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John DeShazier: Saints working on cleaning up coverage units

Kansas City Chiefs hurt the Saints on Friday with their return yardage

Further review did not lead to an increased level of absolution.

New Orleans Saints two-time special teams captain Courtney Roby, and Coach Sean Payton, weren't any happier Sunday than they were Friday regarding the team's special teams cover units, which didn't perform nearly as well as they would've liked in the Saints' 17-13 victory over Kansas City in the preseason opener.

The Chiefs returned three kickoffs for 136 yards (a 45.3-yard average) and six punts for 106 (17.7), as they accumulated more yards in kick returns (242) than in total offense (215).

"It was simple mistakes, those things that we work on day in and day out in practice," Roby said. "We've just got to get better at it, point blank. They were (mistakes) that we knew what we were doing. We've just got to go out and execute. We'll be all right."

Payton, too, expressed optimism that improvement was forthcoming. But he didn't retreat from his initial assessment.

"I thought the kicking game, we struggled in coverage," Payton said. "We've got one play where we punt the ball, they're down at the (6) but there's a penalty that brings it back and all of a sudden, you've got hidden yardage. We've got to be better in that area, and I think we will be."

On that second-quarter play, Thomas Morstead's 57-yard punt, which pinned the Chiefs at their 9 after a 3-yard return, was nullified by New Orleans' illegal formation penalty. Morstead's make-up punt after the infraction, a 59-yarder to the 9, was returned 22 yards to the 31-yard line.

"What was disheartening was that we know we have a better group than what we showed," Roby said. "But that's what practice is for, that's what film study is for. You go back, watch the film, fix the mistakes and move on to the next week."

Correcting those mistakes could be the key to a roster spot for one of the young Saints. With most of the starting positions settled and many of the offensive and defensive snaps accounted for, a roster spot could be open for a youngster who stands out on special teams.

"There are things that come up on film and there are things that come up in the evaluation readings about certain players," Payton said. "I think the kicking game is critical for a lot of these guys making their way on the roster. They need to understand that.

"We've got to prevent the player whose snaps go up on one side of the ball or the other, then his performance goes down on special teams. There's going to be a player or two that we have to keep that plays so well in the kicking game, that he earns a spot on the team. They need to understand that that's not lip service. It's just how the rosters are made up."

That noted, Payton said he saw several positive areas, too, in the victory.

"I thought we settled down defensively after the first series and really did some good things, and that was encouraging," he said.

"(There were) enough things to aggravate you and then when you put the tape on, there's some guys that I thought did a real good job. I thought we played overall pretty well in the secondary. These younger receivers are getting snaps, there's some growing pains that are going with that but fortunately, they're getting a chance to not only get snaps, but snaps with the first unit. And I think that's going to be important in how those guys come along and develop.

"Overall, enough to where you're encouraged in some areas and yet, you realize there's a lot of things that we need to clean up."

Those efforts will continue this week, in preparation for the second preseason game, at 7 p.m.  Friday against Oakland in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Increased study and scrutiny of last Friday didn't produce absolution, but the goal is for it to produce a better performance. And Roby believes it will.

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