C.J. Spiller, Brandin Cooks shining in Saints minicamp

Bill Parcells had a name for scatbacks and smaller wide receivers in need of open space to excel: satellite players.

If an offensive coordinator can scheme open-field opportunities for an elusive speed demon such as C.J. Spiller or Brandin Cooks, the defense will pay.

Although Parcells' 1989-1990 Giants offenses featured a proto-satellite back in Dave Meggett, the label wasn't exactly a compliment coming from a devout preacher of power football.

Saints coach Sean Payton, one of the most successful members of the Parcells coaching tree, has shown a deft touch in maximizing the open-field playmaking ability of scatbacks Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles in previous years.

Now he has players, coaches and beat writers raving about Spiller and Cooks.

Spiller has dazzled defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with his "special" speed, while Cooks has been touted by The Times-Picayune this week as the "best player not named Brees."

The two satellite players hit the play-caller lottery in New Orleans. We fully expect Spiller and Cooks to be the most explosive skill-position weapons in Payton's arsenal.

Just remember one salient point about satellite players the next time you read about a slightly-built running back/receiver hybrid along the lines of Dri Archer, Theo Riddick or Tavon Austin: The gridiron offers no greater tracts of open space than non-contact practices in June.

Everything changes once the hitting starts in August.

Here's what else we learned in Wednesday's minicamps:

  1. As only Rex Ryan can do with a straight face, the Bills coach put a positive spin Tuesday on the team's quarterback quandary, pointing to a "level of excitement" because fans and coaches know "someone will have to earn the job." A day later, reality slapped Ryan in the face as the offense was swallowed whole in Wednesday's 11-on-11 drills. On 22 drop-backs, Bills quarterbacks totaled four completions and were sacked eight times. The play of the day was a 15-yard pass from fourth-stringer Matt Simms to journeyman receiver Deonte Thompson.

Offseason practices have done nothing to dispel the notion that one of the NFL's most talented rosters will be held hostage by its trio of mezzanine-level signal-callers.

  1. Although Cordarrelle Patterson has spent the offseason catching passes from Shaun Hill in the Vikings' second-team offense, coordinator Norv Turner confirmed Wednesday that the enigmatic wide receiver is "in the mix" for a starting job.
  1. The Panthers are studying Kelvin Benjamin's Florida State history to figure out why he has been sidelined by hamstring injuries to both legs this offseason. It certainly didn't help that he arrived to OTAs overweight, an issue that dogged him in college as well.
  1. June is the time of the season for castoffs and reclamation projections to inspire hope among unsuspecting fan bases. To that end, coach Ron Rivera cited former Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill and former Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin as offseason standouts for the Panthers.
  1. Mike Evans said he's being used exclusively as the "X" receiver in Dirk Koetter's new offense. Evans spent his rookie season handling plenty of the high-percentage, run-after-catch slants, crossers and bubble screens typically associated with the "Z" spot. The change is noteworthy, as the NFL's true "No. 1 receivers" such as Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and A.J. Green are of the "X" variety.
  1. While rookie Breshad Perriman steals the headlines and former special teamer Kamar Aiken lines up with the first-team opposite Steve Smith, coach Jim Harbaugh hasn't forgotten about third-year receiver Marlon Brown. Harbaugh sent Brown a message on Wednesday: "It's time for him to break out."
  1. Kevin White has been sidelined this week with an undisclosed injury. The No. 7 overall pick in the draft has been running as the fourth receiver behind Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson, according to Jay Cutler. New Bears coach John Fox is notorious for his distrust of rookies.
  1. Rams coach Jeff Fisher "can't predict" when first-round pick Todd Gurley will return from ACL surgery. "We're just going to see how he progresses," Fisher said. "If he's not PUP-ed (placed on the physically unable to perform list entering training camp), then I think you could probably assume that he's going to play sooner than you think."
  1. A handful of scatbacks are vying for Shane Vereen's old passing-down role in the Patriots' backfield. Second-year back James White has garnered accolades from beat writers, while former Eagles tailback Dion Lewis has drawn praise from Tom Brady for his route running two days in a row. It's an important position in New England's offense, as evidenced by Vereen's 11 receptions in the Super Bowl.
  1. Don't overlook seventh-round rookie Darryl Roberts as the Pats look to replace their top three cornerbacks from last season. Roberts has been making a "play a day" and is a "darkhorse to steal a cornerback job," according to the Boston Herald. Roberts also tested out as one of the most athletic prospects in this year's draft class.
  1. Bengals safety George Iloka missed the entire offseason with an undisclosed injury after a bit of a breakout campaign in 2014. Iloka is targeting training camp for a return.
  1. Bills coach Rex Ryan expects Aaron Williams to be back on the field for training camp after the safety missed the offseason program while recovering from offseason surgery.
  1. If the Broncos have a concern on new coordinator Wade Phillips' loaded defense, it's the health of inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. Trevathan "got somebody else's kneecap" in January, whereas Marshall has yet to begin running following Lisfranc surgery.
  1. Browns inside linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach raved about Chris Kirksey, lamenting that he can't clone the second-year starter. "He is smart, he's tough, he's athletic, he studies it," Driesbach said. "He is what we are looking for."
  1. The Browns' backup quarterback has vowed to do away with an infamous "money sign" gesture that rubbed opponents the wrong way in a disastrous rookie season.

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