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Five Saints players to watch in Friday's game vs. Steelers

Starting spots still to be determined

If the third preseason game is the one that most closely approximates the conditions that teams will play under in a regular-season game, then there are some New Orleans Saints players for whom this preseason game may be more critical than others. There still are starting jobs, and roster spots, to be won. Here are some players who may be worth watching Friday night against Pittsburgh.

  1. The starting left guard position remains a bit unsettled, and the sooner a starter emerges, the better. Both Tim Lelitoand Senio Kelemetehave started games for the Saints; each, in fact, started at least one game at left guard last season. But, apparently, neither has seized the position as the Saints near the end of preseason. Lelito has more experience, starting 11 games at left guard last season, so that should – theoretically – give him the inside track. For an offensive line that has struggled this preseason, it's imperative that this question is answered so that the gelling process can accelerate.
  1. When Coach Sean Paytonsaid that receiver Brandon Colemanhad had a "pedestrian" training camp following the second preseason game against Houston, it was a warning shot fired across Coleman's bow. In short, the second-year receiver needs to kick it up a few notches. Passes that glance off hands and lead to interception returns for touchdowns (against New England) and throws that are caught, but possession isn't maintained because of a hit (against Houston) are plays that can and will be held against a receiver in his NFL court of law, where the judges and juries are his head coach, offensive coordinator, receivers coach and quarterback. Coleman caught 30 passes for 454 yards last season but, clearly, he hasn't played as well in training camp as have Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead IVor rookie Michael Thomas. If the Saints' receiving corps for the regular season is going to be five deep, Coleman may be safe. But under the "we go by what we see" mantra of Saints coaches, he'll help his cause by showing more.
  1. The guess here is that if running back Daniel Lascohad been healthy for his senior season at Cal, he wouldn't have lasted until the Saints drafted him in the seventh round. He's a keeper – a running back who plays special teams like a linebacker and genuinely enjoys that part of the game. His emergence might not be a good thing for Tim Hightower, whose incredible NFL comeback story takes a backseat to the caliber of person that he is. But, that said, there could be a business decision to be made with regard to Hightower, especially if Lasco continues to shine. If the Saints go five deep at running back – which is a possibility – then that should bode well for the veteran, who started the final three games last season and carried a man-sized load down the stretch.
  1. Is rookie defensive lineman David Onyemata, a Lagos, Nigeria, native who played collegiately in Canada, a raw prospect? Absolutely. Can he help? Absolutely. And he'll probably have to, given the absence of first-round pick Sheldon Rankins(broken fibula). Onyemata, the Saints' fourth-round pick, will have to grow up a little bit faster but it appears that defensive coordinator Dennis Allenand defensive line coach Bill Johnsonare finding ways in which Onyemata can contribute as a defensive tackle. It's worth watching how he will be employed against the Steelers, and it won't be a surprise if he gets a good amount of snaps in the preseason finale against Baltimore. He needs the work, and the Saints need him to get him as many reps as possible.
  1. Watch Jairus Byrd. He looks healthy and fluid and while that may not equate to him playing to a Pro Bowl level like he did in Buffalo, the Saints gladly will take it after not having the safety available for much of the previous two preseasons. Byrd still has play-making skills – he exhibited that in practice this week – and the Saints look forward to having him available and healthy for the beginning of the regular season.
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