1. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks: His workload increased as soon as the New Orleans Saints learned that end Kenyon Coleman was lost for the season with a chest injury. Hicks’ assets are obvious; he’s big, strong, fast and can get to the quarterback. But Coach Sean Payton said his technique needs refinement. He hasn’t played as much football as many of his colleagues, so preseason snaps will be vital as he prepares to play defensive tackle and defensive end.
2. Wide receivers Kenny Stills, Nick Toon and Steve Breaston: We’ll lump all three together, because all are in the running to replace Joe Morgan as the Saints’ No. 3 receiver. Stills, a rookie, has been working with the No. 1 offense in the packages Morgan would’ve been in. Toon, a second-year player who missed last season due to injury, has a load of potential. Breaston, a seven-year veteran who was signed this week, is the most proven of the three. Breaston may put on a surge later in the preseason, given that he’s behind in learning the offense. His experience should translate well, but the two youngsters won’t be easy to displace.
3. Outside linebacker Will Smith: Even though Smith says he retains many of the same responsibilities he had when he was a defensive end, he still is worth watching during the preseason. The veteran will be asked to do more than rush the passer in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense, but it’ll be key that when he is called on to rush, that he apply pressure from the end. It’ll be interesting to see how many snaps he takes on Friday as he acclimates to several new responsibilities.
4. Quarterback Luke McCown: McCown has taken advantage of the opportunity presented when Seneca Wallace injured his groin and was forced to miss several days of practice. You’d have to give him the edge as the backup to Drew Brees right now, if for no other reason than he has to be more comfortable in the offense than Wallace and rookie Ryan Griffin. Given that McCown could take the most snaps among the backups against Kansas City, he’ll look to take advantage of the playing time.
5. Left tackle Charles Brown: This will be Brown’s first game action at left tackle, so it bears watching. Even though he has separated himself from the competition, it remains a work in progress as he jells with left guard Ben Grubbs. Brown filled in at right tackle the last two seasons, when Zach Strief was injured. He now gets the chance to show what he can do on the left side. Injuries mainly have been his undoing during his NFL career, so he hopes to get through the preseason unscatched.