New Orleans Saints football is back. With an offseason full of uncertainties regarding the future of the team, fans will finally get their first glimpse of the post-Drew Brees era on Saturday night.
New Orleans heads to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore for their preseason opener against the Ravens. The Saints have won four straight NFC South titles, but it remains to be seen if they can keep their streak alive with the likes of the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the division.
Here are five players to watch in New Orleans’ preseason opener.
1) Jameis Winston (QB)
While Winston is the heavy betting favorite to be named the Saints’ Week 1 starter, coach Sean Payton told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that there is no timetable for a decision on the quarterback job between Winston and Taysom Hill.
Winston most notably became the eight quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 passing yards in a season in 2019 with 5,109. He had 33 passing touchdowns but also added a mind-boggling 30 interceptions.
“My goal is to get better every single day,” Winston said. “It’s just the process of how I’m trying to try to do things and I know ultimately, the more great decisions we make, the better we’re going to be off for it.”
2) Payton Turner (DE)
New Orleans took Turner with the 28th overall pick in this year’s draft. He led the University of Houston with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss last season.
Turner has reportedly been having an impressive training camp thus far. He has made standout plays against both the run and the pass and looks to steadily improve week-by-week.
Turner left practice early with an injury on Tuesday, but Payton said his injury is not long term and hasn’t ruled him out for Saturday. While he may get limited work should he suit up, it will be exciting to see the rookie get his feet wet.
3) Paulson Adebo (DB)
The Saints traded up to select Adebo in the first half of the third round. The Stanford cornerback was named to the All-Pac-12 second team in 2019 after recording 33 tackles, 10 pass breakups and four interceptions in nine games.
With the retirement of Patrick Robinson earlier this week, Adebo could see a massive workload in 2021. Janoris Jenkins also departed in free agency, meaning that the second starting cornerback spot is wide open.
Payton said that addressing the cornerback position was a “must” even prior to Robinson’s retirement, so New Orleans’ secondary will have to step up in a big way. Adebo’s size (6-1, 192) and skillset could help right away.
4) Marquez Callaway (WR)
Callaway could take a big leap this season. The undrafted free agent caught 21 of his 27 targets for 213 yards in 2020.
Star receiver Michael Thomas underwent ankle surgery in June and will likely be sidelined for the first part of the season. This leaves Tre’Quan Smith and Callaway as the next men up in the passing game.
While Smith is already primed for a massive volume of targets, Callaway is also due for a huge workload. Callaway has a chance to emerge as a weekly starter in the offense after starting just three games last season.
5) Zack Baun (LB)
A third-round selection out of Wisconsin, Baun played sparingly in 2020. While he played 15 games, most of his snaps came on special teams. Baun saw just 82 defensive snaps in his rookie season with the Saints.
Despite little experience last year, it sounds like Baun has made a ton of improvement this offseason. He’s reportedly had a great training camp and looks to have a bigger impact on defense.
“I’d say the difference between this year and last year is I’m just way more comfortable,” Baun said during minicamp. “Comfortable with the playbook. Comfortable. I know everybody. I know all the coaches. I know I’m just coming into this season way more comfortable and way more confident.”
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