Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls. The Saints' road to Super Bowl XLVII starts Sunday at 8pm EST time when they take on the Arizona Cardinals in Canton, Ohio. This matchup will be the Hall of Fame game, which routinely kicks off the NFL preseason. This may be just a preseason game, but as the Saints will be coming out of the most unorthodox offseason in NFL history, it is a blessing to finally see our boys back on the field.
Personally, I don't worry about these games much either. If they finish 0-5, it won't change my expectations or perspective on how the regular season will play out. But I do enjoy the preseason in the sense that we get to see new players for the first time. Being able to get an initial impression of players is always good and quite fun.
In this years' preseason matchups, I will be looking for a number of questions to be answered:
Starting on offense: who will be the established 4th, 5th and possibly 6th receivers to start the season?
Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Lance Moore are the solidified receivers of the group. After those guys, though, it's all up in the air. In total, there are eight other receivers competing for the final two or three spots. Of the eight, Nick Toon, Adrian Arrington, Joe Morgan, and Courtney Roby seem to have the upper hand.
Arrington has bounced between the final squad and practice squad for a while now, Courtney Roby has been a special teams ace on the team as a gunner, Nick Toon was the teams 4th round draft pick this year so he has some promise, and Joe Morgan brings return man ability to the table.
Who will be the backup tight end(s) behind Jimmy Graham?
Last year the team went through a number of tight ends. During the beginning of the season, David Thomas was the man behind Graham, but a season plagued by injuries disrupted it. He has reportedly been recovering well and should be ready for the start of the season.
Other than Thomas, Michael Higgins and John Gilmore were available throughout the season, although Gilmore was primarily used as a blocking specialist. Most recently, the Saints signed Derek Schouman to the training camp roster. He has four years of experience in the NFL (three with the Bills and one with the Rams), but he hasn't contributed much. In 2011 Schouman didn't play a down.
On defense: who will be the starting linebackers on either side of Curtis Lofton?
Newly acquired linebacker Curtis Lofton has already been deemed as the starting middle linebacker; he is replacing Jonathan Vilma while he serves his suspension. Outside of Lofton, the other two spots are up for grabs. Just as the team did with Lofton, they brought in linebackers David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain for much needed depth. Hawthorne is expected to take one side while the other side will be a competition between Chamberlain, Jonathan Casillas, Will Herring, and veteran Scott Shanle. As the Saints have a plethora of linebackers, this will definitely be a great camp competition.
Finally, on special teams: who will be the teams starting kicker?
Garrett Hartley was the undisputed starting three-point specialist for the team early last season. Unfortunately, Hartley would find his season cut short as he was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury. In response to that, the Saints would go on to sign the seasoned veteran John Kasay, who filled in quite nicely. The lefty made 28 out of 34 field goals with his longest being from 53. Special teams coach Gregg McMahon has said that Hartley has recovered nicely and that the two place kickers will be battling it out for the starting spot. This is a great problem to have for the Saints, as they have had some minor kicking woes in recent years.
Hopefully through the duration of this years preseason we can get answers to all of our questions. What questions do you guys have for the team? Discuss in the comments section below.