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New Orleans Saints vs. New England Patriots: What to watch for

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It’s the first preseason game, in which the Saints are 7-3 in the Sean Payton era. What should you expect tonight against the Patriots?

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

As the New Orleans Saints prepare for their first preseason contest against the New England Patriots, what should you realistically expect?

Most inaugural preseason games for teams don’t provide much insight, as there are mainly base packages and simple, vanilla offensive attacks. Last year saw the Saints struggle heavily out of the gate against the Baltimore Ravens, rebounded, but ended up a bad omen for the entire season. The team failed to win a single preseason game, and it carried over into the regular season. Was there a direct correlation? Maybe. When your team has back-to-back 7-9 seasons and hasn’t been able to get started on the right foot, you certainly start to question anything and everything.

Here’s a few things to keep a close watch on as the Saints take on the Patriots.

Garrett Grayson’s playing time

We know what Luke McCown can do, and it’s widely expected that he is the frontrunner for the team’s primary backup to Drew Brees. Like last season, this will only change if second-year quarterback Garrett Grayson can make some things happen. Grayson’s pocket presence, poise, and overall reads will all be on display for all four games. The Saints did not elect to add a fourth quarterback to their roster, which could bode well for the Colorado State product. Brees is only playing a series or so during the first quarter, so we should get an extensive look at what Grayson‘s growth looks like.

The defensive basics

Again, we are likely to not see major blitzes and interesting schemes here, but we will get a look at the base defense of the Saints. Dennis Allen’s squad will go under the microscope by many, and specifically we want to see how the front seven has improved. Promising additions coupled with both drafted and undrafted talent will be something to watch when these two clash. Major concerns swell with the team’s interior line, edge rusher opposite Cameron Jordan, linebacker corps, and what to expect out of the secondary. Shoot, we’d just like to see fundamental tackling in place.

The unsung hero or heroes

Throughout training camp and the preseason, we keep a close watch on those players that will step up when things count. The underdogs and longshots to make the final 53-man roster have a lot at stake in just a short amount of time. For some, there may not be another opportunity ever again. For others, this is there time to shine. Players like Tommylee Lewis, R.J. Harris, Landon Turner, and De’Vante Harris are just some of the many that hope to steal the spotlight.

Last year’s rookie growth

Mainly, what are the Saints going to get out of P.J. Williams and Davis Tull? Both players missed their rookie seasons, and there’s much buzz about what they can potentially bring to the table for 2016. The team had a rich find of talent from last year’s draft, and also found several gems from their undrafted pool. Naturally, you want to see the progression from these guys.

The kicking battle

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Saints have another agonizing kicker problem on their hands. Connor Barth and Kai Forbath have been battling it out and training camp, and it’s been fairly even. A slight edge may go to Forbath right now, but honestly do you even care? The Saints’ kicking history has been majorly atrocious in the Sean Payton era. One job – get the ball through the uprights. Something else to keep an eye on is who handles kickoff duties, because Forbath didn’t exactly ‘wow’ in touchbacks when Thomas Morstead was unable to go.