METAIRIE - The New Orleans Saints' first-string defense had the edge over the offense for most of Thursday’s final minicamp practice, led by a Kenny Vaccaro interception during full-team drills.
But the offense finished strong in the most competitive series of camp – a simulated two-minute drill at the end of practice.
The Saints had to convert three third downs during the back-and-forth, 13-play drive including a 4-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Kenny Stills to cap it off.
Brees started 0-for-2 on the drive. But then he threw a strike to Stills, who held on despite running into a hard-charging Vaccaro. Brees also completed a deep ball to a wide-open Robert Meachem on the drive.
The second-string defense dominated, however, forcing a four-and-out with quarterback Luke McCown completing just two short passes to running back Khiry Robinson.
Among the other highlights from the defensive backs earlier in practice included Vaccaro’s interception when he stepped in front of Stills to pick Brees, an aggressive pass breakup by cornerback Keenan Lewis against Meachem in full-team drills and an interception by undrafted rookie safety Ty Zimmerman in 7-on-7 drills after a ball bounced off Stills’ hands.
Vaccaro followed up his interception by simulating a jump shot with the ball and sending it back over to the offense. Vaccaro said that was a directive from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who had showed the defense a highlight reel earlier in the day of Michael Jordan, instructing them to be “clutch.”
“If you're not happy about making an interception, you shouldn't be out here,” Vaccaro said. “Especially against a Hall of Fame quarterback.”
In other news, speedy second-year receiver Charles Hawkins has turned heads a couple times in camp. He dropped a pass during 7-on-7 drills Thursday, but he quickly followed by breaking wide open for a deep TD pass.
Kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke each went a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts.
Backup guards Senio Kelemete and Marcel Jones each took turns rotating in with the first-string offense while Ben Grubbs took the final two sessions off during full-team drills.
Saints coach Sean Payton said rookie receiver Brandin Cooks will rejoin the team next week for the final four OTA sessions. Cooks has been unable to participate so far because his school, Oregon State, hadn’t finished final exams yet.