No Brees, little Chris Johnson in Saints, Titans

Drew Brees will be watching from the sideline for the defending

Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Vince Young? He may play into the third quarter for the

Tennessee Titans.

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.