In football, if there is any month where fans love to play head coach/GM, it has to be August. Not everyone loves the preseason, but for the fan who loves to see how the current year's team is built, this is your time. During the Payton era, most of the position battles have been, for the most part, pretty clear. With a new defense in place and uncertainty at the 3rd WR spot, there seems to be a bigger buzz about who is the favorite to get certain roster spots and the answers are usually not the same.
My opinion before training camp was that there were three position battles that were relatively wide open. Coincidentally, all three positions suffered potential season ending injuries to key contenders for roster (and even starting) spots. After watching the first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, I feel that there is still a lot of uncertainty between these three positions, and hope our next preseason game against the Oakland Raiders will begin to give us a better idea.
THE DEFENSIVE LINE
I think that I can comfortably say that Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Brodrick Bunkley, and John Jenkins are nearly guaranteed roster spots. The loss of Kenyon Coleman have opened doors for someone to move up the depth chart and take a reserve defensive end spot. Tyrunn Walker seems to always play pretty well in preseason action. Tom Johnson is an athletic player who will also attempt to push for a defensive end spot. Some Saints fans here and on other sites seem to have a liking for Jay Richardson, a veteran player who hasn't played in an NFL game since 2010.
Then there is rookie UDFA defensive end Glenn Foster. This may be one of those Saints "unknown guys" that has a real shot at breaking into the 53 man roster. He's very similar in size to Cam Jordan and has all of the physical tools to be a solid NFL player in the future. Before the start of camp, I saw Foster as a potential practice squad guy. I'll be watching to see how Foster stacks up versus Walker, Johnson, and Richardson. So far, I couldn't give a definitive edge to any one of the four.
The Saints have lived and died by the three WR package. For the first time in years, the Saints do not have a clear cut #3 WR. While I expect to see a "platoon" at this spot, the question is between who?
The early favorites are Kenny Stills and Nick Toon. Both receivers look as raw as they should be and I hope that they both get more opportunities with Brees as the preseason rolls on. After the first preseason game, it appears that the Saints plan to work both of them into the offense as much as possible. Preston Parker had a nice showing against the Chiefs, but would have to literally come up big every preseason game to beat out some of the younger talent.
I do not understand why the Saints signed the 34 year old Patrick Crayton. Hopefully this is more about getting a veteran camp body in here and less about concerns with our unproven WR unit.
I hope to see quite a bit of Steve Breaston in the next 3 preseason games. He's a player who is more than capable of handling the 3rd WR role in certain situations. While he may simply be a filler for the future, the Saints need someone NOW who is sure handed and can get open in the three WR sets.
Andy Tanner seems to be more than willing to shoot for a final roster spot. He could be Breaston's main competition. Unless Saalim Hakim and Jarred Fayson make a bigger impact on Friday night, they may end up on the outside looking in.
After losing Victor Butler for the season, I was confident that the Saints have young and talented players ready to step in and take over. The injuries to Martez Wilson and Junior Galette have kept them off of the field at a time where they finally have the opportunity to work in the 3-4 defense in live game action. Jonathan Vilma is eating cheesesteaks in Philly and the promising rookie trio of Eric Martin, Chase Thomas, and Kevin Reddick combined for less snaps against the Chiefs than Baraka Atkins. Trying to predict the depth chart at linebacker is like trying to guess which Kardashian is the sane one. It seems to change every week.
Sure, we can expect for Martez and Junior to get a lot of playing time this season, but how ready will they be when the Saints host the Dirty Birds in what will be a very important season opener? I think it is important for someone to step up and have a nice game against the Raiders. I'm anxious to see if the Saints continue to give Atkins extended action or if the defense is ready to let the rookies show more of what they can do.
While watching these tight position battles continue on Friday night, I will keep my fingers crossed and hope that the Saints do a WAY better job on special teams. According to Hans' article on the snap count versus the Chiefs, there were quite a few special team veterans on the field for the majority of the special team snaps. Hopefully this works itself out or it may be panic time already.
When the Raiders enter the Dome on Friday night, what will you be watching for? Who are some of the players that you would like to see more or less of?