Injury-riddled Saints look for players to step up vs. Raiders
The Saints will have some big holes to fill in their preseason matchup against the Raiders.
By JENNIFER HALEFS Southwest
Saints wrapped up Training Camp Thursday night with a series of meetings, while some fans no doubt reflected on what a costly off season and preseason this has already been, especially for the Black and Gold's fledgling defense.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is still in Philadelphia, recovering from a minor knee surgery.
The scope means he's done for the rest of preseason, but could possibly return for Week 1 of the regular season.
"This is a little different of a procedure, so we will see how he does when he gets back," Coach Sean Payton said.
Vilma's surgery is just the latest high-profile test for new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme.
The Saints are also without linebackers Victor Butler and Martez Wilson - although Wilson should return for the regular season.
Defensive end Kenyon Coleman is also out for the season.
Those losses open a gaping window of opportunity for bubble players hoping to make this roster.
For instance - inside linebacker David Hawthorne will take Vilma's place when the Saints square off against the Raiders Friday night in the Superdome.
"I think my opportunity is out there definitely. My whole focus is to give myself the best opportunity, by my play, by my practice, by my camp," Hawthorne said. "Staying healthy and competing, that's my goal and that's what I have been sticking to."
Hawthorne missed five games last year with an injured hamstring. The former Seattle Seahawk only posted 43 tackles, his lowest total since his rookie year in 2008.
"I came here to play football and then when you get sidelined injury after injury, it kind of gets you down. You don't really know your place. When you are here to do a job and you can't do your job, then obviously it gets you a little down," Hawthorne said. "That is all behind me. I have been staying healthy and that always gives you a chance to go out on a daily basis and showcase your skill. I have been able to do that at a high level throughout the camp, and I think the coaches have been noticing that, me coming out and being ready to compete every day."
Friday's game is an opportunity several players can't afford to squander.
"I'll tell you what I told the team: It's an important game for a lot of guys," Payton said. "Obviously it's an evaluation process that is ongoing but for a number of players. They'll get more snaps and more opportunities for us to see where they're at."
At 32-years-old, backup quarterback hopeful Seneca Wallace knows he's in that number, especially after sitting out of last week's game with a groin injury.
Wallace is trying to keep pace with fellow veteran Luke McCown, who completed 18-of-28 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
But Wallace has something McCown doesn't: the scrambling ability to make plays with his legs downfield.
Payton is clear about what he's looking for out of Wallace:
"Ultimately, is he moving the team? Are you converting on third downs?" Payton said. "Seneca's done this long enough, he's started a lot of games in this league so his experience is something that helps him, but also he can make plays with his feet when something breaks down. It's hard to measure that at practice, but when you get into a preseason game, it's a little bit easier to see."
Wallace will do his best to make sure it's on full display against the Black and Silver. His future with the Black and Gold may depend upon it.