After the New Orleans Saints dispatched the Los Angeles Chargers, 27-10, in their final preseason game, the last major hurdle between them and the start of the regular season is figuring out who will be on the plane when they fly to Atlanta in two weeks.
The Saints already had a full month of training camp and a couple of preseason games to evaluate their roster, meaning they probably also already completed most of their 53-man roster puzzle. But Friday’s game was the last missing piece needed to bring everything into focus. So who helped (and who hurt) their cause?
Here’s our best guess:
LB Eric Wilson: The veteran linebacker has done something in each of the preseason games to stand out. While Friday’s game marked the first time this preseason Wilson was not directly responsible for a forced turnover, he did finish with a team-best six tackles, including one tackle for loss. It’s hard not to see Wilson making the 53-man roster at this point, considering the Saints’ shaky depth at the position.
S Justin Evans: Coach Dennis Allen was honest after the game Friday when he said he had a conversation with Evans recently about his need to improve on special teams, but Evans clearly caught Allen’s eye defensively. Evans punched the ball out of Chargers tight end Hunter Kampenmoyer’s hands (the only turnover the Saints forced Friday) and also showed great closing speed to break up a third-down pass. He definitely gave Allen and the front office brass something to think about.
WR Kirk Merritt: While the Kirk Merritt running back experience never materialized — after spending the week taking his practice snaps only at running back, Merritt did not take a single snap in the backfield Friday — he did finally translate the playmaking ability he’s shown in practice to the game field . Merritt caught all four of his targets (for 24 yards) with a nifty touchdown grab in the third quarter.
DT Malcolm Roach: That everyone collectively held their breath when Roach limped off the field Friday with an apparent injury should say something about how far he’s come this training camp. The third-year defensive tackle may have entered the preseason on the roster bubble, but he solidified his standing with an excellent training camp. The best news for Roach Friday was that his injury did not appear serious: After the training staff checked him out in the medical tent, he returned to the field.
WR Jarvis Landry: Quick disclaimer: No, Landry was never on the roster bubble. That said, Friday night was the first time seeing him share the field with quarterback Jameis Winston, and the results were exciting. The pair connected twice on a brilliant opening drive, both going for first downs when the Saints were behind the sticks.
RB Mark Ingram: Some wondered going into training camp if Ingram, at 32 years old, might wind up being a surprise cut. Suffice to say he’s thoroughly squashed those ideas. Playing in his first preseason action of the season Friday, Ingram looked fantastic, rushing for 34 yards and a pair of scores in the first half before calling it a night.
WR Tre’Quan Smith: It had already been an underwhelming preseason for Smith, who entering Friday had only one catch on two targets despite playing 44 offensive snaps in the first two preseason games. Then it took a turn for the worse. Smith made a diving attempt for an errant Andy Dalton pass attempt Friday night, and he got up with his arm hanging limp. He exited for the locker room shortly thereafter and did not return. That’s a troubling sign for Smith, who has consistently battled injuries throughout his career.
RB Abram Smith: It’s not that Smith has been bad in the preseason, but it’s more that he never distinguished himself as a ball carrier despite ample opportunity. Smith led the Saints in rushing attempts in three preseason contests (29), but he didn’t do much with the workload, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry with a length of 9 yards. Friday, he turned his team-high 13 carries into 35 yards. He went into training camp as a dark horse to snare the No. 3 running back job, but the results have not been there and he looks destined for a spot on the practice squad to start the season.