New Orleans Saints pleased with top picks Lattimore, Ramczyk after rookie camp

By The Sports Xchange   |   May 14, 2017 at 11:38 AM
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METAIRIE, La. -- For the New Orleans Saints' coaching staff, the chance to get a good first look at the six players they selected in the draft last month wasn't the only objective when they held a three-day rookie minicamp.

Since the arrival of coach Sean Payton in 2006, the Saints have used the rookie minicamp to take a look not only at their picks and the undrafted free agents they signed in the hours after the draft, they've taken advantage of the opportunity to kick the tires on a few veterans as well with nothing to lose.

While the Saints were eager to get their two first-round draft picks -- Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk -- integrated into their system, they had their eyes on a lot of other players.

"Listen, he is doing well like the rest of these guys," Payton said of Lattimore, who was expected to be a top-five or top-six pick before falling to the Saints at No. 11. "He's going out there and getting the calls. They're getting a lot installed right now, but he's a quick study and he's picked it up."

Ramczyk, who was chosen 32nd overall with the pick the Saints received from the New England Patriots in the Brandin Cooks trade, has been something of a surprise.

The potential heir apparent at right tackle to veteran Zach Strief, Ramczyk had surgery on a torn labrum in his hip in January and wasn't expected to be ready until training camp.

But he arrived at minicamp ahead of schedule in his rehab and could participate before the Saints wind up their off-season work in mid-June.

"He's receiving a lot of work, but he's not receiving the team work," Payton said. "He probably is three to four weeks out with his labrum, but he's picking things up very quickly. He's in good shape and much further along than really we anticipated even with his surgery. It's been good, been a good exposure."

Getting a chance to see safety Marcus Williams (second round) and running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive end Trey Hendrickson (all third-rounders) was important as well.

Especially Anzalone, who might have been picked higher had he not had some injury problems at Florida. Payton said he has the ability to play the Will and Mike spots and possibly Sam as well for a team that is perennially searching for linebackers.

At the same time, the Saints wanted to make sure they are leaving no stone unturned in bringing in 50 players on a tryout basis -- including five veterans -- as well as the free agents they've already signed even if it is a difficult process.

"Every year, we can find Jake Lampman, we can find Khiry Robinson, we can find Billy Miller, we can find these players that were tryout players," Payton said. "Certainly, with the way you're practicing it's a little bit harder to do.

"But we watch the tape with the scouts and look at every drill trying to make sure we're properly evaluating every one of these guys. Not just the guys that are under contract, but the 55 players who are here for a three-day workout."

Max Unger could return sooner

Injured Saints center Max Unger could have a chance to get back on the field before the end of the preseason schedule, coach Sean Payton said Saturday.

Payton said Unger, who recently had foot surgery, has a chance to return by the third week of the preseason despite reports early last week that had Unger not returning until the start of the regular season.

A key to the Saints' offensive line, Unger originally injured the foot last season and the injury lingered into the offseason after Dr. James Andrews initially believed it would heal on its own.

Payton said postseason X-rays showed a space in the Lisfranc of Unger's foot. When he came back in April for the start of off-season workouts, the space had grown -- prompting doctors to insert a screw into the foot to aid in the healing process.

While it was widely reported that Unger could have to go on the physically-unable-to-perform list, Payton said he believes the nine-year veteran would be back in time for the preseason.

Unger, who was obtained in a trade that sent All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks in 2015, has started all 31 games he's played in since joining the Saints. He has participated in 2,248 of a possible 2,310 snaps in his two seasons in New Orleans.

One of two offensive captains last season along with quarterback Drew Brees, Unger and his line mates allowed only 27 sacks and helped open holes for the Saints to average 4.3 yards per carry for the season.

Collin Buchanan waived

The Saints were missing one of their top undrafted free agents when they held their rookie minicamp.

According to the NFL Transactions report on Friday, the first day of their minicamp, the team waived rookie guard Collin Buchanan with a "left squad" designation.

Buchanan, a former Miami (Ohio) standout who started 33 games during his college career, was one of the Saints' top signees after the draft. He was a second-team All-Mid American Conference pick this past season.

The 6-foot-5, 316-pound Buchanan started 12 games at right tackle in 2016 and was one of the reasons Miami (Ohio) averaged 136.3 yards rushing per game last season.

As a priority free agent, Buchanan was given a $10,000 signing bonus and was guaranteed $10,000 of his base salary, according to the New Orleans Advocate.

"Thursday night we met, Friday he came in and spent some time in my office and he felt confident he didn't want to play anymore," Payton said Saturday. "That happens from time to time.

"Look, I told him this ... and it's the truth, really, it's not for everyone," Payton added. "He was just one of those players that felt like he was ready to get on with his next life job."

Ryan Ramczyk further along in rehab

The Saints are hoping to have rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk at full strength sooner rather than later.

Ramczyk, the second of two first-round draft picks for the Saints in last month's draft, had hip surgery in January to repair a torn labrum. But he hopes to be cleared by doctors before the off-season program ends in June.

Ramczyk arrived for the team's rookie minicamp further along in his rehab than doctors thought he would be, which is encouraging news for the former All-American from Wisconsin and his new team.

"He's receiving a lot of work, but he's not receiving the team work," coach Sean Payton said Saturday. "He probably is three to four weeks out with his labrum, but he's picking things up very quickly. He's in good shape and much further along than really we anticipated, even with his surgery."

The Saints will hold a mandatory minicamp on June 13-15 and Ramczyk could be ready to go by then even though team officials originally thought he might not be cleared until the start of training camp.

"The rehab's been really good so far," Ramczyk said. "I'm a little ahead of protocol."

Veterans join workouts

Needing extra bodies to get through a three-day minicamp, the Saints, as they usually do, brought a handful of veteran players in on a tryout basis this weekend.

Among the players trying out were offensive linemen Bryce Harris and Khalif Barnes, who both have a little history with the team; wide receiver Louis Murphy and tight end Clay Harbor.

Harris played with the Saints from 2012 to 2014 before playing with the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins the last two seasons. Barnes was signed several times last season as an injury fill-in.

Murphy previously played with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season, he played in six games with the Bucs and caught 10 passes for 198 yards.

Harbor has been in the league since the 2010 season, playing for the Eagles, Lions, Patriots and Jaguars during that time.

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