ST. LOUIS — Defenses are going to account for Saints rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks this season, even when he isn’t the intended target.
That was demonstrated late in the first quarter of Friday’s exhibition game against the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome, when fellow rookie Lamarcus Joyner was called for holding on Cooks when Ryan Griffin’s pass target was Nick Toon.
The flag netted the Saints a first down, though they had to punt in the subsequent series.
Cooks later showed off some slick moves on a 25-yard catch and run from Griffin.
The first-round pick had five catches for 55 yards in his pro debut.
He missed it
Veteran kicker Shayne Graham, in a tight battle with rookie Derek Dimke for the job, didn’t do himself any good by missing an extra-point attempt in the second quarter when the ball his the left upright. With the NFL experimenting with extra points from the 25 during the exhibition season, Graham was attempting what amounted to a 32-yard field goal. But it was still a miss from an easily makeable position by Graham, who in the first period hit on a 37-yard field goal. Graham did make his second PAT attempt, but the miss was the difference in the Saints’ 17-16 halftime deficit.
They saw it coming
There were no apparent encounters by Bountygate antagonists Sean Payton and Gregg Williams.
But the Saints coach may have anticipated an opportunity to pull a surprise against a shifting St. Louis defense, which is now directed by Williams, who formerly had the same position with the Saints under Payton.
With the ball at the Rams’ 1 early in the first quarter, center Jonathan Goodwin alertly snapped the ball to Ryan Griffin while the Rams defense was still trying to get into position. Griffin handed the ball to Khiry Robinson, who easily scored.
In the preseason there are often unwritten rules about not taking advantage of such situations, but Payton may have remembered that Williams’ defenses have a history of getting set late in the snap count and had Goodwin looking for such an opportunity.
While safety Jairus Byrd did not play as he completes his recovery from offseason back surgery, the fifth-year safety might have had a sense of regret at missing his first game in the Edward Jones Dome since he was a senior at Clayton (Mo.) High in 2004 and led his team to the Class 6A state championship in a season when he played quarterback, safety, wide receiver and on special teams.
It was a foregone conclusion that Drew Brees would sit this one out, as would Byrd and Champ Bailey.
But by game time, the number of Saints not in uniform was 13, including frontline players Ben Grubbs, Jahri Evans, Pierre Thomas and Kenny Stills.
Fullback Eric Lorig, a major offseason free-agency pickup, was also out with an undisclosed injury. But 11-year veteran Greg Jones, who signed Wednesday, did play.
The NFL does not list inactives for exhibition games.
Captaining the Saints for the game were veteran right tackle Zach Strief, nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley and backup linebacker/special-teams ace Ramon Humber. ... Luke McCown was intercepted by Jake Long on McCown’s third attempt of the preseason Last year, McCown was picked off once in 49 preseason attempts. ... Josh Hill’s catch and run of a pass from Griffin went for 34 yards. Last year, in his rookie season, Hill’s six catches covered 44 yards. ... The league’s new central replay review system got a look when Rams coach Jeff Fisher challenged a spot on a first-down catch by Toon. The ruling was withheld far quicker than the old system of having the referee taking another look. ... This was only the third-ever exhibition game between the Saints and Rams, chiefly because the two spent so many years in the same division. The other two were in 1967 and 1968, the Saints’ first two seasons. Both were in Anaheim, California. The Rams won both games, 16-7 and 21-7.
Ted Lewis, Ramon Antonio Vargas and Nick Underhill contributed to this report.