Saints fans have waited seven months to enter the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and have the chance to cheer on their Black and Gold. Tonight the wait is over as the New Orleans Saints host the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I’m excited to be in front of the home fans. It feels like we have been away for a while,” Saints quarterback Brees said of the time away from the Black and Gold faithful. “It’ll be great to get in front of the home fans and hopefully we will put forth a good performance and continue to march forward in getting better this preseason.”
It’s game number three for the Saints, while for Jacksonville it’s the second game of the preseason but it’ll be the first for the team’s top draft pick wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon missed the Jags first game a 32-31 win over the Giants thanks to a contract holdout.
The game won’t count in the standings for either team but individually the teams have different goals in mind. For the Jaguars it’s the second game ever for the Mike Mularkey era. If the name sounds familiar it could be because he spent the past four seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Mularkey is trying to establish his regime with quarterback Blaine Gabbert while dealing with his leading offensive player running back Maurice Jones-Drew being a training camp holdout.
The Saints unlike the Jaguars are not looking to establish an identity but rather continue the progression that will put them in a position to contend for a championship.
That process involves seeing a little more of the starters as they begin to get ready for a full four quarters. How long will Brees and the first string offense play? “They will go longer than they did in the last game. There is a natural progression of getting our guys in shape. It will be a little bit longer than they did last game,” said a cryptic assistant head coach Joe Vitt Thursday after practice. You’ll likely see the first unit play through the first quarter depending on the success they have on the field.
Last week at New England Brees and company had a pair of three and outs. Something that still isn’t sitting well with the Saints signal caller, “We want to look sharp. We want to move the ball. We want to score points. We want to limit mental errors and just play at our level of expectation,” Brees said this week.
Defensively the Saints have given Saints fans reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season such as turnovers in each of the two preseason games, harassment of the quarterback, and nice play by the younger cornerbacks. Linebacker Curtis Lofton says there are still improvements that must be made. “Some things that we are doing well, (are that) we are stopping the man in our seven-man fronts and I feel like we are starting to tackle well. Some things that we are not doing well, some leaky yards after contact. We would like to see more balls out and get to the quarterback a little more.”
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
As you settle in for the game tonight here are a few things to look for:
Ivory vs Cadet: Running backs Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Mark Ingram will be the primary backs for the Saints this season. It doesn’t mean that a fourth back due to injury or coach’s choice to use in a game plan couldn’t contribute. Many thought that Chris Ivory clearly would be that fourth back after all in just six games last season he rushed for 374 yards and a touchdown. Problem is undrafted free agent running back Travaris Cadet has played well this preseason and is getting the attention of the teammates and coaches.
Ivory this preseason on the ground has carried the ball 17 times for 30 yards, an average of 1.8 yards per carry. Cadet has rushed 15 times for 23 yards, an average of 1.5 yards per carry. The passing game is where the big difference is. Ivory has a single catch for 15 yards. Cadet has 14 catches for 109 yards and the team’s only receiving touchdown of the preseason. Cadet also has returned three punts and a kick.
Ivory also has had a fumble problem this camp. Cadet has gotten high praise this week alone. “He’s a guy that’s going to get some work and a guy we are going to be looking at for the next couple of weeks,” said offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Thursday. Head coach Joe Vitt said this of Cadet this week, “I think he’s a great fit for this offense. He’s a guy that can line up on the outside lanes, create mismatches against the linebacker, and potentially create mismatches against the safety. I know we saw some of his receiving skills coming out of the backfield. You couple that with the fact that he can be a factor in the return game and he’s an interesting prospect.”
This is what quarterback Drew Brees said of him this week. “Yeah, he’s been great. I think what I’ve most impressed with is it never seems to be too much for him. Our offense can be complex and we do a lot of things and ask a lot from the running backs in regards to the running game, the pass game protection, coming out of the backfield, splitting them out, doing a lot of things and yet for him he has picked it up so quickly. It never feels like it’s too much for him, he is always in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing and you can count on him. That’s really what you want out of that position.”
Let me translate this for you. Hey Chris Ivory, it’s time to make a play. Ivory has three games to do something that leaves a memory. Something that coaches, fans, teammates can go, hey you remember THAT play by Ivory? Ivory has proven he can be an effective runner with the Saints. That said he has been injured often and if he continues to fumble I could see the Saints going with a back that could a few more things than him.
Jonathan Casillas. The linebacker picked off Drew Brees twice this week in consecutive days. Towards the end of the week he was seen playing the weak-side spot with the first unit in passing situations. Casillas’ athletic ability has never been a question. The question has been his health. Can he stay on the field and out of the training room? The team brought in David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain in the offseason, a pair of guys that can play the same position. Casillas had seven tackles against New England last week and perhaps could be a reason why he saw more action with the starters this week at practice. Let’s see if he can have another big game against Jacksonville.
Akiem Hicks. The Saints 3rd round pick had a nice game last week. Three tackles and a pass defense in his first preseason game. Hicks has been having good practices as well and with the injury to fellow defensive tackle Tom Johnson, Hicks will get plenty of snaps. Keep an eye on number 76.
Tanner vs Morgan. Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson are in. Adrian Arrington had the fourth receiver spot won in the first two weeks of camp with his play but then suffered a knee injury that required surgery. 4th round pick Nick Toon is recovering from a foot injury, is expected back next week, but would have now missed three games. Toon’s season is starting to look like a red shirt season to use college terminology as he’ll get a roster spot but the chances to play a big role is dwindling. So who will be the 4th receiver against the Redskins? Well Courtney Roby right now. He has played solid this preseason and was a special teams captain last season so I don’t think he is going anywhere. That means one spot remains perhaps. Joe Morgan and Andy Tanner are battling for a job. Morgan has the speed the Saints would love to have on the field. His problem is consistency. He will catch some. He will drop some. Tanner doesn’t drop anything. He lacks big time speed however. The remaining three games will be huge for each.
JAGUARS SNAP SHOT
Jacksonville out of the AFC South went 5 and 11 last year gave the Saints a bit of a scare in Week 4 as they lost 23-10 in a game that the Saints led 14-10 at halftime.
The big story this offseason, and now in training camp is the holdout of running back Maurice Jones-Drew who led the league in rushing last season with 1606 yards. Today is Day 22 of the holdout. Rashad Jennings right now is slated to be the starter at running back. Montell Owens is the team’s second back and used on third downs.
MJD currently has two years remaining on a five-year $9 million deal. MJD is entering his seventh season, has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in each of the past three seasons.
The team went with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon as their first round pick and the Cowboy just saw his first action with the first string offense this past Sunday due to a 12 day training camp holdout. He is expected to start tonight against the Saints.
The AFC South consists of Houston, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.