Star attractions like Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram and Cameron Jordan are unlikely to play in the New Orleans Saints' second preseason game Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers. If they do, it should be a short and sweet cameo.
But fear not; this will still be a must-watch exhibition since the Saints’ entire rookie class appears ready for a prime-time test.
First-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore, first-round offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and third-round defensive end Trey Hendrickson should all make their debuts after minor injuries kept them out of last week’s preseason opener.
It’s an especially big game for Lattimore and Ramczyk, who need all of the real-game experience they can get over the next few weeks.
Ramczyk will almost certainly be the Saints’ starting left tackle to start this season, since veteran Terron Armstead is expected to miss at least half the year with a shoulder injury. That’s a somewhat scary thought, based on Ramczyk’s inexperience. But so far, the 32nd pick out of Wisconsin looks like the Saints’ best option.
The 6-foot-6, 314-pounder has handled himself well since being thrown into the fire at the start of training camp. He’s battled his share of highs and lows, but he hasn’t been overwhelmed, even when going against one of the NFL’s best defensive end tandems in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram during joint practices with the Chargers this week.
Lattimore, meanwhile, became even more important this week in the wake of news that starter Delvin Breaux will be sidelined for six weeks with a fractured fibula.
A 6-foot, 192-pound speedster, Lattimore absolutely has the talent and potential to be a NFL starter. But he is still just 21 years old, with only one full year of starting experience at Ohio State. And he’ll have to play catch-up after missing two weeks of training camp with a minor knee injury.
For that matter, these next two weeks will also be huge for Williams, Crawley and Harris, who started a combined total of seven games last year in their debut seasons.
Here are three other things to watch Sunday:
Kamara and the rest of the rookies: The Saints’ entire draft class is compelling. Third-round running back Alvin Kamara was one of the stars of last week’s preseason opener, with runs of 12 and 22 yards with the starting unit. The dynamic runner/receiver has impressed all camp, and he should get another chance to shine Sunday with Peterson and Ingram unlikely to play.
Second-round safety Marcus Williams, third-round linebacker Alex Anzalone and sixth-round defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad have also been flashing their playmaking ability. Williams, who had an interception against Chargers backup Cardale Jones in Friday’s practice, should work his way into nickel and dime packages --
if not more -- early this season. And Anzalone has a great chance to earn a starting job at weakside linebacker if he continues to show consistency along with his range and speed.
Last chance for Grayson, Nassib? At this point it would be a huge upset if the Saints keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. But third-year pro Garrett Grayson and former New York Giants developmental project Ryan Nassib can try to force their hand if they excel Sunday.
Grayson missed his opportunity to do that in the preseason opener at Cleveland. He finished 11-of-16 for 126 yards with no touchdowns and one lost fumble. He was hamstrung by the Saints’ poor pass protection (he was sacked four times, including the sack-fumble). But the third-round draft pick from 2015 also admitted that he held the ball too long at times trying to force things to happen.
That’s the danger of having limited opportunities to prove yourself in the preseason.
“Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a great performance, and I wouldn’t say it was a bad performance,” said Grayson, who said Brees “kind of pulled me to the side and said, ‘There’s some things you see in a younger guy where they’re trying to force something and wait for that play to happen instead of just taking what the defense gives you.’”
Nassib was more impressive in the preseason opener, completing 10-of-14 passes for a 110 yards and a touchdown -- which was important for him since he had been less impressive in practices.
“Especially a guy like me, the position I’m in, every opportunity that you get to play, you want to take full advantage of. And these preseason games is where a lot of those opportunities are,” Nassib said.
Tommylee’s encore? Second-year receiver Tommylee Lewis was the star of last week’s preseason opener, with an NFL-leading 10 catches for a league-high 124 yards and a touchdown. Although the 5-foot-7, 168-pounder is probably forcing he’s way onto the 53-man roster for the second year in a row, I wrote that it’s still hard to see him cracking the top four on the receiver depth chart. Another dominant performance could help him prove me wrong.