Alvin Kamara, Tommylee Lewis step up while Saints stars sit in preseason opener

Tommylee Lewis finished with 10 catches for 124 yards, including a diving grab for 32 yards and a 2-yard touchdown. AP Photo/Ron Schwane

Alvin Kamara didn’t play for long. But the rookie running back left as much of a lasting impression as anyone in the New Orleans Saints20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Thursday’s preseason opener.

Kamara got the start since veterans Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram were getting a night off. And, man, did he take advantage.

The third-round pick from Tennessee started with a 1-yard run on the first snap, and then broke a 12-yard gain on the second snap, making a defender miss up the middle. He saved his best for the second series, though -- a 22-yard run when he appeared to be wrapped up at the line of scrimmage, wrestled himself free and used his speed to beat a cornerback around the corner.

Kamara didn’t catch any passes to go with his four carries for 35 yards, but he did split out wide at least once.

Touches will be hard to come by this year for the dynamic runner/receiver, since he’s stuck behind Ingram and Peterson. But if Kamara continues to flash as he did Thursday night (and has throughout much of training camp), the Saints will find ways to get him involved.

Meanwhile, second-year receiver Tommylee Lewis dominated the final three quarters with 10 catches for 124 yards -- including a sensational diving 32-yarder and a 2-yard touchdown catch.

Lewis likely won’t be more than the fourth or fifth receiver and return specialist or the Saints this year, barring injury. But it sure looks as if he'll force his way onto the 53-man roster again, just as he did last summer as an undrafted rookie.

QB depth chart: Drew Brees took the night off, and backup Chase Daniel played just two series, leading the Saints to a field goal. Their jobs are written in ink. Meanwhile, Ryan Nassib outshined Garrett Grayson in the battle for the third QB spot. Nassib looked better in Thursday’s game (10-of-14, 110 yards, TD, fumble) than he has in any practice to date with the Saints. Grayson struggled while facing heavy pressure on many of his snaps (11-of-16, 126 yards, fumble).

When it was starters vs. starters, the Saints looked…: Much-improved on defense. The Saints started the game by forcing three straight three-and-outs. Safety Kenny Vaccaro made two big hits in the open field. Edge rusher Hau’oli Kikaha forced a holding call on a third down. Cornerback P.J. Williams was a sure tackler and led the team with six tackles. And defensive tackle David Onyemata recorded a batted pass and occupied two blockers to clear a path for linebacker Stephone Anthony to get a sack, among other highlights.

One reason to be concerned: The Saints’ backup offensive line struggled mightily, with Grayson coughing up a sack-fumble and veteran left tackles Khalif Barnes and Bryce Harris getting tormented at least once by the No. 1 pick in the draft, defensive lineman Myles Garrett. Hopefully the Saints will get first-round draft pick Ryan Ramczyk back soon from an unspecified injury so he has time to try to lock down the starting left tackle job while veteran Terron Armstead is out with a shoulder injury.

One more reason to be concerned: The Saints’ cornerback depth wasn’t quite as impressive Thursday as it has been in practice. Second-year pro Ken Crawley got the starting nod while veteran Delvin Breaux and rookie Marshon Lattimore were out with injuries. But Crawley suffered through some highs and lows. He had a big-time pass breakup on one fourth-and-goal slant, but later he was flagged for pass interference in the end zone. He also missed a tackle and had two other penalties. Later in the game, Saints safety Erik Harris and cornerback Damian Swann each gave up deep balls to rookie QB DeShone Kizer as the Browns rallied to win.

That guy could start: Onyemata, a fourth-round pick out of Canada last year, continued a solid summer. He is a raw talent who grew up in Nigeria and learned North American football when he got to college. Technically, he might not start ahead of nose tackle Tyeler Davison, but Onyemata should play a lot on passing downs alongside 3-technique Sheldon Rankins.

Rookie watch: Kamara was the star. And like Nassib, sixth-round defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad had more flash plays Thursday than he has in any practice so far, including a half-sack. Third-round linebacker Alex Anzalone had a nice moment when he leaped high and deflected a pass. Second-round safety Marcus Williams appeared to have a decent night while mixing in with the starters. The Saints’ other three draft picks (Lattimore, Ramczyk and defensive end Trey Hendrickson) were out with injuries.

Ginn drops the ball: Veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. had the chance to make a big impact in his debut with the Saints, but he dropped a pass that was headed right toward his chest in the end zone (it may or may not have been altered by a slight deflection). Dropped passes have been Ginn's biggest issue in his 10-year career, though he has gradually improved in that area. He had his best two-year stretch the past two seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

Ten straight losses: Losses don’t really matter in the preseason, but this marks 10 straight preseason losses for New Orleans, dating back to 2014. Coach Sean Payton would love to snap that streak because he wants this team to develop more of a winning culture after three straight 7-9 seasons.