How awesome is Wil Lutz really or is he just better than we can remember? Is Thomas Morestead really a punting god or just good for his age? Do we actually have a return game or did we just hire another beer delivery guy? Will this 2019 special teams squad be a liability or an asset? Can a long snapper be awesome? Let’s dive in and answer all dat.
THE KICKING GAME:
I’m sure there’s a math formula that can show how several good, inconsistent, decent, mediocre, and lousy kickers can somehow be in relation to ONE. GREAT. CONSISTENT. PUNTER. Something like, Garrett Hartley/John Carney x Olindo Mare – (Martin Grammatica x Zach Hocker) = Thomas Morestead. Here’s some quick history recap to jog your conveniently short term memories: There have been soooo many kickers from 2006 to the present that I’ve lost count. Morten Anderson left the Saints after 1994. Do you know how many kickers the Saints had between 1995 and 2006?? Two. TWO!!!! Doug Brien and John Carney, whom the latter continued kicking under Sean Payton for awhile (Also, Carney wrote one of the nicest letters to the city I’ve ever read when he fiiiiiiiinally retired for good, but very gracious and humbling). And during that kicker carousel, there’s been 3 punters, the third being the prudential rock since 2009, Thomas Morestead, punting for us. Now the Saints are finally enjoying all around consistency in the kicking game with Wil Lutz and Thomas Morestead. But for anyone who doesn’t remember or has conveniently forgotten, the post-Katrina kicking world of the Saints has been quite the roller coaster.
The Sean Payton era inherited John Carney as the place kicker. He was one of the few who survived the cuts, drafts, and changes, and still saw some success before he ultimately retired for good in 2010, after his third stint with the Saints. He was 46 years old. For some people, he will always be remembered for missing the extra point after the “River City Relay” in 2001 (And if you don’t know what it is, look it up on the internet thing you use to read this). For some other people, it was his short leg (revisit: he was 46 at retirement). I’m not a Carney hater, and this isn’t about him. It’s about the (I believe) 10 kickers between him and Wil Lutz that Payton couldn’t settle on (not including kickers brought in to compete). It was maddening losing games because of kickers. As a fan, we felt Sean’s impatience with the kicking unit. And even today, he’s still not 100% satisfied with the special teams, but everything has been looking on the up.
Why the history lesson, Jed? You said a “quick” history lesson! I really just want to emphasize how lucky we finally are at kicker again. Wil Lutz seems to be the real deal, even after rubbing your eyes after each time he makes a field goal. His low angle kicking issue in the beginning of his career in 2016 seems to have been solved, and suddenly the Saints have a consistent kicker that can make field goals beyond 40 yards AND do kickoffs. Just last season, Lutz hit 33 of 36 field goals and 56 of 57 extra points, including the post season. That’s pretty damn good. Pretty. Damn. Good. And the preseason opener? 4-4 including a 52 yarder. Why Payton didn’t just go for it on 4th down inside Minnesota’s 30 yard line is anybody’s guess (because hey, it’s preseason!), but still, 4 for 4 peeps. The 2019 season is gonna be sweet having Wil Lutz place kicking.
And here I was just talking about how sweet and awesome Alex Anzalone’s hair was (read my linebacker review if you haven’t yet!), and I totally forgot about the occasionally long and glorious mane of Thomas Morestead. I even participate in St. Baldrick’s every year (great cause, great chance to meet Morestead and other Saints and Super Fans, most importantly helping children with cancers), and I still forgot.
The Saints have always had decent to good punters, which it’s well documented from the frequent punting over the years. Thomas “The Leg” Morestead isn’t decent nor good, he’s one of the best if not the best. It’s no longer just about pushing them back, but also pinning teams on a regular basis inside their 20 when the opportunities are there. More often than not, Morestead can pin a team on even shorter yardage. The Saints had never experienced a punter that was an asset like Morestead, and now in his 10th season, there’s no reason to doubt now. He’s also an excellent holder for Lutz and a pretty good kicker for kickoffs if the need arose again.
The man is like a fine wine. This training camp has been another solid camp for Morestead, regularly pinning the ball inside the 10 with beautiful backspin at times. Granted, that was sometimes without pads nor giant dudes running at you, so I feel obligated to mention it. Friday night against the Vikings only yielded two punts from The Leg, both times kicking from fairly deep in New Orleans’ own territory with a long of 48. Don’t let that phase you, there will be plenty of moments in 2019 to get excited about a punter like Thomas Morestead.
And now, more history to bore you. Zach Wood played on the defensive line his whole life and came on as a walk on to the Saints after getting waived by Dallas. His timing was perfect, and he quickly knew he probably wouldn’t make it as a defensive end. What he did realize was that the long snapper spot was about to be wide open. Justin Drescher was cut after 7 seasons, and no solid replacement was there. Zach tried out, and the rest is history.
Zach Wood has been solid as the Saints long snapper now going into his third year. Not too much to say about long snappers? Well, in case you missed it, Wood got the lowest Madden score of the game (the game puts long snappers in with tight ends for whatever reason, so that’s why). His response to that news was to snap footballs at copies of the new Madden game. It’s a great video to look up. (Spoiler: He nails one on his first try. Why else would I bring this up?)
THE RETURN GAME:
I’ve already mentioned a bit about the return game in previous posts. But a quick summary, Marcus Sherels was brought in to be THAT guy, but the Saints also took on UDFA Deonte Harris. Harris, as I wrote up before, holds the NCAA record for most returns for TDs. That’s exciting, right? Well he was at a small Division II school, so it’s hard to get too excited…until Friday night’s preseason game.
After Sherels was a healthy scratch for the game for whatever reason, it was Harris’ moment to shine. And even though he didn’t get a touchdown, he looked good. Like something we haven’t seen in years: an actual return specialist. He was fast, had quick cuts, made smart decisions, and consistently put us back past the 35 yard line except for once, and that was still back to around the 25. It’s his job to lose now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marcus Sherels play all of week 2. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him get cut and Harris be annointed. And even though I joked in the beginning, Michael “The Beerman” Lewis, was probrably the last good true returner we had.
So why all of this history recap? This is supposed to be a training camp preview, Jed! I couldn’t think of a better way to express how good our special teams unit is looking without reminding you of how long our purgatory was before. And no, we’re not out of the woods yet. I’m glossing over coaching changes, coaching that has steered the ship back on course. Our return game isn’t solidified just yet. Lutz will miss some field goals. Thomas will have some punts for touchbacks. But you’re crazy to think that this special teams group isn’t elite. Look around the league or even to last year at us agianst Cleveland or Chicago’s kicker debacle. These are about to be the salad days of Sean Payton’s special teams, so get ready Saints fans. This squad is definitely going to be an asset overall.
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