The New Orleans Saints head into their last home game of the preseason against the Oakland Raiders tonight at 7 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints will travel to Houston and Miami for their final two preseason games before beginning the 2013 regular season.
This will be the fifth time that the Saints and the Raiders will meet during the preseason but the first time the Raiders have traveled to New Orleans. The Saints and the Raiders met during the 2012 regular season in Oakland with the Saints winning 38-17.
Raiders Coach Dennis Allen and cornerback Tracy Porter, two key figures that helped the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory following the 2009 season, are returning to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time.
Allen spent five seasons with the Saints as assistant defensive line coach (2006-07) and then defensive backs coach (2008-10) before he joined the Denver Broncos as the defensive coordinator in 2011 and was then hired by the Raiders in 2012.
Saints cornerback Jabari Greer was mentored by Allen and always thought he possessed the qualities of a head coach. "D.A. was incredibly detail-oriented. I'm so excited to see him in the head coaching role," Greer said. "I think it is well-deserved and I hope that he has success against everyone, except us."
!(http://www.neworleanssaints.com/media-center/photo-gallery/New-Orleans-Saints-vs-Kansas-Chiefs/69a75aa8-13cb-4fde-a634-dde28d0541b8 "New Orleans Saints")
This offseason, Allen was reunited with one of his Super Bowl XLIV players when the Raiders signed Porter. Porter's last appearance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings when he intercepted Brett Favre at the Saints' 22-yard line with the score tied and 19 seconds left in regulation. Porter then went on to seal the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV victory when he intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining.
"I've grown from a guy that he's drafted to being one of the older guys in the room who he looks to be a leader on this team," Porter said of Allen. "So, we've kind of grown together and, like I said, back in New Orleans we knew he was going to be a defensive coordinator one day as well as a head coach. But the opportunity came sooner than we thought and he's really taken those opportunities and he's really relishing his moments. He's a guy that I'd love to play for any day."
"Tracy coming back is going to be really nice," Saints safety Roman Harper said. "I know the fans all love him. He's a hero. He's a local. It's always good seeing him. I still talk to him during the offseason and every month or so. I know he still has a place here and that he definitely misses it and this is home."
Matt Flynn, a former LSU quarterback, has fond memories of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He led the Tigers to the 2007 BCS national championship there with a victory over Ohio State.
With roster cuts looming many Saints players will be out to prove they deserve a spot on the final 53-man roster. The Saints will be without defensive end Kenyon Coleman who was injured during practice with a pectoral tear and is expected to miss the remainder of the 2013 season. Coleman, a veteran run stopper with previous experience in Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme, was slated to be a starter at defensive end. His absence leaves an opening where defensive tackle/defensive end Akiem Hicks, defensive end Tom Johnson and defensive end Jay Richardson will compete for playing time.
Joseph Morgan's season-ending knee injury opens a spot for the young wideouts eager to earn their place on the roster such as Nick Toon, Kenny Stills, Andy Tanner, Saalim Hakim, Brent Leonard, Tim Toone and Preston Parker.
"So there's two players that are significant," Coach Sean Payton said of the injuries. "Obviously, they are losses, and we have to find some guys to step up and take their spot."
That process continues tonight against the Raiders.