New Orleans Saints Preseason Position Battle Update: Week One

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Shane Vereen

Following the New Orleans Saints 24-20 preseason win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, a lot of roster questions remain after just one game of live action. However, a handful of players stood out and helped themselves in their respective position battles. Here’s a look at how some of the Saints position battles changed following their win over Jacksonville.

New Orleans Saints Preseason Position Battle Update: Week One

Backup Quarterback

Former Houston Texan Tom Savage established a clear lead over Taysom Hill in the first two weeks of training camp, but Hill may have narrowed the gap on Thursday night. Savage played a safe, efficient first half, completing 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards and an 82.4 efficiency rating. However, Savage mostly stuck to short throws and left us wondering what he’s capable of when throwing further downfield.

Hill finished 8 of 9 for 72 yards for a 100.0 passer rating and ran for 52 yards and a touchdown. While Hill came away with the better overall stat line, he did choose to scramble in some less than ideal moments, resulting in two sacks. He was also nearly intercepted on an ill-advised pass. Nonetheless, Hill’s performance should earn him a chance to play with the ones in preseason action at some point.

Hill also nearly blocked a punt in the second quarter and served as holder on field goals throughout the game. These special teams contributions could help Hill make the roster even if Savage wins the backup quarterback role.

Meanwhile, undrafted rookie J.T. Barrett moved further back in this race. He failed to see a wide-open Boston Scott near the goal line on a bootleg and didn’t attempt a single pass. Barrett has a lot of time left to make his case, but at this point, he looks like a player who would benefit from a year on the practice squad.

Running Back Depth

This battle may be just as murky as it was before the game. Terrance West and Shane Vereen both gained less than 10 rushing yards at 2.0 and 1.7 yards per carry, respectively. Scott, a 2018 sixth-round pick made the most of his single carry as he nearly reached the end zone on a seven-yard outside run. None of the backs saw much action in the passing game.

Johnathan Williams showed patience and vision on a few runs and finished with 26 yards and a touchdown on four carries. These runs were late in the fourth quarter though with third and fourth string units on the field. Following this performance, Williams should see some first-half reps in the coming weeks and get a chance to prove himself against better talent.

Defensive Line

Several players fighting for a roster spot at this position made plays on Thursday. It started with Mitchell Loewen, who spent time at defensive end and tackle. Loewen led the team with six tackles (two for losses) and had some good pressures. Despite the heavy competition along the defensive line, Loewen is poised to make the roster again this year after spending most of last season on injured reserve.

Defensive tackles Devaroe Lawrence and Taylor Stallworth both made several impact plays. Lawrence recorded five tackles (one for loss), two half sacks and a full sack, along with three quarterback hits. Stallworth recovered a fumble and made two tackles (one for loss), one sack, and a quarterback hit.

So far veteran Jay Bromley, who was quiet on Thursday, seemed to be the front-runner among roster hopefuls at the position. Now, this looks like an exciting battle to watch through the rest of preseason.

Linebacker

It won’t be easy for him to make the roster at this position, but former Green Bay Packer Jayrone Elliott had the best defensive performance against Jacksonville. Elliot made five tackles, 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. This was another performance with the third and fourth strings, but it undoubtedly shakes up the pecking order at linebacker.

The Saints used Elliott as more of a hybrid edge player than a true linebacker, meaning he could be competition for Hau’oli Kikaha. The 2015 second-round pick played a similar role on Thursday and his roster status is in question after underperforming and struggling to stay healthy the last two seasons.

As of now, six linebackers seem like favorites to make the roster with Stupar being the most vulnerable. Stupar had a quiet night but did make two tackles. Meanwhile, roster hopeful Colton Jumper, a speedy undrafted rookie did himself no favors against Jacksonville. He was faked out in two separate open-field tackling situations and took some poor angles in pursuit.

Kick Returner

Not much changed here, but two possible front-runners emerged. Only Scott and recent signee Brandon Tate returned kicks and punts. Tate gained 36 yards on his first return, while Scott returned a kick 35 yards, although it was called back due to a holding penalty. While Alvin Kamara is likely the best returner on the roster, he’s a crucial part of the offense and the Saints will likely choose someone else for the role.

Winning this battle is more important for Tate than Scott. Tate doesn’t offer much upside as a receiver while the versatile Scott has enormous offensive potential. As it stands now, Scott is likely to make the roster at running back. Tate really needs to break out in the remaining exhibition games to make the team.

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