The Saints are headed to Miami for a fourth preseason game versus the Dolphins Thursday night that will serve as the final job interview for many talented players embroiled in a heated battle to survive Saturday’s upcoming roster pruning.
Many of the Black and Gold’s starters won’t see much action, if any at all – including Drew Brees.
Back up Luke McCown is slated to start the game, but Tulane product Ryan Griffith is expected to get the lion’s share of the snaps for three quarters.
Brees has been putting in extra time after practice working with Griffin, trying to help him grow.
“Continue to work. Continue to get better each day,” Brees said, describing his advice to Griffin. “Soak up every amount of information you can from the guys in front of you. Do any extra work you can with the receivers after practice. Extra time you can put into studying: do it. You’re a sponge. You soak it all up and at some point, you get your opportunity.”
“He has handled this transition very well for a first-year player,” Coach Sean Payton said. “He’s able to digest and spit out the terminology pretty fluidly and pretty quickly. I think that’s helped him. He’s got a demeanor that you would want at that position.”
Griffin and a host of other hopefuls need to use this final game as their chance to prove their value before the Saints chop their roster down to 53. Payton has warned his team that jobs are often won – and lost – in this final game.
“I’d like to see some of these younger players in the kicking game,” Payton said. “When you look at the snaps and their opportunities before we get to the final roster, there are still a handful of guys that are wanting to make an impression. You would say it’s their opportunity to make a lasting impression. I’ve been a lot of places where guys have made the team on this last preseason game. The kicking game will be important. I’m sure what we do offensively and defensively won’t be too exotic, and yet you want to see some of the fundamentals that we have been coaching all during camp show up on film.”
Looking back at this pre season, several surprise stars have emerged and are working for the chance to prove they can translate pre season brilliance into regular season consistency.
At wide receiver, Andy Tanner, Nick Toon and Preston Parker are forcing coaches to consider all of them as potential components of the Saints air attack.
“I’ve always been confident since I’ve been here,” Tanner said. “It’s the next game on the schedule, and I’m not going to make it a big game or anything. It’s the next game; I’m playing it like any other game.” Tanner scored two touchdowns for the Saints last Sunday against the Houston Texans, but he is not resting on those laurels. He heads into the clash with the Dolphins with specific goals for improvement.
“Blocking. I have to get all of my blocks,” Tanner said. “I missed a couple of blocks. Depth of the route is always key. I have to get deeper on some of my routes.”
“He’s a stud,” Brees said. “There is no one on this team that respects any one individual or teammate more than the guys respect Andy Tanner. He is a guy that has meant so much to this team even though he maybe hasn’t seen the field in active duty action in the regular season yet. He’s a guy who’s on the practice squad who makes play after play throughout preseason and the offseason. We know his opportunity will come.”
On the defensive line, another week, another sack for the Saints biggest preseason breakout player – undrafted rookie defensive end Glenn Foster.
His explosiveness off the snap is a big key to his success, and Payton has already acknowledged Foster is now fighting for playing time, not to make the roster.
Undrafted free agent Tim Lelito, who can play offensive guard or center, has been another pleasant surprise for the Saints. He started 45 consecutive games for Grand Valley State and was a two-time First-Team All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection. Lelito has been logging more playing time recently, often running with the second group.
“He’s athletic and he’s powerful,” Payton said. “He’s done a good job for a rookie offensive lineman. He’s picked things up. He’s got the ability to anchor, so you’ll see him not only at guard, but you’ll see him at center some during Thursday’s game.”
Meanwhile, Brees says he’s comfortable with the amount of practice most of the starters have gotten this preseason and describes the first team as “confident” heading into the Week 1 clash with the Atlanta Falcons.
“I feel like we got accomplished what we set out to accomplish, which was to get a little better each time, get the number of snaps that we felt like we needed, spread the ball around, operate efficiently and effectively with good tempo and rhythm” Brees said.
There are a few projected starters who will get more work than usual in a preseason finale because of injury.
“There are a number of guys that I won’t play at all, and there’ll be a handful of guys that maybe haven’t had as many snaps, that we’ll give reps to,” Payton said.
Specifically, cornerback Patrick Robinson, who is fighting back from his arthroscopic knee surgery in June.
Robinson started all 16 regular-season games last season, but is now battling against free-agent acquisition Keenan Lewis, since veteran Jabari Greer is likely a lock for other corner spot.
“He has been in a couple of different systems now, going from Gregg Williams, to Steve Spagnuolo, to now Rob Ryan,” Brees said. “I feel like he has gained a lot of information going into his fourth season. Obviously, he is a big part of that defense. Especially at the corner position, you have to be able to play with a lot of confidence and a lot of times you are out there on an island. I think we have all seen Patrick Robinson play at a high level at times. “