Saints have a lot of work to do before settling on opening-day roster
Normally an NFL team’s third preseason game is the one that most resembles a regular-season game.
Teams generally have played most if not all of their starters for their largest number of preseason snaps in the third game before scaling back dramatically in the fourth game.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has said that wouldn’t change for his team this preseason even though the NFL had reduced the number of preseason games from four to three.
The third game was going to be a typical third game.
But the preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night in the Caesars Superdome is starting to look like it won’t be exactly what Payton had planned.
After practice Thursday, Payton was short on specifics about the plan for Saturday, saying he and his staff would figure it out late Thursday and Friday.
“There are some positions I’d still like to do that with and there’s some positions where we’re at health or depth wise that we have to be somewhat flexible with (playing starters),” Payton said.
The start of the regular season is looming, but the Saints opening-day roster is very much a work in progress.
The NFL’s decision to shorten the preseason leaves nearly an extra week from the end of the preseason to the start of the regular season.
That leaves more time to consider trade options, scour the waiver wire, work out recently released players and even have a second group of post-cutdown signees if some in the first group don’t work out.
“Sometimes a player will come in on a Monday or Tuesday because of an injury, and suddenly, he is playing that week,” Payton said. “If it’s a player that’s been here that’s an easier transition, but sometimes it’s a player that hasn’t been here that’s playing. I think you have to factor that in by weighing the talent, intelligence, and availability of those guys.”
Several Saints players were nicked up in the 23-21 victory against Jacksonville on Monday, complicating Payton’s attempt to finish evaluating the final cutdown from 80 players to a 53-man roster by next Tuesday afternoon.
“Hopefully we’ll have a better feel by (Friday) with some of those (injured) guys,” Payton said. “We had a couple guys the other night that had to play 40 snaps. We’re a little thin at corner. The defensive backs were gassed by the end of that game. That’s always the challenge in preseason. You have a full roster but you’re trying to hold certain players, and someone has to pick up those snaps.”
Payton has not named a starting quarterback between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill and said Thursday he had not decided how to utilize them Saturday.
There are numerous battles going on throughout the team to claim spots on the roster.
“(This is) the message we’re always talking to players about: If you’re just looking at your position group and counting the numbers, you can be somewhat short-sighted,” Payton said. “You are looking at everyone at that position across the league.
“In some cases, if you are making it as a special teams player as a defensive back or wide receiver, you may be competing against a linebacker. It’s always hard to do the math internally. Having a good handle on the other teams and what might become available will be important also.”
The game Saturday is the most significant audition remaining for roster spots and positioning on the depth chart.
“I think your games give you more information because you’re in a game environment against unknown competition,” Payton said. “It’s all factored in, but I think games carry a significant amount of importance because of that setting.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s 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. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…