Some storylines to follow as the Saints kickoff their preseason at Jacksonville at 6 p.m. tonight (Aug. 9).
Who will spell Alvin Kamara for the four games that Mark Ingram is suspended, and to what level can that replacement be counted on? Specifically, Boston Scott, the Saints’ sixth round draft pick out of Louisiana Tech, will likely have an extended chance to assert himself for that role.
Scott has garnered a strong amount of buzz at Saints’ camp as a playmaker and mismatch waiting to happen in the passing game. At 5-foot-7 and nearly 200 pounds, the easy comparison to make is to former Saints standout and fan favorite Darren Sproles, who established himself as one of the most dangerous receiving backs in league history during his time in New Orleans at a similar size of 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds. While it’s the easy comparison, is it an accurate one? We’ll start finding out tonight.
Who will step up among the Saints’ secondary receivers? We’ll perhaps get a brief glimpse of Ted Ginn with the starters and see if those wheels are still in top form at the age of 33. Rookie Tre’Quan Smith, noted at length last week in this space, gets his first go-of it in front of the fanbase at large.
Perhaps most intriguing will be the chance to see Cameron Meredith in action. Meredith was to enter last season as the Chicago Bears’ top receiving target before injuring his knee in the preseason. The Bears were skeptical of the former undrafted free agent’s ability to return to form, or at least of the need to make any kind of significant financial commitment to him, and allowed him to leave for New Orleans as a restricted free agent.
I don’t know if that injury will slow him down, but when he emerged in Chicago two years ago, Meredith flashed the skills of a difference-maker. He has tremendous athleticism for a man of his size at 6-foot-3 and could be the kind of over the middle target that makes the team’s potential lack of a significant threat at tight end less of an issue. If he hits, that will be a boon. The release of Brandon Coleman at least indicates the team feels comfortable with Meredith’s availability.
The new Kelemete? Johnny-on-the-spot for the Saints along the offensive line over the past few seasons has been Senio Kelemete, a versatile backup who could fill in whenever someone was sidelined.
The Saints’ brought back Jermon Bushrod, the team’s former left tackle, and hopefully he can retain the form he had once upon a time here. Other names like Josh LeRibeus, Cameron Tom, Landon Turner and Michael Ola will get their chance to earn roster spots and that coveted Kelemete role, which means significant playing time more often than not.
Who’s the guy at tight end? Ben Watson is back, and he was shockingly great when filling in for the departed Jimmy Graham in his first NOLA run. Watson’s one of the more underappreciated athletic specimens the league has seen over the years — remember, that was the guy who ran down Champ Bailey from behind at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds — but he’s also 37 years old. Still, he was among Baltimore’s leading receivers last season, and until he shows he’s lost it, he’s the favorite to start here again.
That said, the Saints clearly want to evaluate options at the position. The team has six tight ends in camp in addition to Watson, a list topped by Josh Hill. A new name to watch may be Deon Yelder, who converted from wide receiver to tight end at Western Kentucky and signed with the Saints after going undrafted. The Saints gave him a larger guarantee than usual for an undrafted player and obviously saw something they’d like to work with.
Strong safety will be? Vonn Bell and Kurt Coleman are battling for that spot, the former a young up and comer and the latter a veteran the Saints scooped on the free agent market. We’ll likely see both get ample playing time this season when the Saints go to their three-safety packages.
But pay attention as tonight’s game rolls on, because a former Destrehan High star will be looking to make his own impact: Rickey Jefferson is in camp at safety and should see the field tonight.
Health? Alex Okafor makes his return tonight after his season-ending injury last year. A return to form for the pass rusher would be huge for this team. A.J. Klein, likewise, will suit up at linebacker after his own injury last season, and should be asserting himself as the quarterback of the defense at linebacker.