Saints’ second preseason game big for those not guaranteed a starting spot

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Jameis Winston

METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints held their 19th practice of training camp Saturday afternoon.

They have gotten a great deal of work done in preparation for the upcoming season.

Now they’re entering the peak of preseason preparation.

They play the final two preseason games in a span of six days, beginning Monday night against Jacksonville in the Caesars Superdome.

And they’re still trying to figure out a whole bunch of stuff.

They still have to find a starting quarterback, clear up a muddled competition at wide receiver, settle on their depth on the offensive line and pretty much throughout the defense where they also have to uncover a starting cornerback.

They have to decide if they’re comfortable with newly signed Aldrick Rosas filling in for Wil Lutz as the kicker, choose a punter and evaluate several other special-teams spots.

Head coach Sean Payton chose not to play several starters in a 17-14 loss at Baltimore last Saturday – RB Alvin Kamara, T Ryan Ramczyk, T Terron Armstead, WR/RS Deonte Harris, DE Cameron Jordan, LB Demario Davis, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Marcus Williams and CB Marshon Lattimore.

“A handful (of starters) that didn’t play in the last game will play this week,” Payton said. “They need to play. We’re not going to go three games (without them playing).”

But these games mean very little for anointed starters. They matter for choosing undetermined starters and filling out the roster with non-starters.

With that in mind here’s a closer look at whom to keep an eye on during the game against the Jaguars:

Quarterback
Jameis Winston gets the start one week after Taysom Hill started in the 17-14 loss at Baltimore. Neither player separated himself in last week’s performance.

“We’re evaluating it all – how they move the team, their decision-making, protecting the football,” Payton said, “all the things that go into winning at that position.”

Hill will follow Winston and Trevor Siemian will make his preseason debut once Hill is done. If there are enough snaps, rookie fourth-round draft choice Ian Book, who was the third player under center last week, will also get a shot.

Running back
In Kamara’s absence last week, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Tony Jones Jr. each lost a fumble.

Jones’ fumble detracted from his otherwise very impressive performance (120 yards from scrimmage).

Murray figures to be the primary backup to Kamara and Jones has put himself in position to perhaps unseat special-teams stalwart Dwayne Washington.

“He’s having a good camp,” Payton said of Jones. “Each day, you see some flashes from him in the running game and even in the passing game. We have to keep working on his ball security. He’s smart. He had a couple good downs of pass protection the other night. I think he’s progressing well.”

Sutton Smith is running out of time to push Alex Armah as the fullback.

Wide receiver
This position requires close scrutiny.

Michael Thomas is still recovering from ankle surgery and Tre’Quan Smith hasn’t had an opportunity to show he’s ready to be the No. 1 receiver in Thomas’ absence. Smith suffered a leg injury early in camp, sat out last week’s game, briefly returned to practice and has missed the last three practices.

Meanwhile Marquez Callaway has had a good camp and played well against the Ravens, establishing himself as the top healthy receiver on the roster at this moment. Tommylee Lewis went on injured reserve this week and Chris Hogan missed practice Saturday.

So there is an opportunity for Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who caught a touchdown pass against the Ravens, Ty Montgomery, Harris, rookie seventh-round draft choice Kawaan Baker, Easop Winston Jr. and Kevin White, a former No. 1 draft choice signed this week, to make plays.

Tight ends
Juwan Johnson has impressed since the start of training camp and seems poised to join Adam Trautman and Nick Vannett on the regular-season roster.

If Garrett Griffin or Ethan Wolf is going to make a push for the roster, this game would be a good time to start.

Offensive line
The questions here are limited to who makes the roster as backups to Ramczyk, Armstead, center Erik McCoy and guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz.

The favorites seem to be incumbents Will Clapp, James Hurst, Ethan Greenidge and Derrick Kelly II.

Rookie sixth-round draft choice Landon Young, Jordan Mills, Caleb Benenoch, J.R. Sweezy, Christian Montano and Calvin Throckmorton are running out of time to distinguish themselves.

Defensive line
First-round draft choice Payton Turner did not play last week and is unlikely to play this week because of an undisclosed injury. Even in his absence as well as Jordan’s, the defensive line played very well against the Ravens.

Marcus Davenport has had a very good preseason and he and David Onyemata both stood out last week. The Saints don’t need to see much from them or Tanoh Kpassagnon, Carl Granderson, Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach.

There aren’t many job openings on the line, so Jalen Dalton, Josiah Bronson, Christian Ringo, Albert Huggins, R.J. McIntosh and Marcus Willoughby face an uphill battle.

Linebackers
The linebackers might have been the most impressive group in the opener as Zach Baun, Kaden Elliss and Chase Hansen all played well. Rookie second-round draft choice Pete Werner has returned to practice after being sidelined for the opener as has veteran Kwon Alexander.

Andrew Dowell has had a very good camp, but Shaq Smith, Wynton McManis are running out of time to show up on radar.

Secondary
Jenkins, Marcus Williams and C.J. Garner-Johnson are set as the top safeties and J.T. Gray is a special-teams leader. Lattimore is clearly the top corner though he could face a suspension to start the season.

Ken Crawley and rookie second-round draft choice Paulson Adebo started the opener at corner and continued the good play they have shown throughout camp.

P.J. Williams and Grant Haley and incumbents and Eric Burrell played well last week. Bryce Thompson, Deuce Wallace, Brian Poole, Bryan Mills, Natrell Jamerson, Jeff Heath need a breakout performance.

Special teams
Rosas, a former Pro Bowler with the Giants, has just one practice with the Saints, but somebody has to kick while Lutz recovers from recent core muscle surgery.

If Nolan Cooney gets a chance to punt he needs to shine if he’s going to beat out Blake Gillikin.

The return and coverage units provide additional opportunities for a host of players that don’t have a roster spot assured.

NFL teams have to reduce their roster from 85 to 80 players by Tuesday afternoon.

The Saints host Arizona in the preseason finale next Saturday.

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

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…

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