Foxboro, Mass. – The preseason opener Thursday night totally will not be an unveiling of the 2016 New Orleans Saints. In fact, many veteran Saints will be kept under wraps for the encounter against New England at Gillette Stadium at 6:30 p.m. central.
Among them will be quarterback Drew Brees, who said he only expects to play a series against the Patriots, which made more critical the work that was done in joint practices with them Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Very important, because you get a lot of reps, you get put into a lot of situations," Brees said Wednesday. "That's the design of these joint practices, is the opportunity for both teams to really get a ton of repetition against a new look. New looks, new scheme, new personnel.
"So for a lot of the veteran guys that are not going to get a lot of time in this game or in the preseason, this is really our biggest preparation for the season."
But for others, Thursday's game – and the three remaining preseason games – will be their biggest preparation for the season, and their best chance to make the team. And it'll be a game in which Coach Sean Payton is hoping to see a positive result on the field and scoreboard.
"It'll be important for us to compete, embrace it," Payton said. "Within the framework of how we play guys, yeah, I want to see guys competing and I want to see them trying to win.
"It's a young team and we get a chance to work against a real good opponent, so it'll be a good test."
After an offseason of roster additions and subtractions, of attempting to foster the proper mix of chemistry and talent and youth and veterans, Payton said he looks forward to getting a glimpse of what the Saints have assembled.
"Absolutely," he said. "You're anxious, you want to see how the young guys perform, you want to see how these guys are doing. And you also want to see your team and how they respond coming out, do they have the juice and do they know what to do.
"That's the first element in evaluating a player. For these guys to have success tomorrow, they've got to know what they're doing. And I'm sure there'll be some things that we have to clean up, but the energy and the effort – there's an expectation level that they have to take advantage of that opportunity."
Count linebacker Stephone Anthony among the pupils who is figuring out exactly what are his responsibilities.
As a rookie, he played Mike linebacker and called the defensive signals, as he has done most of his football-playing existence. This year he was moved to Sam linebacker (free agent veteran James Laurinaitis is the new Mike) and Anthony has been learning his new position this offseason.
Payton said Thursday, and this preseason, will be important for Anthony. And Anthony said he and the Saints defense look forward to learning if the defensive improvement that appears evident is, in fact, reality.
"It's always good to come practice with the Patriots," Anthony said. "As everybody knows, they're one of the top programs in this league and it was good for us to just compete against some different bodies.
"I think guys were willing and ready to get up here and compete and show what we can do. It's a different defense and I think guys are just prepared.
"(Thursday's game is) just kind of establish our identity. Find out who we are and who we're going to be on film, and play hard."
Preseason equally will be important for backup quarterback Garrett Grayson, a third-round pick in 2015. Payton and his coaching staff will get a deeper look into whether Grayson is a future fit for the franchise.
"I think it's going to be important that he gets in and out of the huddle," Payton said. "The first thing you're wanting to see a quarterback do is move the offense and score points, make good decisions, just lead the team while he's out there.
"He'll get a lot of snaps tomorrow night, I'm sure (No. 2 quarterback) Luke (McCown) will get a lot of snaps, Drew will be much more limited. But I think those are the first things we look at in evaluating a quarterback – how do you handle a third-and-10, or a sack? How do you come back when maybe you've had a bad play? All of those things."
Payton said Grayson has shown an improved grasp of the offense, and an increased tempo.
"I think it's been better, but we'll have a chance to see it tomorrow," he said. "That tempo is different than in college. Our clock is moving much differently so in and out of the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage with the awareness of how much time is left – you don't want to see delay of games, or you don't want to see certain things that sometimes can happen with situational awareness as to what's going on with each play."
What he does want to see, from Grayson and everyone else on the field, is purpose.
"Listen, the sense of urgency has got to be there, not just with the young players," Payton said. "The sense of urgency has got to be there from (players) 1 through 90.
"That evaluation of the veteran player: Can they still do what we hope and what we think they can do? Obviously, with the player with less experience, they'll battle with some of the nerves that they probably had yesterday practicing against a different opponent for the first time."