB in the last preseason game, he did show good flashes in camp.
So, all told, a player who could be your WR four/five, your second string kick returner, and possibly your RB four? That’s far too much versatility to no bring back.
Note- I could see Tre’Quan Smith going on IR and Merritt returning to the 53. However, if that isn’t the case. Merritt would be a no-brainer on the practice squad.
Three Defensive Players For The Saints Practice Squad
Taco Charlton (DE)
Charlton has played well enough this offseason to make the 53 and on other teams, he would have. Unfortunately, the Saints aren’t one of those teams. They are way deep on the defensive line; defensive end especially.
Taco also needed to be firmer against the run, to make it as a base end in the Saints scheme. If the Saints were to have injuries, which unfortunately seems to happen regularly on the D-line. Having Taco on the practice squad would be more than a solid backup option. He’s shown plenty, to believe that he could be an option on more obvious passing downs as part of the pass rush rotation. That’s why I think if he wants to stay with the Saints on the practice squad, they will keep him around.
Nephi Sewell (LB)
Sewell seemed right on the edge of making the 53. He impressed the Saints coaches all summer, they gave him multiple opportunities to line up with the first team, at WILL LB, next to Demario Davis.
Sewell played well in all the preseason games, despite him being slightly undersized for a linebacker (six-foot, 228 lbs) he was solid against the run and showed good skills in coverage. All desirable traits for a linebacker in today’s game
The Saints might just want to see a bit more development from the rookie undrafted free agent. With the Saints’ depth at linebacker, a bit shaky, a place on the practice squad should be a definite as long as he clears waivers.
Chase Hansen (LB)
After the first preseason game vs the Texans, with a flashing interception in pass coverage and a nice return. It seemed Hansen was a frontrunner for one of the backup LB spots on the 53. Unfortunately, since that game, he’s not been healthy. He’s been a player the Saints have been high since they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2019.
He’s a good special teams player, who’s shown ability as a starter, and who also knows the Saints system well. Given the depth questions at LB, it makes sense for the Saints to keep him around.
Teams are allowed 16 players on the practice squad; I have only highlighted six of the possibilities. So, there will be plenty more familiar faces returning to the Saints in some capacity over the coming days.
Teams can start signing players to their practice squads from 4 pm EST on Wednesday.
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