Fully evaluating players at minicamp difficult, but Saints seek to get a better grasp of abilities _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- New Orleans Saints quarterback Garrett Grayson (18) passes under pressure from Houston Texans defensive tackle Christian Covington (95) as New Orleans Saints guard Senio Kelemete (65) tries to stop him as they play at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015.

Garrett Grayson still has a lot to learn.

Even the basics. The third-round pick from Colorado State played nearly the entire second half of Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Texans, and the first thing that popped into Sean Payton‘s mind after the game had little to do with a misfired throw or a bad read.

Grayson is still learning how to get out of the huddle.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the time clock ... our game is much different than the college game, so you’re pulling your hair out with, ‘Let’s go, quicker, quicker, quicker, in and out of the huddle, to the line of scrimmage,’” Payton said. “That is something that he needs work at.”

Grayson completed 7 of 16 passes for 96 yards and drew a delay-of-game penalty, making the Texans game arguably his worst of the preseason so far.

A developmental player at this point in his career, Grayson has shown signs that he can be effective down the road.

But he’s got a ways to go.

”I think he made some good throws, I’m sure there are a couple where he is trying to force it into coverage,” Payton said. “We’ll see on the tape, but I think overall that speed of the game — and I’m not just talking about the speed of the players of the game, I’m talking about the tempo and timing of the game — is noticeably faster at this level and is something that he has to work on.”

Plenty of work

New Orleans took Drew Brees, Brandin Cooks and the starting offensive line out of the game after just one series.

The Saints aren’t worried. After two days practicing against the New England Patriots — including a marathon session that included 27 throws for Brees — and two preseason games, New Orleans is confident its key players have gotten plenty of work.

In the past, the Saints liked to give their starters the traditional heavy load in the third preseason game.

“It has been much different for me than what we have done before,” Payton said. “It is a different roster right now; have a lot of more experienced guys. The thing we try to look at closely are just the amount of snaps guys are receiving up to this point.”

Injuries have cost other teams dearly in the preseason — Green Bay lost star wide receiver Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL in the same game that the Steelers lost Maurkice Pouncey — but Payton’s planning went beyond the risk of injury.

““I think there is always that fear, but that has been present for as long as I have been coaching this league in the preseason,” Payton said. “You take into account what you are seeing, but more importantly the snaps some of our veteran guys are receiving. When we are talking about Zach (Strief) or Drew, I am seeing a ton of work, and we are seeing it in practice and we feel like it’s sharp.”

Too close to call

For the first time this preseason, Zach Hocker opened the Texans game by taking the opening kicks ahead of Dustin Hopkins.

And Hocker didn’t disappoint.

The Arkansas product belted kicks of 28 yards and 53 yards through the uprights, and he put all of his kickoffs into — or out of — the end zone for touchbacks.

Hopkins took the kickoffs in the second half, but he didn’t get a field goal opportunity, the same thing that happened in the Saints’ preseason opener in Baltimore.

But the competition remains wide-open.

“I’d say it’s close,” Payton said. “It was good to see Hocker hit the long one, but it’s close. I said this last week, we are hoping that there is an easy separation and there hasn’t been.”