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49ers @ Saints: Players to Watch

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The Saints are taking on the San Francisco 49ers tonight in their first preseason game of the 2011 NFL season. Sean Payton said we can expect the Saints starters to play only 14-16 snaps tonight, with the second teamers playing a majority of the game and the third string closing things out late. Not surprising since they are two installs behind their normal preseason progress. 

That means we can probably expect a sloppy game with more than a few penalties and some atrocious tackling. But regardless of who's on the field for the black & gold, there will always be something to keep an eye on as it relates to the development of the the final 2011 squad. Here's a quick take on who I think Saints fans should be paying close attention to while watching the first Saints game being played in a newly renovated Superdome. 

Mark Ingram/Joique Bell/Darren Sproles

I don't know about you but I think I'm most excited to see Mark Ingram make his debut. INGRAMANIA!!! is officially here! There has been so much talk about how amazing he is, my interest is piqued at record levels. But if he's really that good and Payton plans on using him heavily, chances are he won't play too much. That's okay because we should get our first glimpse of Darren Sproles in a Saints uniform as well. If that wasn't enough, Joique Bell is also supposed to be turning heads during training camp and the coaches will probably want to see how he performs in game situations. Either way, most of the game should be exciting to watch as we're introduced to this new and improved Saints rushing attack.  


Montez Billings

I've heard a few people say positive things about the sophomore wide receiver's performance thus far this training camp. He's battling for one, maybe two, available spots on the final roster and with Adrian Arrington sitting this game out, this could be a huge opportunity for Billings to shine. 


New Kids on the Block

The Saints have a lot of new faces all along the defensive line, most notably Shaun Rogers, Aubrayo FranklinCameron Jordan and Turk McBride. Some may play significantly less than others tonight but it will be our first chance to see what each of them might bring to the table when it comes to an improved defensive front. 


Will Herring/Jonathan Casillas/Martez Wilson

If you're one of those Saints fans that really wants to see the team finally improve the outside linebacker position, these are the guys you'll want to keep your eyes on. Will Herring has drawn a good bit of praise thus far during training camp and I'd say the leading candidate to become a starter. Also look to see whether Casillas can pick up where he left off last summer before getting injured. This will be our first chance to sneak a peek at third round draft pick Martez Wilson. 


Not Drew Brees

We know he's going to be the starting quarterback. This is usually our only chance to see Chase Daniel actually get some game action with the exception of a meaningless late-season game and certainly our only chance to watch Sean Canfield. With Brees only taking a handful of snaps tonight, it will be the clipboard holders who will have a chance to prove their mettle. Let's see what they've got!