Saints still have depth questions on offense
NEW ORLEANS – The Saints’ 34-25 loss against the Minnesota Vikings on Friday night probably didn’t settle any battles for roster spots.
But it did shine some light on a few competitions – most notably some areas of the offense with uncertain depth.
The Saints entered the game with a wide-open battle to back up standout starting tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. No one stood out among the backups.
With practices against the Chargers next week in Los Angeles and three more preseason games, there are still plenty of opportunities for someone to step forward and establish himself as a dependable third tackle.
But at the same time it’s quite possible that the person who is the third tackle for the season opener Sept. 9 is not currently on the roster. This should be a focal point for the rest of the preseason.
The tight ends remain a fluid group after starter Jared Cook and probable No. 2 Josh Hill. Dan Arnold, a project who is in his second season of a transition from wide receiver. He had a good-news, bad-news night that likely will wind up being more bad than good for his prospects of making the team.
He caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater in the second quarter, but a third-quarter pass from Taysom Hill bounced off Arnold’s hands and landed in the hands of cornerback Nate Meadors, who ran 30 yards on the interception return for a touchdown.
Catching the football should be Arnold’s biggest strength and he’s going to have a difficult time beating out a superior blocker such as Garrett Griffin if he’s not clearly more dependable as a receiver.
Speaking of tight ends, A.J. Derby, who joined the team two days earlier, was targeted four times, catching two for 13 yards.
But with seventh-round draft choice Alize’ Mack sidelined and recently signed Jake Powell not having an opportunity yet, the third tight end position is another that could be filled by someone yet to be released by another team.
The wide receiver depth behind starters Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. is an unclear as it has been for the last year. That doesn’t mean there won’t be adequate depth there – because there are capable candidates – but there are a bunch of candidates and no one has stood out a clear-cut No. 3, or 4, or 5.
Keith Kirkwood seemed to be No. 3 in practice before being injured and he didn’t play Friday. Tre’Quan Smith stepped in and caught two passes for 16 yards, but also had a drop.
Cyril Grayson Jr. had a 32-yard catch, Lil’Jordan Humphrey shook off a shaky start to camp to grab two passes, including a 33-yard touchdown, and Deonte Harris showed well on kickoff returns (three for 90 yards), but he’s difficult to see him earning enough snaps on Sundays to justify a roster spot.
Simmie Cobbs had a catch and a drop, Rishard Matthews had a catch, Austin Carr and Travin Dural were targeted once each without having a catch and Emmanuel Butler, didn’t play.
Perhaps there was some clarity at running back. The Saints have been looking for a dependable third halfback behind Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray.
Dwayne Washington had been running third in practice reps and he got the first chance after the top two on Friday. He ran eight times for 36 yards and likely didn’t allow anyone to gain ground. Devine Ozigbo (3-20) and Jacquizz Rodgers (5-15) did get a few chances late.
So if someone on the roster other than Washington is going to wind up being No. 3 they appear to have some catching up to do.
There are other battles yet to be decided throughout the roster, but depth at wide receiver, tight end and tackle was unclear during the first two weeks of training camp.
It remains the case after one preseason game.
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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…