White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – In few ways, if any, is the first preseason game a reasonable replica of a first regular-season game, or any other regular-season game.
They can be coarse – penalty-ridden, turnover-prone, assignment-deficient and star-absented.
But for New Orleans Saints rookie quarterback Garrett Grayson, Thursday's preseason opener against the Ravens was as close to an approximation of the regular season as it has gotten. And it appeared that the third-round pick handled his assignments fairly well in New Orleans' 30-27 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
Grayson played the entire fourth quarter and completed eight of 12 passes for 87 yards, while leading the Saints on two scoring drives – an 11-play, 58-yarder that led to Zach Hocker's 50-yard field goal, and a four-play, 30-yarder that ended on Marcus Murphy's 3-yard touchdown run and gave the Saints a 27-23 lead with 1:56 left.
That drive, set in motion by Terrence Frederick's interception and 5-yard return, was highlight by a 19-yard pass from Grayson to Kyle Prater on third-and-2 from the Ravens' 22-yard line.
"I think the two younger quarterbacks handled themselves pretty well, both (Grayson) and Ryan (Griffin, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown)," Coach Sean Payton said Thursday. "They got a lot of snaps. They moved the ball, and I felt they made good decisions.
"The first thing that happens with a young quarterback is, it's just happening quicker. The play clock is quicker, on and off, in and out, up and down. It has to pick up quicker. I thought both of those guys handled it pretty well. They got a lot of snaps between them, and that was the goal coming in."
Grayson's play was an extension of his improvement during training camp at The Greenbrier, where he has appeared to be more settled as the days have passed.
"I think I definitely made some progress," Grayson said. "Going against another team and getting different looks, things that you haven't been so used to in practice, there's a first time for everything. You've got to adjust to the speed of the game, as well. So it's a learning process and my knowledge is going to come with it. But I definitely think I got better. My mistakes were I had some bad throws, ones I wish I had back at some key times. Those things are fixable and you've just got to move on.
"I feel a little comfortable. Obviously, the first game, the first couple of plays, the jitters were there. But once we got going and kind of got in a rhythm, things started to slow down for me. I could see what the defense was doing, what kind of looks they were giving me and I got to kind of play football instead of thinking. So once that kind of slowed down I kind of relaxed."
He received a steady stream of encouragement from his fellow quarterbacks: Griffin, Luke McCown (who started and completed 7 of 10 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown) and Drew Brees, who did not play.
"All of them were there, right by my side whenever I came off telling me, 'Good job,' or things to work on," Grayson said. "That was a big boost of confidence for me."
It was the first exposure to an NFL opponent that Grayson has received, and given the fact that Brees will be worked into the mix and that Griffin and McCown are engaged in a battle for the No. 2 spot behind Brees, it could be a good portion of the exposure that he receives.
And while Grayson played well, he knows there is work to be done.
"I made mistakes, plenty of them," he said. "So I'll go back and watch the film and just learn as much as I can."
Associated Press photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Baltimore Ravens game on Thursday, August 13, 2015.