Saints give young players snaps at Akiem Hicks’ expense _lowres

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Defensive end Akiem Hicks took a break for much of Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay as the Saints gave younger players more game experience.

Akiem Hicks spent most of training camp touted as a potential impact player for the Saints defense, a premier talent finally healthy again.

He spent most of the second half of the Saints’ 26-19 loss to Tampa Bay Sunday on the sideline.

The big defensive end played 28 snaps against the Buccaneers, 14 fewer than he’d played against Arizona, and his percentage of defensive snaps overall dropped from 68 percent in the season opener to 42 percent in the second week. Hicks had a simple explanation.

“I got benched in the third quarter,” Hicks said.

Hicks planned to talk with Saints coach Sean Payton on Monday afternoon about the playing time, but Payton told local media later that the reduced snaps in the second half were simply a strategic in-game decision.

“It wasn’t benched,” Payton said. “I told him, hey, we’re going to play some other guys here.”

With Hicks taking fewer snaps, undrafted rookie Bobby Richardson (who took 40 snaps after getting just 14 in the season opener), linebacker Kasim Edebali (23, up from four), and defensive end Obum Gwacham (eight after being inactive) all saw more time, particularly in passing situations.

“It’s pretty common to rotate a defensive lineman,” Payton said. “And after we did that, we had pretty good production defensively, in fact, very good.”

Spiller plan

C.J. Spiller‘s brief appearance in the Saints’ offense Sunday was by design.

Spiller, who’s coming off of a minor procedure on his right knee, played seven snaps against the Buccaneers as the Saints get ready to work him into a full role with the offense.

New Orleans put roughly a dozen plays in the game plan that fit Spiller’s skill set, and the running back responded with a 19-yard reception and three carries for 7 yards.

“It was going to be, here’s a list of Spiller plays, and let’s get him up,” Payton said.

Spiller could be seen icing his knee between offensive series, but that was also part of the New Orleans plan all along. The Saints alternated heat and ice on Spiller’s knee throughout the game as a precautionary measure.

Now that he’s back in action, Spiller’s role could increase in the coming weeks.

“The plan for him, and some of these guys, you see it all the time, is get on the bike. And how do you stay warm, stay loose if you’re on a limited basis?” Payton said. “He’s doing fine.”

Puncher’s chance

Delvin Breaux, making his second start as a Saints corner, went viral for making one mishap in the Saints’ 26-19 loss to Tampa Bay: losing a deep ball from Jameis Winston to Louis Murphy in the lights and unable to find it as Murphy made the catch.

In reality, Breaux turned in a standout game for a Saints secondary that held Mike Evans without a catch.

“Delvin Breaux played very well,” Payton said in his weekly WWL radio appearance.

Breaux’s chief area of improvement? Penalties. Flagged four times against Arizona, including twice on one play, Breaux spent the week practicing with boxing gloves on his hands, a tactic the Saints have used before to help teach their return men how to field a punt.

“I knew I had to do some adjusting,” Breaux said. “During the week, I focused on not getting penalties. And with those pads they make you wear in practice, you can’t hold anybody anyway.”

Breaux also stayed in close communication with the referees, constantly checking to see if he was flirting with a flag.

“They told me to check with them if I wasn’t sure, and they’d say, ‘Good job,’ after the play,” Breaux said. “I thought I did OK in coverage, but in the NFL, you learn it’s a lot different when the bullets starting flying for real.”