The New Orleans Saints take to the West Coast this week, as they prepare to take on the Los Angeles Chargers in their second preseason contest on Sunday evening. Prior to the game, the two teams will engage in joint scrimmages, a good test for two squads expected to be Super Bowl favorites in their respective conferences. While the starting units on each side are not expected to play more than a couple of series, the scrimmages between the two, there are plenty of important depth positions still up for grabs. Watching the stars of both teams square off should be entertaining, and a good gauge for where the Saints top units are at this stage. Here is a look at some of the other players to watch closest when New Orleans lines up against the Chargers.
The entire secondary (again)
Running back Melvin Gordon is still sitting out due to a contract dispute, but the Chargers still possess one of the league's most dangerous passing attacks. Saints starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple will have marquee matchups against big play L.A. wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Slot corners Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams will also be tested by the Charger wideouts, including speedster Travis Benjamin and tight end Hunter Henry. New Orleans safeties Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell face a stiff challenge from quarterback Phillip Rivers, who often looks to exploit secondaries over the top. Rookie defensive backs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Saquan Hampton are expected to again receive alot of reps, hoping to expound on a standout camp thus far. P.J. and Robinson both struggled in outside roles during last week's loss against Minnesota, and veteran Ken Crawley continues to look lost. Offseason signee Kayvon Webster, despite a questionable pass interference last week, has had a solid training camp in his attempt to win a backup job. The New Orleans secondary is hoping to begin the 2019 season stronger than they started last season, as well as avoiding the struggles they had against deeper receiving corps. A big play Los Angeles passing game should provide precisely the type of challenge to see where this unit stands as they head toward the season opener.
Chris Clark, offensive tackle
Clark, who was signed earlier this week, is hoping to give the team much needed depth at offensive tackle. A nine year veteran, Clark has started 66 games with three different teams, including 13 with the Carolina Panthers last season. Clark will compete with Michael Ola and Marshall Newhouse for the backup spot behind Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, after each were unimpressive last week against the Vikings.
Devine Ozigbo, running back
Ozigbo, an undrafted rookie, has shown impressive vision and explosiveness in limited touches so far. Veteran Dwayne Washington seems to have the edge for the third running back spot behind Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, and he did receive the majority of the touches last week. Ozigbo has already caught the attention of coaches, and has an opportunity to perhaps overtake Washington with an impressive performance against a Charger defense that ranked 9th last year.
Emmanuel Butler, wide receiver
Butler, an undrafted rookie, missed last week with injury but looks to be ready for this one. He has been a camp favorite so far, consistently exhibiting crisp routes and sure hands. He is in a tight competition at wideout to win a spot among Cyril Grayson, Simmie Cobb, and Lil'Jordan Humphrey, each of whom had solid moments against the Vikings. All warrant close looks during these joint workouts with the Chargers and in game action, as they hope to boost a Saints receiving corps that struggled as a group last year.
Kaden Elliss, linebacker
Elliss, a rookie 7th rounder, has impressed thus far with his versatility and activity within the Saints defense. He is winning over coaches with his nonstop motor, but must show that he can better handle gap responsibilities and backside control. Craig Robertson and Darnell Sankey seem to have the inside tracks to nail down the top backup spots. Elliss and Vince Biegel may be locked in a fierce battle for what could be the final linebacking spot. Biegel has been in the New Orleans system, and has also shown that he can contribute on special teams. Elliss, son of former Detroit Lions Pro Bowler Luther Elliss, needs a solid showing to solidify a spot on the depth chart.
Cyril Grayson and Deonte Harris, kick returns
Grayson and Harris, both wideouts, each stand their best shot at making the team by holding off cornerback Marcus Sherels as the Saints kick and punt returners. Both players had outstanding games in that role last week against Minnesota, averaging over 30 yards per return. Grayson stood out at receiver as well, particularly with a terrific catch along the sideline. Both players have elite speed, and are electric in the open field. If either can contribute as a receiver, it would give the Saints another gamebreaking offensive option. They will likely solidify a roster spot though, if one can provide a legitimate scoring threat on special teams.
Marcus Davenport, defensive end
Big things are expected from Davenport, the 14th overall draft pick in 2018. He showed dominant potential as a rookie, and coaches hope that he can develop to make a lethal edge tandem with All-Pro end Cameron Jordan. Davenport received a large amount of double team blocking with Jordan sitting out most of the game last week, and had mixed results at best. Now he faces a Chargers team with questions at the tackle position, and must show that he can produce consistent pressure. Jordan will obviously receive the bulk of double teams during the regular season, but Davenport must quickly begin showing why the team invested so highly in him. Eyes will also be on Mario Edwards Jr., Trey Hendrickson, and undrafted rookie Porter Gustin to generate pressure and provide depth on the outside. It is Davenport's progression though, that could turn one of the better defensive lines in the league into potentially elite.
Who will you be watching closest when the Saints take on the Chargers?
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Cyril Grayson/Deonte Harris