The New Orleans Saints gave a lot of young players a chance to prove their promise in the first half of Friday night's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
A few rose to the challenge, but a player who had generated his fair share of preseason hype faltered.
Offered his first chance to start an NFL preseason game, second-year quarterback Taysom Hill failed to protect the ball against Arizona's starting defense, and the rest of the Saints offense sputtered behind him in a 20-15 loss in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I think it was a tough night for him," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I think he'll rebound and be better.”
Based on the playing-time patterns, New Orleans (1-1) headed into Friday night's preseason game hoping to get a closer look at young players who had flashed a glimpse of something special so far, whether in training camp practices or the preseason opener against Jacksonville.
For example, third-year running back Jonathan Williams was given the first chance to carry the ball after veteran Mark Ingram — second-year star Alvin Kamara was held out of Friday night's game — in recognition of his impressive performance in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars last week.
Williams, who is battling with veterans Terrance West and Shane Vereen, plus rookie Boston Scott, for the chance to fill in for Ingram while the veteran serves a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs to start the season, rose to the challenge.
Offered carries early and often, Williams ripped off a 19-yard run early, converted a key fourth down in the third quarter and finished with 37 yards on eight carries.
On the other side of the ball, second-year defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence backed up his surprising two-sack performance in the second half against the Jaguars by flashing again, this time against Arizona's starting offensive line and second-teamers. Lawrence picked up two tackles, recorded a tackle-for-loss and batted a pass, all while putting consistent pressure on Arizona's precocious rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen.
Hill wasn't able to make the same kind of impression.
Handed a chance to take on Arizona's starters by the team's decision to hold Drew Brees out of action, Hill was picked off on his first series when veteran receiver Cameron Meredith dropped a pass over the middle, and it got worse from there.
Hill completed 11-of-15 passes for 68 yards and rushed three times for 43 yards, but he tossed two interceptions, lost two fumbles and nearly lost another, and nearly all of his passing yards came on the final drive of the first half. Before that series, Hill was 6-of-10 for a paltry 13 yards.
Arizona (2-0), on the other hand, bounced back from a pair of early stops by the Saints' starting defense to post 17 points in the first half, with touchdowns by star running back David Johnson and a gorgeous touchdown pass from Rosen to Christian Kirk.
Hill, who is also considered a core special-teamer by the Saints and has a good chance to make the 53-man roster even if he's not the primary backup to Brees, gave way to veteran Tom Savage at the half.
Savage, the favorite for the backup job entering the game, completed 6-of-7 passes for 53 yards, but he also took three sacks and failed to get the ball in the end zone as the Saints settled for three Wil Lutz field goals.
New Orleans didn't score a touchdown until undrafted rookie J.T. Barrett scrambled in from 12 yards out with 20 seconds left in the game.
After two uninspiring performances by Savage and Hill to start the preseason, the Saints will now gear up for a trip to Los Angeles this week for joint practices against the Chargers and the all-important third preseason game, a chance for one of the backups to rise to the occasion and make the right impression.
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