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John DeShazier: Five players to watch in Saints-Titans game

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Important game for Ryan Griffin

1. Quarterback Ryan Griffin will get another chance to shine and present his case to be the No. 2 quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. It’s impossible to downplay the fact that Griffin completed 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, against St. Louis in the preseason opener. It’s even harder to wave off the significance of him leading the offense to scores on four of the five possessions he was quarterbacking. Having a solid game tonight is crucial for Griffin because this could be his final significant time with the No. 1 offense this preseason, given that Drew Brees likely will be back for next week’s game and that the starters historically receive the majority of the playing time in the third preseason game. Starters play little, if any, in the fourth preseason game. So this dress rehearsal for Griffin will be important, and “RG4,” who was good last preseason, has been better this year.
 
2. The Saints ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against St. Louis last week in the preseason opener. That happened without Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs taking a snap. Grubbs is back this week – he practiced with the No. 1 offensive line all week, including live, goal line drills – so you’d like to believe the running efficiency won’t suffer. Grubbs was sidelined for a while during training camp with an injured back but he appears to be ready to go.

3. Talk about “baptism by fire.” Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste has felt the heat that accompanies playing cornerback in the NFL. Receivers are faster, craftier and better than the ones he faced in college. He’ll get an even larger taste of it against Tennessee. Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson won’t play against the Titans, which moves Corey White into the lineup as the starting right cornerback. Jean-Baptiste will get a chance – early – to show what he has learned. So far his pro experience has been up and down, which is expected for most rookies. But the Saints expect a contribution from the second-round pick, and not just on special teams. He has been coached hard as the staff attempts to ready him for the regular season. The extra practice reps he has received, and the preseason game reps he should receive, due to Bailey and Robinson not being available, hopefully will pay off, and soon.
 
4. After having missed most of training camp while recovering from a chest injury, nose tackle John Jenkins has been champing to get back into the lineup. The biggest thing was getting back in football shape. The best way for that to happen is for him to play football, so his snaps and stamina will be monitored. For the Saints to have the run defense they’re hoping to have, the 347-pound Jenkins is going to have to be a vital cog in terms of occupying blockers to create space for linebackers to make plays, or bullying his way to opposing backs and quarterbacks. The Rams rushed for 150 yards on 32 carries last week. Even in preseason, a 4.7-yard rushing average isn’t what the Saints defense wants to allow. Jenkins will help to solve that problem.

5. Not-so-quietly, rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri posted four solo tackles against St. Louis. He has shown a willingness to get physical in camp and in games, which is exactly what the Saints want to see in him. True, he will be counted on as a special teams player in New Orleans. But given that the Saints only have three locks who definitely will receive snaps at safety – Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd and Rafael Bush – there are openings for playing time behind them. Sunseri will receive every chance to get his share of them, and has shown a fearlessness and aggression that should bode well for him.

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