Saints vs. Cardinals: Players to Watch in the NFL Preseason Opener

Chris Hummer@chris_hummerAnalyst IAugust 5, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints looks to pass from the pocket against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 36-32.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

America, rejoice! Football kicks off today. Well, in a way.

The NFL preseason slate begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET, as the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints face off in the Hall of Fame game.

Preseason games aren't always the most thrilling contests, but with this being the first game of a new season, the matchup should still be rather entertaining.

Plus, this is the first game for the Saints after their bounty scandal rocked the NFL this offseason, so there are definitely some intriguing storylines to follow.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the players to keep your eyes on in this exhibition match.


Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Boy, has Drew Brees had an interesting first half of 2012.

First, he broke Dan Marino's storied single-season passing yardage record. Then, remarkably, the Saints declined to give him a long-term deal, slapping him the franchise tag. After that Brees had to contend with the fallout from the bounty scandal.

His offseason was capped off with a long and drawn-out contract negotiation with the team. But they finally got a deal done before camp when Brees signed for a record breaking five-year $100 million deal.

Now, Brees will be leading the Saints onto the field for their preseason opener and their first game without head coach Sean Payton.

Brees should perform well, as always. But it will be interesting to see how much control he has over the play calls without Payton and his interactions with the offensive coaching staff.


Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals selected Michael Floyd in the first round to be an impact receiver and to take some of the heat off superstar Larry Fitzgerald.

Sunday evening, he will have his first opportunity to prove that he can deliver.

The former Notre Dame star, was one of the top talents in the 2012 draft and his ability to stretch the field will perfectly complement Fitzgerald.

However, it hasn't been all good for the young wideout this offseason.

He was called out by Fitzgerald in early July for his lack of work ethic, and it remains to be seen if he'll have the drive to perform up to his natural talent.

He'll have his first chance to prove the doubters wrong tonight against the Saints.


David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton, New Orleans Saints

David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton signed with the Saints in free agency this offseason and looked to be great additions to an aging linebacker core.

Now, after linebacker Johnathan Vilma's suspension for the season, the pair has to be more than that. They'll be starters, integral pieces to the team’s success.

Hawthorne and Lofton will have to adjust quickly and this game will be their first opportunity to do so.

The way they fit within the system tonight will be a great indicator as to how quickly they've picked up the terminology and bonded with their teammates.


Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals

Ah, the quarterback battle, the grandest spectacle of any training camp experience. And the Cardinals are set up to have a great one.

Kevin Kolb was the starter for much of last season but never really played all that well.

However, when Kolb went down with injury during the middle of the year, the team went 5-2 in his absence—under the leadership of backup John Skelton.

Skelton has all the tools a team could want in a QB. He's tall, strong and has a cannon attached to his right arm. Plus, if last year was any indication, he's a winner.

Kolb was brought in to be the much needed replacement for Kurt Warner and got paid the big bucks to do it.

But if he's not careful, he'll find himself out of a starting job before he can fulfill his potential.