If there was ever a game to take WWL's advice and turn down your TV and turn up 870 AM, tonight's the game to do it. With ESPN broadcasting the Saints preseason opener at the Arizona Cardinals on the same day that Brett Favre is traded to the Jets, the football game will soon become secondary to all the Favre updates. Oh well, what can you do? Football season is here!
With this being the first preseason game, the Saints are being cautious with a number of starters, but there will still be a lot to look for tonight. Here are some of the things I'll be checking out:
1. Which newcomers will have an impact?
Some of the Saints newcomers (Jeremy Shockey, Tracy Porter and Jonathan Vilma) will sit out the first preseason game so we won't get a look at them tonight, but there are plenty of others to watch for. Many Saints fans will want to check out 1st round pick Sedrick Ellis. Others that I'm interested to see include Randall "Blue" Gay, Adrian Arrington, Skyler Green, Aaron Glenn, Mark Brunell and Bobby McCray.
2. How will the running backs look?
Deuce McAllister is going to be one of the veterans sitting out tonight's game, so this will give other running backs more opportunities to showcase their skills. Reggie Bush will paly with the first team, and I don't look for him to get too much work. They won't want to run him too much and risk him tweaking something. Pierre Thomas should get lots of work along with Aaron Stecker and Lynell Hamilton. If Thomas continues what he showed last preseason and in the Bears game, he'll get his share of carries in the regular season.
3. Who's going to emerge at wide receiver?
Marques Colston and David Patton are the Saints starters but after them, it is wide open. Adrian Arrington, Skyler Green, Robert Meachem, Terrance Copper, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore are the WRs realistically competing for roster spots. Any of them could be the #3 WR and any of them could be cut (except for Meachem). The competition is that close. Arrington has been the star of camp, so it will be fun to see what he does in a game situation. Henderson and Colston will be out with injuries, so everyone else will get plenty of work, but they'll have Tyler Palko throwing to them in the second half, so we'll see how that goes. They may have to work even harder to get open for Palko to find them.
4. Who's going to earn a roster spot on special teams?
With the above WRs all so closely rated, the way to earn a roster spot is to stand out on special teams. Skyler Green made a name for himself in this past week's scrimmage with his kickoff return TD. Lance Moore is also competing for a spot as a returner and Terrance Copper has been one of the top special teams players since he came to New Orleans. Robert Meachem and Adrian Arrington are learning special teams to help their chances of being on the active roster. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are also working as returners, but their roster spots are more than safe.
5. Can the secondary stop anyone?
The biggest question mark for the Saints the past few years has been the secondary. The team brought in Aaron Glenn and Randall Gay and drafted Tracy Porter this offseason to bolster this struggling unit. With Mike McKenzie and Porter not playing tonight, Glenn, Gay, Usama Young, Jason David and Jason Craft will get plenty of opportunities to show that the secondary is improved. At safety, Kevin Kaesviharn and Roman Harper look to be the starting safeties.
6. Can we buy into training camp hype?
Every year there are players who excell during training camp. This year the buzz has been around guys like WR Adrian Arrington, DE Bobby McCray, OG/T Carl Nicks and OT Jermone Bushrod. Its great to hear that these players are stepping up, especially guys like Nicks and Bushrod who will be the top backups on the offensive line, but you never know if you should believe the hype. A few years ago Onome Ojo lit up training camp, but never panned out. Then Marques Colston burst on the scene and the Saints had found their #1 wide receiver. Last year, Lance Moore had the best camp of any Saint, but he had an up-and-down year. Will these guys translate training camp success into regular season success? Only time will tell if they'll be the next Colston or the next Ojo.
7. How will the kickers fair on the big stage?
Martin Gramatica and Taylor Mehlhaff are competing for the Saints kicker position. Speculation is that both can make the team, one as kickoff specialist and one as the field goal kicker, but Coach Payton would prefer if one of them won both jobs outright. In practice, its hard to simulate the pressure of a game situation, so tonight will be the first real test for them. The race has been tight throughout camp with both making almost all of their kicks and booting kickoffs into the end zone. The competition seems to have revived Gramatica's career. The Saints spent a draft pick on Mehlhaff, so you would think they'd rather him win the job, but Coach Payton has shown that he'll go with the best player no matter how they were acquired.
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