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So this is interesting. With an extra day of preparation ahead of them before next Monday’s kickoff with the Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints stepped out of their bye week and invited seven free agents for a group tryout. The group is split on pretty clean lines between three linebackers and four offensive linemen. None of them have been signed just yet.
So what’s the deal? We know that linebacker Kwon Alexander is close to returning from injured reserve after hurting his elbow back in Week 1, and the team will need to open a roster spot to make room for him. There are other players who could be on the move at different positions like wide receiver and defensive back but there’s help coming there, too, so the Saints may have to keep their focus limited at linebacker.
Of the linebackers currently healthy and under contract, Demario Davis and Pete Werner dominate defensive snaps while Kaden Elliss gets in on certain packages. Zack Baun waits in reserve and Andrew Dowell really only plays special teams (a role in which he’s excelled, by the way). Baun won’t be exposed to waivers after being drafted highly last year, making Dowell the unfortunate odd man out. If he ends up being claimed by another team, the Saints probably want to know their options in replacing him on the practice squad, which explains these workouts.
As for the bevy of offensive line tryouts: there’s no clear and obvious reason for the interest. The Saints are expected to get starting center Erik McCoy and All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead back soon to reassemble their starting five. Their backups (James Hurst and Landon Young at tackle, Will Clapp and Calvin Throckmorton at guard) haven’t embarrassed themselves when asked to start. But great teams are always keeping an interest in churning the bottom of the depth chart, and it makes sense to look for better options than Jordan Mills and Caleb Benenoch on the practice squad.
Here’s a quick look at the seven free agent tryouts from Monday:
LB Curtis Bolton
Bolton, 25, played for Oklahoma in college before turning pro with the Green Bay Packers in 2019 as an undrafted free agent. His strong preseason efforts were derailed by a torn ACL, and he continued to recover during 2020 while on the PUP list (physically unable to perform). He ended up bouncing between the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and San Francisco 49ers practice squads and has yet to dress for a regular season game.
LB Lakiem Williams
Williams, 24, was an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse in 2019 and briefly joined the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks before returning to the NFL workout circuit. He was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks in August but didn’t make their opening-day roster. He was a prominent player on special teams at Syracuse and figures to help the Saints in that role if signed by New Orleans.
LB Riley Cole
Cole, 23, was an undrafted rookie signed by the Kansas City Chiefs out of South Alabama and waived during final roster cuts. A training camp ankle injury limited the amount of game tape he was able to put together. Like the other players on this list, he’s probably a candidate for the practice squad with upside on special teams.
C Cohl Cabral
Cabral, 23, has great size for the position at 6-foot-5 and 302 pounds. The Minnesota Vikings claimed him off of waivers this summer after spending his rookie season on the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans practice squads. Before that, he was twice voted a team captain at Arizona State and logged 39 consecutive starts (out of 50 total game appearances), predominately at center.
G Deion Calhoun
Calhoun, 25, goes by “Shaq” and spent five years with Mississippi State before moving up to the NFL. He started seven of the 10 games he played with the Miami Dolphins as a rookie in 2019 at right guard and was picked up off of waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020, who then signed him to their practice squad. He’s since spent time with the Arizona Cardinals practice squad.
T Coy Cronk
Cronk, 23, started 40 games at left tackle for Indiana until a serious ankle injury ended his 2019 season. He transferred to Iowa and won a starting job at right tackle but reinjured his ankle and opted to turn pro rather than return for another year of college ball. He signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent earlier this year but was let go during final roster cuts. If his ankle checks out, he could be a good get as a well-coached, experienced backup.
G Forrest Lamp
Lamp, 27, is the biggest name on this list and was a college standout at Western Kentucky before the Los Angeles Chargers selected him 38th overall in the 2017 NFL draft. But a training camp ACL tear spiked his rookie year and an offseason knee procedure precipitated just two game appearances in 2018, which he spent mostly as a healthy scratch. Injury woes continued in 2019 with a broken fibula after seven games (two starts), but Lamp turned the corner in 2020 with 16 starts and a league-leading snap count (1,174 ) at left guard. He spent the summer with the Buffalo Bills but was released during preseason.