The evaluation process kicks into a higher gear Saturday night for the New Orleans Saints.
In the team's first preseason game since 2019, against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, there possibly is as much unknown about the Saints as there has been since 2006, the year Sean Payton became head coach.
Payton knows exactly what he wants to see in the preseason opener.
"As a coach, you want to see some clean execution," he said. "You don't want to see a lot of penalties and sloppy penalties. The basic fundamentals of the game – you want to see pad level where it should be. Now that, typically in the first preseason game at times, can be a big alert.
"You want to see blocking and tackling that you've been coaching. Really, the fundamentals that are necessary to play this game well, that's the first thing that comes to my mind."
But as position battles and jostling for roster spots add another layer, there's also a palpable sense of expectation among players. Quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, battling to become New Orleans' first starter in the post-Drew Brees era, are eager to play against an opponent not wearing Saints colors.
"Yeah, for sure," Hill said. "I know it's preseason, but any time you have an opportunity to go out and compete, you want to make the most of it. So that has never changed. So it's another opportunity to get better and I'm excited for a lot of guys.
"There's a lot of really good relationships, a lot of good friendships in the locker room and this is a great opportunity for everybody and I look forward to these opportunities, just as those guys do and I'm going to do my best to facilitate these guys to have a good experience."
Winston said the biggest thing that can be accomplished, even in preseason, is simply to beat another team.
"We're excited to head up there and compete, man," he said. "Last year, we didn't have a preseason so I'm excited for, really, the guys who have been waiting on this moment. I've been waiting on this moment to get back on the field and play. So I think that's the biggest thing we can accomplish as a team, is to see how we have improved so far in camp and get the chance to compete against a really great organization."
The game reps are an elevated physical test from most of training camp, where live tackling is minimal. The contrast raises the importance.
"To me every day is an opportunity to get better and I think we go through different installs," Hill said. "We have different things that we are working on and everything else. So I will say that my mind-set will be the same. I think it is hard to say that a practice would be more important than even a preseason game because I think any time you can simulate a game, and there are so many situations that will get put in, in those games, those are super valuable reps. And it will be really important, for sure and then I am excited for the opportunity.
"But I do think that there's also a lot of variables when you get to the preseason and things that you can't really control. So I think it's all part of the evaluation. I don't know where (Payton's) mind-set is, on all that. But every day is important, every day is an opportunity to get better whether that's practice or a preseason game. I approach it the same way."
Winston said Brees did a great job of simulating the rush in practice.
"Just the timing, the precision of everything," Winston said. "And we get challenged every single day to not get caught in a pocket, be able to make movements that will really be action-packed.
"Sometimes defense gets in there and they get our hands on us and they let us know that it was a sack, but we're ready to compete against another team and play some real football. We know we've got to protect each other to a certain point, but it's going to be an all-out Saturday, and we're excited for that."
Payton said the coaching staff will have a plan for the quarterbacks, as they will for all players.
"They'll both play in this first game and they'll both play the following week," he said. "We'll flip 'em and kind of go from there. We'll go through that as a staff (Thursday night), all the roles.
"We typically divide it into about three phases. Phase 1, we might want to see about 18 to 22 snaps and Phase 2, maybe a similar amount. And then somewhere in that later third quarter, Phase 3. Now, we're not necessarily 100 percent relative to the roster so there's going to be some guys play a little bit more than just 18 snaps. But I don't want to see guys north of 29 snaps generally."