1. Inside linebacker David Hawthorne: Starting at linebacker for the Saints isn’t exactly foreign territory for Hawthorne, who started 10 of the 11 games he played last season. But with Jonathan Vilma back, the thinking was that Hawthorne wouldn’t be the starter. There’s no guarantee that he’ll have to start a regular season game, but Vilma’s absence now (knee surgery) guarantees that Hawthorne again is a man to watch this preseason. If he can’t replace Vilma’s leadership – few can – he will have to replace the production.
2. Special teams coverage: Kickoff and punt coverage teams were substandard in the preseason opener against Kansas City, leading to concern that the units still have a ways to go before the regular season opener on Sept. 8. The yardage allowed vs. the Chiefs (17.7 per punt return, 45.3 per kickoff return) was alarming, so the units will have to find the right mix of players and execution in order to prevent the kind of field-position swings they allowed against the Chiefs. And it doesn’t help that receiver Courtney Roby, perhaps the most effective cover man, injured his toe Tuesday and had to be helped off the practice field.
3. Fast start by the first-team defense: The final defensive numbers posted against the Chiefs (215 yards allowed, 3 for 14 on third down) were outstanding. But the first-team defense certainly didn’t break from the gate as it had hoped. Kansas City opened the game with a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and while that didn’t erase the thought that defensive improvement is forthcoming, it wasn’t much of a confidence booster for that unit. It settled in thereafter against Kansas City’s second teamers. Against Oakland, it’ll look for a better opening stand.
4. Defensive end rotation: With Kenyon Coleman out for the season because of a chest injury, coaches are getting a longer look at players like Akiem Hicks and Glenn Foster. Hicks started at left defensive end against the Chiefs, Foster recorded a sack and forced fumble and Richardson recovered the fumble. Hicks, a third-round draft pick last season, is a promising athlete who’s still learning and Foster is a free agent rookie who’s receiving time with the second team. Each is improving, trying to inspire confidence among his teammates and coaches. One has a golden opportunity to take advantage of.
5. Quarterback Seneca Wallace: Wallace missed several days of practice, and the preseason opener, due to a groin injury. That gave Luke McCown time to make a positive impression, and he did – 18 for 28 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception. Wallace will play against the Raiders and he has significant ground to make up. He’s the most mobile quarterback on the roster and if his groin isn’t completely healed, he’ll be robbed of a critical part of his game. He’ll have to resist the urge to press and force the issue because he’s behind.
6. No. 3 receiver: The competition continues, with Preston Parker having tossed his name into the hat after a four-reception, 43-yard performance against the Chiefs that included two touchdown catches. Parker has the hands, willingness and ability to get the job done, as well as a touch of desperation after having spent last season unemployed. He’s capable of playing special teams, which enhances his value. Whether he can leapfrog Kenny Stills and Nick Toon remains to be seen, but Parker certainly has caught the attention of his coaches, in a good way.