Carson, Calif. – The New Orleans Saints' 19-17 preseason victory over the Chargers on Sunday wasn't the cleanest victory that the Saints will construct. But there were several performances worth noting at Dignity Health Sports Park that contributed to New Orleans evening its preseason record at 1-1.
OFFENSE: Taysom Hill has progressed quite nicely as a quarterback for the Saints. Sure, he'll still run it when he needs to (five carries for a team-high 53 yards against the Chargers, including a 23-yarder that had his teammates celebrating on the sideline). But against the Chargers, he completed 11 of 15 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, leading the comeback from a 17-3 halftime deficit. Hill ignites the offense when he's on the field, in ways that are quantifiable (the numbers) and, perhaps, not calculable (he inspires confidence). The Saints had a red-zone turnover in the second half, which Hill played in its entirety, and he still managed to lead touchdown drives of 60 and 69 yards, and the game-winning field goal drive of 50 yards. When coaches talk about his improvement, it's not lip service.
DEFENSE: The numbers didn't do Trey Hendrickson justice. He recorded one tackle against the Chargers. But the havoc he wreaked by setting up camp in the Chargers' backfield jumped off the page, whether he was forcing holding penalties (at least two) or bulling through blockers to paw at quarterbacks and running backs. Serious consideration also has to be given to linebacker A.J. Klein. On the first three defensive series', he made a 2-yard tackle for loss on fourth down, forced a holding penalty when he blitzed and intercepted a tipped pass. He helped the defense accomplish everything it wanted to accomplish for most of the first half. But Hendrickson imprinted the game without dominating the stat sheet, and that's hard to do. And impressive.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Deonte Harris looks like he's going to pop a return. He had a 26-yard punt return against the Chargers, and he returned two kickoffs for 50 yards (including a 29-yarder). But the undrafted rookie looks like it's just a matter of time before he takes one all the way, and he's the kind of threat that the Saints have been searching for. By no means does that suggest the returner job is closed; we still haven't seen Marcus Sherels, and Cyril Grayson may do something to "wow" the coaching staff. But Harris certainly looks the part. He'll help his cause if he can add anything as a receiver but for now, his explosiveness as a returner is an attention-grabber and attention-keeper.