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17

Saints vs Cardinals Preview

SAINTS SEEK PROGRESS AS SEASON OPENER IS 23 DAYS AWAY
by Gus Kattengell / @gkatt_17

It’s been a little over seven months since Who Dats were able to cheer their black and gold inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. January 7 was the last game played on NOLA soil, a 31-26 Wild Card Playoff win over the Carolina Panthers. It was the final game of an unexpected season that has bred into one of high expectations.

Preseason kicked off for the Saints with a 24-20 win at Jacksonville. The start of which well wasn’t exactly what many fans were expecting. Jacksonville’s first two drives produced 132 yards of offense to go with 10 first downs. So when asked this week about what he’d like to see improve from the defense in game 2, linebacker Demario Davis stated what you’d expect. “Everything. We can always get better. Better in the running game, better in the pass game, better situational football, third-down in the backfield, red zone. There’s too many situations where you can always get better at everything,” said Davis. “I start with myself individually, what areas I can work on to get better. Game-to-game and as a unit we have to do the same.”

12 years in the NFL has given receiver Ted Ginn Jr. plenty of experience on how to look at the transition from week one to week two of the preseason. So what’s the biggest objective? “Don’t make the same mistake. That’s really it. Don’t make the same mistake man,” says Ginn. “Be on your P’s and Q’s and just leaning how to work for the next man next to him.”

Friday night Arizona comes to town looking to build off of a preseason opening win themselves a 24-17 win over the Chargers at home. The Cardinals had a 2017 season that saw them finish 8-8 and see the departure of head coach Bruce Arians to retirement. Steve Wilks makes the move from Carolina’s defensive coordinator to head coach and his first big job is find his signal caller. Quarterback is their biggest question mark entering the season as Chad Kanoff, Mike Glennon, Sam Bradfor and rookie Josh Rosen, who was the 10th overall pick, all are competing for the job. Bradford last week was 1-1 for 6 yards. Glennon was 207 for 11 yards and Rosen was 6 of 13 for 41 yards while Kanoff went 3-5 for 66 yards and a touchdown.

The Saints are favored by three and a half points for those planning a quick trip to the Mississippi gulf coast. Kick off is set for 7p.

AREAS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

DEFENSIVE STARTERS

You got the sense that since the Jacksonville game defensive players have been reminded a few times about areas of play in that game that were not up to head coach Sean Payton’s expectations. “Just ok. Just ok,” Payton said when asked about his team’s tackling in the game. “That first drive, everyone had their nachos, their hot dogs, their coke and they were on to the freaking churros in those 15 plays.” Let’s be honest if we judged on how social media was handling the opening Jaguar drives the 2018 would be over and the Saints defense would be well on its way to being ranked 32nd in the NFL. Needless to say how the starting unit performs to open the game will be something to keep an eye on immediately. I’m sure the warm home crowd may help write a different start to this one.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END

The Saints had a scare this week when Alex Okafor went down with an injury in Wednesday’s practice. 1st round pick Marcu Davenport has miss some time due to a groin injury and was just starting to get back on the field when the Okafor injury occurred. Reports say Okafor suffered a sprained knee, bone bruise and sprained ankle. No timetable has been given for his return. It would be shocking to see Davenport play on Friday since he just began practicing again so we’ll see Al-Quadin Muhammad, perhaps Trey Hendrickson, Jayrone Elliot, Mitchell Loewen, or maybe even see Hau’oil Kikaha, who’s been moved to linebacker go back down to the line. The good part is Davenport should be fully healthy and have some snaps under his belt before the season opener and Okaor will be back at some point. In the meantime, yea it’s about finding the depth at that right defensive end position.

BACK UP QB

Tom Savage led a pair of scoring drives at Jacksonville with those being a field goal and a touchdown as he finished the night 10 of 14 for 70 yards. Following the game he felt the first three drives should have resulted in touchdowns. Coach Payton says his main evaluation of a quarterback’s success is his ability to get the team in and out of the huddle and move the team up and down the field scoring points. So in that, Savage accomplished that task but also missed on a few possible big plays.

Taysom Hill went 8 of 9 for 72 yards and rushed 7 times for 52 yards including a touchdown. Hill showed that athletic ability coach has raved about. This week he expressed the desire to take reps with the starters as a gauge to his growth going against players as he said “that play regularly on Sundays.”

I believe both are on the roster. Savage is in due to his starting experience and Hill due to his potential but added value on special teams. I have to believe if or when Payton feels Hill is close to being the back up to Brees you’d imagine Hill would stop being on so many special teams plays?

5TH RECEIVER POSITION

The Saints have the potential to really be set and deep at receiver this season with Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr, Cameron Meredith and rookie Tre’Quan Smith. During OTAs and into the beginning of training camp you had Brandon Coleman who was injured, Travin Dural, Tommy Lee Lewis, Austin Carr and two young guys in Keith Kirkwood and Eldridge Massington that had some nice size. Well Coleman was released due to injury in that he was going to need time to heal and the team needed the roster spot. Dural broke his arm during a practice and was placed in I.R. and Massington was released. Tommy Lee Lewis looked to really benefit but suffered an injury the week leading into the Jacksonville game and only returned this past Monday. Payton then brought in veterans Michael Floyd and Brandon Tate.

Kirkwood almost because of the lack of depth but also because he earned it has been working with the ones. Kirkwood was targeted twice and caught both passes intended for him. Carr had no targets or catches. So I guess what I’m getting at is that a position in which I could see a real battle for spots is almost turning in to just who WILL be the fifth receiver? Tate and Lewis can play the dual role of receiver and returner, while Kirkwood has what seems to be the Saints size preference. It’ll be interesting to see Friday night, which receiver not named Thomas, Ginn Jr, Meredith or Smith steps up and makes some plays.

RUNNING BACK

Mark Ingram took advantage on the playtime in Jacksonville picking up 23 yards on 7 carries and scoring a touchdown. Those snaps showed what the Saints will miss come the first four games of the regular season while Ingram is off in suspension land. The search has been on as to who replaces or picks up his slack. I have said Jonathan Williams seems to me to be the back that stands out at practice. 4 carries for 26 yards hardly seems like a busy load but the late game carries didn’t go to waist and he scored a touchdown. Payton praised his camp this week and I feel you’ll see number 32 much earlier than the final stages of the fourth quarter on Friday. Will some one else take advantage of his opportunities?

RETURNERS

I’m just going to go ahead and tell you that this will be on my areas to watch list until coach says we have a “Bachelor” winner. Payton last week went with Boston Scott and Brandon Tate. Scott had 3 kick returns for 78 yards and had a long of 35 yards. Tate had 2 returns for 59 yards and a long of 36. Will we see others given a chance as Payton prior to the Jacksonville game hinted that we wouldn’t see all of the candidates in the game and it could be more like a duo tryout per game.

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

LB DEMARIO DAVIS #56: Wednesday following practice Davis was asked about his intimidating appearance as he is listed at 6-2 248. His response is one you’d expect a linebacker to give. “Our coach always says, ‘Your only advantage on defense is fear.’ I think that’s the way you play the game, you want to inflict fear into your opponent by the way that you play not just by the way that you look. My biggest thing is when I turn the tape on I want to jump out and I want them to watch 56 the whole game. If they don’t, they’ll have a long day.”

Davis then went on to say one of the best quotes ever when asked how exactly he goes about instilling fear into opponents. Does he growl or something? “No man, It’s all in the play. It’s all in the play and it’s not about what you say but about what you do,” Davis says. “When they look at the tape, they know who real ones are and that’s what I’m trying to do. When I’m playing an opponent on the field or anybody, it’s a challenge in the moment but I’m thinking about the next opponent and the opponent after that. I want to hit this person so hard, the next three people who watch the tape are really intimidated by it.”

Davis is playing the weakside linebacker role and when asked if he like it or preferred that position he went full martial arts philosopher. “I am flexible so I just try to adapt to my environment. It is like what Bruce Lee says, ‘Be like water.’ You put it in a cup, it fits to the cup, you pour it out and it goes everywhere. I try to adapt to my environment.”

Uhm if he plays like I think he may play well then Saints fans are going to LOVE this guy.

WR TRE’QUAN SMITH #10: Smith led the team in reception with 4 for 48 yards and made a nice grab on a high throw that led to a score. Payton after the game though pointed out that getting line up correctly and other aspects of pre snap duties were lacking. Let’s see if the rookie can learn from that and make an exciting play for the home fans. He’s fun to watch.

WR BRANDON TATE #87: Tate didn’t have a reception or target in the first game at Jacksonville. Perhaps due to his timing as his late arrival at Saints training camp probably hasn’t allowed him to fully get a handle on the playbook. Make no mistake Payton brought him here to compete for the role of kick returner but the 5th receiver spot isn’t as concrete as it perhaps was at the start of camp. Tate this past week of practice has made some nice plays at receiver including a catch in the end zone in traffic. Does he get more snaps Friday night at receiver?

CB JUSTIN HARDEE #34: Hardee was on my players to keep an eye on last week and he stays there this week for two reasons. One, the team bid adieu to De’Vante Harris after the Jags game when he was flagged twice under two minutes to play, so there’s one less corner to worry about. Two perhaps more importantly is the fact this week it was revealed that Marhson Lattimore has sort of taken the former receiver under his wing. “Tough love” is how Hardee described the relationship where Lattimore will have criticism when deserved and praise when earned. Hardee has good size and athletic ability and seems to be trending upward as camp progresses.

RB BOSTON SCOTT #30: Scott was disappointed that only got one carry in the game but it was almost a touchdown as he got stopped short of the goal line. Scott’s chances at making this team will improve greatly if can return the ball well in special teams. That said if he does get more handoffs it could be his shot to show the moves and quickness he’s displayed at practice at times that’s made starters on defense whiff.

NEXT UP

The Saints will have their final open practice of training camp on Saturday when the take to the field 4 to 5:30 pm. Next week the Saints will leave for California early as they are scheduled to practice twice against the Chargers before next Saturday’s preseason game.

Gus is the host of the Sports Hangover and can be heard weekdays on 100.3 FM ESPN New Orleans Monday through Friday 12 to 3pm.

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