Saints enter preseason debut with questions to be answered

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Hau'oli Kikaha
Hau’oli Kikaha is healthy again, seeking a chance to start for the Saints at defensive end (Photo: Parker Waters).

Teams look to answer pending questions in the preseason. The New Orleans Saints are no different, heading into their preseason opener at Cleveland.

Can the Saints defensive line create a pass rush early on when most starters are in the game?

Can the offensive line protect the Saints quarterback and open holes for the run?

Can the secondary which was depleted by injuries the past two seasons show more depth, make plays and come up with turnovers?

Quarterback Chase Daniel, set to get most of the offensive snaps, needs to show he is an improvement over previous backup Luke McCown. I think he is a better player because he can also make yardage with his feet. It is an important year for Gilbert Grayson, who must show something in the pre-season games if he is to be a Saint this season.

The running back position is deep. Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara are locks to make the final 52, but the battle between Dan Lasco and Travis Cadet should be interesting. Fullback John Kuhn is back and proven.

Brandon Coleman has had a good camp so far and should join Michael Thomas, Willie Sneed and Ted Ginn among the wide receivers to make the squad. The competition between Tommy Lee Lewis, Corey Fuller and special teams performer Jake Lampman will be an interesting one to gauge. LSU’s Travin Dural may end up on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie bouncing back from injuries.

The offensive line needs to get healthy, and starting center Max Unger is already sorely missed in training camp. Ryan Ramczyk, a first round selection, needs to prove he can be effective at left tackle. His trial-by-fire starts against the Browns.

The backup tight ends should see most of the action against the Browns. Michael Hoomanawanui and Josh Hill are both coming back from injury. Clay Harbor is a veteran has also looked good in camp. The incumbents may have to play well this preseason to fend off Harbor.

The battle on the defensive line to find a pass rusher to play opposite Cam Jordan needs to be watched intently. Alex Okafor and Hau’oli Kikaha will battle it out for the first chance to start. Kikaha looks to be back from his knee injury. Trey Hendrickson, a third round selection who has played both outside and inside at the tackle position, is still more of a developmental player who may factor later this season.

The defensive tackle position features strong competition between three young players, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyamata and Tyeler Davison. Solid production from all three will be essential for the defense to succeed.

The most interesting position to watch may be linebacker. Who will line up where? There is a battle at the will linebacker spot between rookie Alex Anzalone and Stephon Anthony, but Anthony can also project to mike ‘backer. Craig Robinson can play mike and will as well.

A. J. Klein could be the starter in the middle but the free agent newcomer has also spent time at strongside linebacker. The same goes for Manti Te’o, a cerebral player who has lined up at Mike and Sam.

In the secondary, first round pick Marshon Lattimore has been nicked up, and the same can be said for Delvin Breaux. P. J. Williams and Ken Crawley have benefited from the opportunities to step up.

Crawley has really looked good in his second season after a rough debut season.

Another young corner to keep an eye on is Arthur Maulet, a free agent from Memphis who prepped at Bonnabel. He may force his way on to the roster, but he needs to contribute on special teams.

There is depth at safety with Vonn Bell, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush and Erik Harris. But keep an eye on , Marcus Williams, a second round pick with the kind of nose for the football to be a difference maker at the back of the defense.
The specialists positions seems to be set with placekicker Will Lutz, punter Thomas Morstead and newly-resigned long snapper Justin Drescher.

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Al Dupuy

CCS NFL Draft Expert

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Dupuy is the owner of Draft Day Report, The Pro Prospects Draft Scrapbook, a must for any draftnik following the NFL. Al was born in Plaquemine, La., and moved to New Orleans when he was 6 years old. He grew up on Tulane Ave. two blocks from Pelican Stadium and became interested in sports at an early age. He went…

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