The Saints will contend for a second Super Bowl win
2011 holds much promise for the Saints. With an established veteran core, an emerging group of exceptional young playmakers, and an elite QB, the Saints have designs on their second Super Bowl title in three years.
The preseason should illuminate some important roster developments and reveal key strategic implications as the Saints head into the 2011 campaign. Let's take a look.
Game 1: vs. San Francisco 49ers
When: Friday, August 12th, 7 PM CDT
Where: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
What I'm Watching For: There are a few interesting subplots in this first preseason game for the 2011 Saints. First, how does the newly renovated Superdome look? The extensive stadium improvements are certainly an anticipated end result for fans of the Black & Gold, as renovations have been underway since the end of the 2010 season.
Second, how will newly-signed Saints DT Aubrayo Franklin fare versus his former teammates? Franklin, widely considered one of the premier run-stuffing defensive tackles in the league, signed a one-year deal with the Saints this offseason after spending four years in San Francisco and four years in Baltimore prior to that. Franklin's arrival in New Orleans is welcome news for what's largely been a porous run defense in the Sean Payton era. The newly-minted number 99 will team with Shaun Rogers and Sedrick Ellis to form a formidable interior defensive line.
Ingram should see extensive action vs. the Texans
Game 2: at Houston Texans
When: Saturday, August 20th, 7 PM CDT
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
What I'm Watching For: The Saints and Texans have shared preseason practices and games the past few years. The semi-regional "rivalry" is still in its infancy, but every game adds to the fabric of future lore.
I expect some first quarter fireworks from two of the league's most explosive offenses. Also, I'll be watching for Mark Ingram's continued development, adjustment level, and workload in his second preseason game. It seems reasonable that this will be the preseason game that Ingram gets extensive work.
On the defensive side of the ball, I'll be interested to see the linebacker rotation. At this point, Saints' fans will have a better idea how the competition at the SLB and WLB is taking shape. With a deep group of players vying for the starting job at both outside linebacker spots, this game will help determine who's rising to the top. Specifically, I'll be focusing on Jonathan Casillas, Will Herring, Martez Wilson, and Clint Ingram.
Robinson's growth has impressed Saints' coaches
Game 3: at Oakland Raiders
When: Sunday August 28th, 7 PM CDT
Where: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA
What I'm Watching For: Obviously, I'll be looking forward to watching the Saints' starters play two or three quarters, giving fans a truer preview of what's ahead in the regular season.
I'm also eager to see if the Saints can match their 2009 preseason game vs the Raiders in which the Saints torched Oakland 45-7, setting the stage for a Super Bowl-winning campaign. It will be interesting to see how Sean Payton rotates his RBs and utilizes the diversity of this group. Among Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and the newly-signed Darren Sproles, the Saints' RB core will present a major headache to opposing defenses in the coming season.
Defensively I'll be watching the CB group, specifically Patrick Robinson. With Tracy Porter recovering from offseason microfracture surgery and Jabari Greer firmly established as the Saints' top CB, Robinson has the opportunity to establish himself as a starter and validate his first-round draft stock.
Also, the additions of rookie Johnny Patrick and fomer Ravens' first-round pick Fabian Washington give the Saints' secondary a level of depth unseen in the Payton era. The CB group should be an area of strength for the Saints this season.
Whose standout performance will cement a roster spot?
Game 4: vs. Tennessee Titans
When: Thursday, September 1st, 7 PM CDT
Where: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
What I'm Watching For: Mostly, I'm hoping for an injury-free game. I'll also be watching for the standout performances in this game from players trying to cement their spots on the roster.
The recent past has provided Saints' fans with memorable late-preseason performances from the likes of Pierre Thomas and Chris Reis, both of whom eventually became important contributors to the team.
The LB and WR positions, both deep with talent young and old(er), should be areas of focus in the final preseason game for discerning fans. Finally, it's worth noting that the Saints play 9 of their last 10 games indoors this season. The one game among the last 10 not in a dome? At Tennessee in week 14. We'll get a sneak peek here.