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New Orleans Saints get first taste of home crowd in Sunday's practice at Caesars Superdome

Receiver Michael Thomas (hamstring) did not practice

Sunday's open practice for the New Orleans Saints inside the Caesars Superdome wasn't exactly a precise replica of what is expected for Friday's preseason finale, when the Saints play the Los Angeles Chargers at 7 p.m.

But with many of the 30,000 tickets distributed in use, the team got just a little taste of what might be in store when he wraps up the preseason and prepares to open the home regular-season schedule on Sept. 18 against Tampa Bay. The regular-season opener is Sept. 11, on the road against Atlanta.

"Nice to be back here in the Dome," Coach Dennis Allen said. "Nice to have the fans out here. I thought it was a good atmosphere and a good, spirited practice. We got a lot of good work done today."

First-round pick Chris Olave already has one Superdome game on his resume: Against Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, in a College Football Playoff Semifinal game as a junior at Ohio State, Olave caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State's 49-28 victory.

"Played one game here, but I'm excited," Olave said. "I'm excited to play some home games this year and see what the fan base is like."

The Sugar Bowl was played in a less-than-capacity Superdome.

"It was a Covid year, so there wasn't too many fans," Olave said. "But it was a fun game. It kind of went our way that day."

NOT ON THE MIKE: Receiver Michael Thomas was one of several notable players who didn't practice Sunday. Included on the list were left tackle James Hurst and right guard Cesar Ruiz.

"Michael Thomas is dealing with a little bit of a hamstring," Allen said.

As for the other missing players, Allen said, "I don't recall there being anybody that was on a particular rest day today. If they weren't out here, it's probably something to do medically."

KIRK MOVE: First-year receiver Kirk Merritt lined up in the backfield for several snaps Sunday, an indication that the Saints are taking a peek to see what he might offer at the position.

It's not unprecedented: Though Ty Montgomery was listed as a receiver the previous two seasons, Montgomery's experience at running back – coupled with some injuries – allowed Montgomery to get game snaps at running back. He topped 100 yards in a game against Carolina. Merritt's running back experience primarily came in high school, at Destrehan High.

"I think we're going to take a look at it just a little bit," Allen said. "He's got experience in that position, so it's something we wanted to take a look at."

JAMEIS ON THE COMEBACK: Quarterback Jameis Winston took another step forward in his possible return to full practice Sunday. Winston had been out, them limited, after spraining his foot Aug. 8.

"This is part of the natural progression," Allen said. "I'm hopeful that we'll begin to get him into some team work this week and see where he's at."

SEWELL SIGHTINGS: Undrafted rookie linebacker Nephi Sewell appears to have worked his way into the sight lines of the coaching staff. He took some snaps with the first-team defense Sunday, and was included in some sub-packages as well.

"I think he's a young guy that plays extremely hard," Allen said. "He's smart, he's instinctive. We're just going to keep moving guys around and figuring out what that right 53 is."

OLAVE CONFIDENT: Olave had two productive days of practice in the Saints' joint workouts with Green Bay, then caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown against the Packers in the preseason game Friday night.

"I know I can play in this league," he said. "Just going against some of the top guys in Green Bay, it was fun definitely competing, with some new competition. It was definitely fun being out there with the guys.

"I'm just trying to get better every day. I know when I'm at my best, I can be one of the best in the league. I'm confident in myself and what I bring to the table. We've got a lot of weapons, so it's going to be fun playing this year."

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