What to watch for quarter by quarter
FIRST QUARTER – The New Orleans Saints likely will open with an interior offensive line that looks like this: left guard Marcel Jones, center Tim Lelito and right guard Senio Kelemete. Neither has taken a snap in a regular-season game in that position for the Saints. In fact, only Lelito, who started two games at right guard last season, has played in a game with the Saints among the three. So it’ll be interesting to see how they hold up in pass protection and run blocking. These are key times for Jones and Kelemete as they seek to hold on to roster spots, and the trio should receive the lion’s share of the snaps in the first half. It’s also important for Lelito to put some good plays on film as he battles Jonathan Goodwin for the center position. Though the Saints figure to be vanilla offensively, players still will want to be sound in their assignments. Defensively, the same thing applies – nothing exotic. But then, with this defensive line, the defense doesn’t have to reach into its bag of tricks. The Rams offense will be without quarterback Sam Bradford and offensive tackle Jake Long, so St. Louis may play it pretty conservative, too. Defensive end Cam Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette may not get many opportunities to harass the quarterback, so they’ll be ready to jump on the chance when it comes.
SECOND QUARTER – By now, quarterback Luke McCown, who’ll play the majority of the first half, should be warmed up. It also will be a chance for him to put some good play on film as he works with tonight’s first unit. McCown obviously has the advantage in experience over Ryan Griffin (he has been in the NFL for 10 seasons; Griffin has been on the active roster for 10 games) but Coach Sean Payton and his staff live by the credo that they “go by what we see,” so don’t expect the backup quarterback job to be handed to McCown. Also, rookie receiver Brandin Cooks may get a few more looks on offense. By now he already may have been involved in the kicking game as a returner but with his speed and knowledge of the Saints offense, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he specifically is given a chance to make a couple of plays. So far, the NFL stage hasn’t looked too big for him. Give a look to the Saints’ secondary; the starters may be eased off the field but there’s quality depth there with the likes of cornerback Corey White. And the defensive line should be imposing its will be now, if it hasn’t already. New Orleans is deep along the D-line and players like Glenn Foster and Tyrunn Walker made huge impressions last year during preseason.
THIRD QUARTER – Griffin, the second-year quarterback, should be on the field now. Depending on the circumstances, he may have taken snaps with the starters to finish out the first half. He showed last year in preseason that he fully is capable of leading the reserves and putting points on the board, so he should be fairly comfortable in this role tonight. Young receivers like Seantavious Jones are worth watching, although it’s possible that Nick Toon, who has had a standout training camp, will be in the lineup, too. If the starters play most of the first half, it’s likely the receiver snaps will be spread among Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Cooks. Toon and Joe Morgan could play some, but they possibly could take most of their snaps in this quarter. Defensively, it’ll be a chance for young linebackers Khairi Fortt and Ronald Powell to make plays and show they have an understanding of the defense. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the second-round pick, should be on the field, too.
FOURTH QUARTER – Griffin may play the entire period at quarterback, but Logan Kilgore possibly could get a few snaps. This could be his chance to turn some heads, as his preseason snaps figure to be limited. The field should be littered with young players for the Saints (and Rams, too) so the offensive and defensive execution may leave a little to be desired. However, this is the spot where players grab one of the last few available roster spots, sometimes via a special teams play (many of these players, if they make the team, will do so as special teamers). So someone like safety Pierre Warren, who has shown nice ball skills in training camp but will have a difficult time cracking the safety rotation, could earn his place on a 53-man roster during these situations.