If the unknowns appear to be a little more pronounced this season for the New Orleans Saints than in seasons past, it's probably because they are.
The combination of retirements, suspension and injuries have colluded to give the four-time defending NFC South Division champions a few questions that will have to be answered as they navigate through training camp and three preseason games, beginning with Saturday's preseason opener against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Here are a few players to watch entering Saturday's preseason opener:
QUARTERBACKS JAMEIS WINSTON AND TAYSOM HILL: Duh. Expect to see these names every week, so we'll just combine them and treat it as one. One will start the season at the position, the first time the Saints will have a quarterback not named Drew Brees open the season since 2005. Neither has established clear separation from the other so far in training camp; "wow" plays have been evened by something less glamourous. New Orleans is looking for consistency, not fluctuations. Don't read much into who starts this one, because the other likely will start the next one, and don't worry so much about who they're attempting to throw it to. Pay attention to the decision-making, and the turnovers.
LINEBACKERS KADEN ELLISS, CHASE HANSEN AND ANDREW DOWELL: Again with the multiples, you say? Well, yeah. There are snaps to be had alongside All-Pro Demario Davis, who's likely to see scant action in this one, if any. Elliss, a seventh-round pick in 2019, has been getting a ton of reps with the No. 1 defense and he has some tools. Hansen said he has studied Davis, among others, to learn how to stay healthier and he, too, has had lots of reps. The most intriguing, though, may be Dowell. Undrafted and waived by the Cowboys in 2019, then picked up by the Saints and added to the practice squad in '19 and '20, Dowell has shown a knack for being around the ball in training camp. And, more important, an instinct for dislodging it. He, too, has gotten reps with the starters and at no point in training camp has it looked unsettling for him.
CORNERBACK PAULSON ADEBO: The Saints drafted Adebo in the third round this year, and he looks like he can be what New Orleans is hoping he'll be. He's long (6 feet 1), big (pay no attention to the listed 192 pounds, he's bigger than that) and he can cover. He has been impressive in one-on-one and team drills, and the Saints need that to transfer to game action. With Jackrabbit Jenkins released this offseason and Patrick Robinson retiring this week, he fills a need at cornerback. The Saints still are looking for help at the position, but great corners aren't often available at this stage of the game. So New Orleans needs its in-house candidates to show up and Adebo, who opted out of last season at Stanford, has the potential to do the job.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE CHRISTIAN RINGO: He just keeps showing up and making plays. That's significant because New Orleans will be without stud defensive tackle David Onyemata for six games due to his league-issued suspension. Add to that the departures of Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown, who helped comprise one of the deepest defensive tackle rotations in the league last year, and the Saints need someone there who can wreak some of the havoc that the aforementioned three were able to conjure. Ringo looks the part.
PUNTER BLAKE GILLIKIN: The talent is there, but it's never simple replacing a legend (Thomas Morstead). The Saints REALLY like him, so that's a great start. He'll probably be steady, but it still is important to see if he's able to work in conjunction with his cover unit as well as Morstead was. It's a process that's not as simple as it seems.