No Brees, little Chris Johnson in Saints, Titans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Welcome to the NFL's final preseason game where timing is everything, and the clock already has started ticking toward the Saints' regular season opener on Sept. 9. That's why New Orleans coach Sean Payton will be protecting his key starters by keeping them off the field Thursday night when the Saints (2-1) wrap up the preseason against the Titans.
''In our case, the very first game being the following Thursday, there's not additional time if you get a player nicked,'' Payton said. ''So we're going to be pretty smart about how we approach it because we play seven days later in a game that means something.''
That's exactly what Titans coach Jeff Fisher expects. He went through the same timing a year ago when Tennessee concluded the preseason on a Thursday night and opened the NFL's regular season a week later at Pittsburgh.
''They're going to have 11 on the field, and that's what is important to us and we're getting ready to play hard,'' Fisher said.
The Titans (1-2) will have two defensive starters making their preseason debut with tackle Tony Brown back from offseason surgery on his right knee and cornerback Cortland Finnegan recovered from a right groin injury that limited him for three weeks. Jason McCourty is likely to start opposite Finnegan, which could be a clue he has won that starting job.
Fisher has been using the final preseason game as his team's dress rehearsal for the past few years as a way to avoid his starters becoming too rusty in a nearly two-week layoff between the third preseason game and the regular season opener. Some of his starters, like All Pro running back Chris Johnson, likely won't play into the third quarter.
This game is crucial for players still trying to earn roster spots.
Brees won't be playing, but Patrick Ramsey will start and play the first half with Chase Daniel playing the second in the final chance to back up a quarterback who has taken every meaningful snap the past four years. Payton usually keeps only two quarterbacks.
New Orleans running back Ladell Betts also should play, though rookie Chris Ivory may be valuable enough at an injury-depleted position that Payton keeps him on the sideline as well.
Fisher said he plans to play all four of his quarterbacks. Veteran Kerry Collins appears safe as Young's backup despite being scheduled for a $5.5 million salary this season, leaving most of the second half as Chris Simms' last chance to show he deserves to stick around over rookie Rusty Smith.
Even if most of the Saints' starters are sidelined, Fisher insists that won't affect the Titans' evaluation of their own starters. Young was sacked four times in last week's 15-7 loss at Carolina with the first-team offense shut out of the end zone for the first time this preseason. The Titans managed 50 yards on 25 plays in the first half.
''We're going to play hard, we're going to play a lot of people, we're going to play the starters and we'll continue to play guys who are working to earn a spot on this roster,'' Fisher said. ''We've got a lot of things we need to accomplish special teams wise.''
That includes seventh-round pick Marc Mariani, who will be handling kick returns for Tennessee in the first half, and Tennessee rookie Myron Rolle.
The Rhodes scholar from Florida State was the final pick of the sixth round in April, and the safety has been working to learn special teams in the NFL after playing only on the punt block unit in college. He said he takes his mind off the pressure of Saturday's final roster cuts by reading his Bible and trusting in God.
''He's taken care of me for 23 years, and hopefully He will this week. That's the way you have to approach it. If you don't, then you'll drive yourself crazy and won't sleep at night, and you won't perform well when you need to,'' he said.