Saints deep at running back but lacking at quarterback behind Brees

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Taysom Hill
Taysom Hill (#7) played the entire first half of the Saints’ preseason game against tthe Cardinals at quarterback (Photo: Parker Waters).

NEW ORLEANS – The Saints have more than enough depth at running back, but not much at quarterback.

That was the primary takeaway from their 20-15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, though the performances merely reinforced what already seemed evident.

With Alvin Kamara resting, Jonathan Williams took advantage of added playing time to rush a team-high eight times for 37 yards and show that he might be capable of moving up the depth chart during starting running back Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension to start the season.

Ingram started Friday and rushed seven times for 36 yards and Williams rotated with him, much as Kamara will under normal circumstances.

“I thought he was solid,” coach Sean Payton said of Williams.

Rookie sixth-round draft choice Boston Scott of Zachary High School and Louisiana Tech showed he might be deserving of a roster spot, finishing with 28 yards on six carries.

“We wanted to give him more carries tonight and I thought he did some good things with the ball,” Payton said.

Scott, whose value as a return specialist also is being assessed, averaged 29 yards on three kickoff returns and returned one punt for 13 yards. He also caught one pass for four yards.

Among the other running backs, Ingram rushed seven times for 36 yards and Terrance West had two carries for 26 yards. As a team New Orleans rushed 28 times for 183 yards, thanks in part to a 43-yard scramble by quarterback Taysom Hill.

“I thought we ran the ball fairly efficiently,” Payton said. “We struggled in the passing game.”

Payton gave Hill as good an opportunity as he’s going to get to demonstrate that he’s more than just an athletic special teamer and quarterback project by starting him and playing him the first half. Hill squandered the opportunity, committing four turnovers that helped Arizona (2-0) build a 17-3 halftime lead.

The first turnover wasn’t Hill’s fault as his pass bounced off Cameron Meredith’s hands before being intercepted. The other three, including two fumbles, were Hill’s fault.

“It was a tough night for him,” Payton said. “We didn’t help him either. (Ted) Ginn (Jr.) ran the wrong route twice (including on the second interception).”

Tom Savage, who entered training camp as the presumed No. 2 and started the 24-20 victory at Jacksonville eight days earlier, solidified his spot when he relieved Hill to start the second half and completed 6-of-7 for 53 yards. He directed two drives that ended with field goals.

Fourth-string quarterback J.T. Barrett, a long shot at best to make the roster, did some good things late, including a 12-yard touchdown run that completed the scoring with 20 seconds left.

The running back spot on the depth chart remains the most complicated one on the team. Ingram will make the 53-man roster before being placed on the suspended list at the end of the preseason. Kamara will be the primary back in Ingram’s absence and Williams’ is starting to look like a lock as does Trey Edmunds, who is a special-teams contributor and potential blocking back.

That leaves Scott, West and veteran Shane Vereen, who didn’t carry the ball Friday but has been impressive, vying for one or two spots. Scott’s also competing with wide receiver Brandon Tate as a return specialist. Tate returned one punt for 8 yards and one kickoff for 40 yards.

The running backs will continue their marquee competition for roster spots next Saturday at the Los Angeles Chargers and in the preseason finale Aug. 20 against the Los Angeles Rams in the Superdome.

As for the quarterbacks, Savage seems even more entrenched as the No. 2, unless New Orleans looks elsewhere for Brees’ primary backup. Despite his struggled Friday, Hill still can make the team as a special teamer.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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