GREEN BAY, Wis. - When the New Orleans Saints opened the regular season Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, Sean Payton’s 53-man roster included 23 players who weren’t on the team for the 2010 opener.
Of the 23 players on last year’s opening day roster that weren’t around Thursday night, 14 played on defense. That count includes defensive end Will Smith, who is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
The list of newcomers includes six unrestricted free agents and four draft picks.
Also, safety Jonathon Amaya came to the team from the Miami Dolphins in the Reggie Bush trade, while safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who was playing at Fordham last season, was the only undrafted free agent to make the roster.
The 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by running back Darren Sproles in the second quarter was the first for the Saints in regular-season play since 2008.
The last Saints player to take a punt back for a touchdown was Bush, whom Sproles replaced this summer. Bush returned a pair of punts for touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 6, 2008, the second for 64 yards.
Bush also returned a punt for a touchdown in an NFC Divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals after the 2009 season.
Inactive for the Saints were K Garrett Hartley (hip), WR Lance Moore (groin), DT Tom Johnson (calf), G/C Matt Tennant, RB Joique Bell, CB Johnny Patrick and TE John Gilmore.
The only surprise was Tennant, who was the backup center for all four of the team’s exhibition games. Payton chose to have guard/center Brian de la Puente active to serve as the backup at both guard spots and center.
Not dressing for the Packers were LB Frank Zombo (shoulder), DE Mike Neal (knee), CB Davon House (ankle), TE Ryan Taylor (hip), LB Vic So’oto (back), S M.D. Jennings and T/G Derek Sherrod.
Just before the start of the game, the Packers celebrated their Super Bowl XLV title with their fans by unveiling a championship banner which was accompanied by a brief fireworks display.
Packers players ran out of their tunnel and through a chute formed by a former player from each of the 32 teams who was holding a flag with his franchise’s colors.
The Saints were represented by Deuce McAllister, while the Seattle Seahawks flag-bearer was Cortez Kennedy, who is now a consultant with the Saints. The St. Louis Rams were represented by former Southern University star Aeneas Williams.
The Saints’ 53-man roster Thursday night included just 27 players who won rings with the team in Super Bowl XLIV. ... Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 188 passing yards in the first period was a career-high in a quarter for the seven-year veteran. ... The Saints are now 18-27 all-time in season openers, while Payton is 4-2 since taking over in 2006. ... Against reigning Super Bowl champions, the Saints are 9-16 and Payton is 0-3. ... The Packers have three players with Louisiana ties on their roster. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn and defensive end Howard Green played at LSU and cornerback Tramon Williams is a former Assumption High School and Louisiana Tech standout.