Leading storyline: Saints will get a lengthy look at the skill of their reserves in the secondary
This would be the perfect test for the Saints’ revamped secondary and a gauge for how close a fan base desperate for some pass breakups should position itself to the ledge.
Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen. Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux and safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd did not practice this week. It would be a surprise if any of them plays against the Patriots.
So instead it seems likely that Tom Brady, who will likely be without receivers Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, and Brandon LaFell, as he was in joint practices, will continue to pick apart the Saints secondary, as he did throughout the week. The Patriots quarterback connected on 16 of 18 passes during Thursday’s practice. The two misses were drops by tight end Rob Gronkowski.
And considering Brady played every snap during Thursday’s practice, while second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo watched, it seems possible even he won’t be on the field.
There isn’t much to learn about that exercise — at least in terms of the secondary coalescing at the top of the depth chart. But it will give a valuable look at players deeper down the depth chart.
Saints coach Sean Payton recently praised second-year cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste for showing growth in camp. He’ll be able to continue to show that — or not — during Saturday’s game.
This will also give rookie cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Damian Swann an extended look. For Williams, it’s needed. He was injured at the start of camp and is working to get up to speed. During joint practices this week, he had some trouble covering shorter routes. He’ll need to prove he can handle the job if he wants to earn snaps this season.
This is preseason football. It isn’t always about the top of the roster. Sometimes you need to see how things are shaking out at the bottom, and a handful of injuries makes this an opportune time to do so.
Four position battles to watch
1. Nick Toon vs. the world: The veteran receiver has long been working to crack the top of the depth chart and work his way into the rotation. Lately it looks like he’s sliding down the chart: Toon is receiving snaps behind Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman. And it looks like Joe Morgan and Josh Morgan could be ahead of him, too.
2. Tavaris Barnes vs. Bobby Richardson: All the hype has been centered on undrafted free agent defensive lineman Bobby Richardson. It appears he now has a contender. With Akiem Hicks out of action this week, it was Barnes, not Richardson, who received first-team snaps. Barnes has flashed good pass-rushing ability and has some power to his game.
3. Marcus Murphy vs. Jalen Saunders: The battle for returner duties is on. Or, actually, it might not be on at all. Rookie Marcus Murphy appears to be well ahead in this race and could continue to slam the door with another strong performance. Anyone hoping to contend needs to step up in a big way. And by someone, we mean Jalen Saunders.
4. The kicker competition continues: It looked like Dustin Hopkins was running away with this, and then he had some hiccups in camp. This should be Hopkins’ week to take the lead, after Zach Hocker handled kicking duties last week. He can’t afford a hiccup, or it would allow Hocker to pull back even. Things are certainly closer here than they appeared a few weeks ago.
Three and out
1. To Brees or not to Brees: Quarterback Drew Brees said earlier this week that he expects to receive some snaps in this week’s game. Coach Sean Payton contended by saying, “we’ll see.” So it looks like we’ll see. Brees didn’t play last week, handing things over to the other three guys.
2. On the rebound: Last week wasn’t Jahri Evans’ best game. The veteran guard allowed a handful of pressures, which created minor panic among the media and fans. He looked good throughout the week and can continue to silence his doubters by piecing together a strong performance.
3. Are they for real? There are going to be a handful of young players who make this team on the defensive line. The questions now: Which ones are for real, and which ones aren’t? Are certain guys shining because they’ve learned the tendencies of the players across from them, or are they that good?
The nuts and bolts
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3
TV: WVUE, WAFB, KATC
Favorite: Saints by 1.5