NEW ORLEANS — Despite having plenty of young depth in the secondary, the New Orleans Saints still decided to select Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton in the sixth round of the NFL Draft earlier this year.
That has appeared to be a shrewd move as the rookie defensive back has been very impressive during training camp as Hampton has even outshined some of the veterans on defense.
For example, this past weekend Hampton picked off passes in back-to-back practices. The first was an interception of Teddy Bridgewater at the goal line on Saturday and the second was a pick off of Drew Brees on Sunday.
Longtime Saints head coach Sean Payton has taken notice.
“He made a big play tonight,” Payton said following Sunday’s scrimmage at Tulane. “He has good hands. He is one of those players the ball finds. I’ve been encouraged. He’s smart.”
Hampton has been making big plays on defense but is also expected to be a star on the Saints’ special teams unit. That versatility is something that made Hampton appealing to Payton and his staff.
“When you read a vision for a player, you feel like he is a developing safety and the guy that we feel confident that is going to be able to come in and help right away,” Payton said. “You are trying to read the vision in year one. That does not take anything away from him defensively. As you look at a rookie making the roster and what he can do in the first part of the season, that was the early vision.”
Payton isn’t the only one taking notice of the rookie’s stellar performance so far during training camp.
“He’s definitely coming around,” Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “Obviously, he’s one of those guys that he doesn’t really say a lot. He just works, and his work during training camp is coming to fruition and you see him making these plays because of the work he’s been putting in.”
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Hampton served as Rutger’s team’s MVP in 2018 when he also was tied for the Big Ten Conference lead in passes defended, while recording three interceptions. Hampton would go on to shine at the Reese’s Senior Bowl as he was named the Defensive Player of the Week.
Paying homage to the past
In recent years, the Saints have paid respect to the college football team that they share a city with, and for years, shared the same home stadium with — the Tulane Green Wave.
The Saints played home games at old Tulane Stadium from 1967-74, then the Green Wave played their home games inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from 1975 to 2013 (expect for 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina).
That connection has continued to be honored even after Tulane opened its own stadium on campus in 2014. In the years since Yullman Stadium opened, the Saints have held at least one training camp practice on campus. New Orleans has held practices at Yullman in 2015, 2017, 2018 and then again on Sunday — a practice in which more than 12,000 fans attended.
The experience is one that Payton feels is special to the team and community.
“I think any time you change the routine up — push practice back, I thought they handled it well and the other thing is we get a great turnout,” Payton said on Sunday. “I think it’s just another exposure for our fans. The facility is fantastic. You get a sense that the crowd is right on you here. Our training camp attendance has been great. I think (doing) this every year is a real good changeup. I think it’s good for the fans and for us.”
Kamara joining elite company?
Alvin Kamara is one of the best multi-purpose running backs in the NFL.
Kamara rushed for 728 yards with 8 touchdowns while catching 81 passes for 826 yards and 5 touchdowns as a rookie in 2017. Then last season, Kamara rushed for 883 yards and 14 touchdowns while hauling in 81 passes for 709 yards and 4 touchdowns.
So what are the chances that the two-time Pro Bowlers could become only the third running back in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and record 1,000 receiving yards in the same season?
“He has the flexibility,” Payton said. “He excels in a lot of things. He has a really good balance and he’s strong on his feet. A lot of it just depends on each week, where we see him and how we see him involved. The sum total still starts with winning. He has those traits to run and receive.”
The only two running backs to pull off the feat were former San Francisco 49ers great Roger Craig and St. Louis Rams, and New Orleans native, Marshall Faulk. In 1985, Craig record 1,050 rushing yards to go along with 1,016 receiving yards. In 1999, Faulk racked up 1,381 rushing yards and 1,048 receiving yards.
Days off for veterans
More than a handful of veterans were granted days off this past weekend at training camp. Linebackers A.J. Klein and Demario Davis were among the veterans that were granted Saturday off, while defensive end Cameron Jordan and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. did not participate on Sunday.
The days off for the veterans is actually part of a plan that Payton and his staff come up with prior to the start of camp.
“We kind of map it out prior to training camp,” Payton said. “We look at peak loads and ramp up days. There are three different groups of players so some might be on a vet day or kind of a “wear and tear day.” Some might not be. It is laid out and discussed and we actually meet on it before training camp begins.”