New Orleans Saints fans will get their first chance to see their team in person at 6:30 p.m. tonight as the Saints play host to the New England Patriots at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It likely will be the first game action for franchise quarterback Drew Brees as he was a healthy scratch in the team's opening preseason game, a 30-27 loss at the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 13
The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and will be returning to the site of their first Super Bowl title in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era (2002). Brady, who's embroiled in a legal battle with the NFL over his possible role in manipulating the air pressure in footballs during a playoff rout of the Colts, played very little in New England's first preseason game, a 22-11 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He was just 1of 4 vs. Green Bay.
Brady is backed up by second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who likely will see extended action again tonight.
The Saints and Patriots will enter the game very familiar with one another after conducting joint practices for two days this week at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Saints Coach Sean Payton said he scheduled the practices because of the respect he has for the Patriots and Belichick.
"I've said this before, back in 2006 in any business you would study closely who is having success and they have been a team we study to see the sustained power they have had year in and year out has been pretty impressive," said Payton, who was hired as Saints coach in 2006. "Any time we get a chance to work with them, 2010, 2012, again this year, it gives us a great opportunity. I know this, I know how he is going to handle it with his players and we felt coming off the times we've worked together it has been real positive. We've already gone through the practice schedule for next week. We kind of have it all laid out. We will go in the morning both Wednesday and Thursday. I think when you can be around a Super Bowl champion, as much as they have won, I think it is a great opportunity for a team like us and certainly for me as a head coach."
While it's unclear just how many snaps Brees will play tonight it's likely that the three reserve quarterbacks – Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin and third-round draft pick Garrett Grayson - will see action. McCown started against the Ravens and gave way to Griffin. Grayson, the highest quarterback drafted by the Saints under Payton, played the fourth quarter.
Grayson is just one of a number of new faces competing for playing time with the 2015 Saints, who drafted nine players this past May and also brought in a very talented group of undrafted free agents.
Andrus Peat, the 13th pick in the 2015 draft, saw extensive action at both tackle spots against the Ravens and is likely to see significant snaps vs. the Patriots. The Saints' other first-round pick, linebacker Stephone Anthony (31st overall), started vs. the Ravens and is expected to start tonight.
The game will mark the Superdome debut of new Saints center Max Unger, who was acquired in the Jimmy Graham trade with Seattle. Unger has been impressive at Saints training camp presented by Verizon and played well in the Ravens' contest.
While players across the roster are fighting for spots on the team a particular competition to watch will be the battle at kicker.
Zach Hocker out of Arkansas and Dustin Hopkins from Florida State have been in a tight battle all camp. Both played well against the Ravens but neither has made a kick in a regular-season NFL game. Every attempt, including the new 33-yard extra point, will matter.