With the Saints entering the final week of the preseason, NewOrleansSaints.com looks at where the black and gold stand in all three phases.
*EFFICIENT ATTACK: *The Saints' have showcased their patented balanced offensive attack in preseason. The squad is averaging a NFL preseason best 422.0 total net yards per game. The Saints' 32.7 points-per-game average ranks second in the league. The first-team offense has committed zero turnovers in three exhibition contests.
Against the Chargers last Friday night, 15 different players caught a pass. The running brigade has seen a nice addition in rookie Chris Ivory. Ivory's team-best 141 rushing yards through the first three preseason games ranks sixth in the NFL. The undrafted free agent from Division II Tiffin's first and only catch of the preseason turned into a dazzling 76-yard touchdown against the Chargers in what Yahoo! Sports called the play of the preseason. It is longest reception in the NFL preseason through the first three weeks.
RB Reggie Bushhas arguably put together his best NFL preseason. The fifth-year tailback has made multiple crucial plays during the preseason. Last week against the Chargers, he caught a game-high seven passes for 70 yards. On the Saints final drive of the first half, Bush collected four receptions for 51 yards.
He is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and shows no rust from the microfracture surgery performed on his left knee 20 months ago.
Chase Danieland Patrick Ramseyhave each made strong cases to serve as the team's backup quarterback.
In his most significant playing time as a Saint, Daniel completed 15 of 21 attempts for 182 yards and three touchdowns in the Saints 38-20 victory over the Texans.
Ramseyis more experienced than Daniel as he enters his eighth year in the league. Ramsey completed 10 of 18 attempts for a 191 yards and a score against the Chargers.
Saints head coach Sean Payton said prior to the preseason that he wasn't sure how many quarterbacks he would keep on the final 53-man roster and Daniel and Ramsey haven't made that decision any easier by their solid preseason performance.
NEW DEFENSIVE FACES:The Saints look to replace perennial starters LB Scott Fujitaand Charles Grant, who both left in the offseason. The team decided to move LB Scott Shanleinto Fujita's spot on the strong side and put Jonathan Casillas, who signed with New Orleans as a rookie free agent last year, at the weak side.
DEs Bobby McCray, rookie Junior Galette, Jeff Charleston. Jimmy Wilkersonand Anthony Hargrovehave all seen action during the preseason but no frontrunner has emerged to replace Grant.
Additionally, the Saints are dealing with injuries at three key spots. DB Tracy Portersat out last Saturday's game against the Chargers with a knee injury. LB Jonathan Vilmasuffered a groin injury late in the San Diego contest. Pro Bowler Darren Sharperhas yet to participate in a game or practice as he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Second-year pro Malcolm Jenkinshas filled in nicely for Sharper as he has started at free safety in all three of the Saints preseason games. The Ohio State alum transitioned from defensive back to safety in the offseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS STEPS UP:The most criticized phase of the Saints has been the special teams coverage after giving up multiple 40-plus yards returns in the first two preseason games. The squad stepped up against the Chargers as they limited return ace Darren Sproles to a 5.3 kickoff return average and a 3.0 punt return average.
The Saints might have the best one-two punch in the game with third-year kicker Garrett Hartleyand second-year punter Thomas Morstead. Hartley has been a perfect 5-5 on field goals in and Morstead is averaging 47.3 yards per punt in preseason. Even when Morstead missed some playing time earlier in the preseason with a shoulder injury, Hartley stepped in and averaged 47.0 yards on five punt attempts.