Ladies and gentlemen, there is actual Jacksonville Jaguars football today! The Jags host the New Orleans Saints at 7:00 p.m. at
EverBank TIAA Bank Field. Doug Marrone gets a chance to coach against his former boss, Sean Payton — Marrone served under Payton as offensive coordinator for the Saints from 2006 through 2008.
Granted, it’s the first week of preseason and we’re not going to see a lot of reps from the starters, but it will give us a chance to see what the young guys and those who are trying to make the roster can bring to the table.
To help us prepare for all of this excitement, we spoke with Christopher Dunnells of Canal Street Chronicles — SB Nation’s New Orleans Saints community. I asked Christopher a few questions. Let’s get to know the 2018 version of the Saints a little bit better, and find out what we should be watching out for tonight.
1. Typically, we’ll only see starters play two or three series in the first preseason game, Will we see Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Mark Ingram (I believe he is eligible to play in the preseason) at all, or do you anticipate Sean Payton giving any of his stars the night off?
Yes, Ingram is eligible to play in the preseason.
I would anticipate Brees playing only a series or two. Same with Kamara. Michael Thomas might play a little longer. But if I had to guess, Ingram will get significant snaps over the course of the preseason. With Ingram slated to miss the first four games of the season, the preseason will be Ingram’s best opportunities for facing real-game competition and reps.
2. Looking past the big names, what rookies or under-the-radar guys are you most excited to see? Who is a player that Jaguar fans should be paying attention to, even if they may not be familiar with the name?
I’ll give you two: quarterback Taysom Hill and wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. Smith was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and looks to be another mid-round gem for the New Orleans offense. He has been making plenty of noise in training camp, and now after the release of Brandon Coleman, the No. 4 WR spot is wide open for the taking.
Taysom Hill is a career back-up QB that was utilized on special teams in 2017. With his sub 4.4 speed, we’ve already seen what he can do with his legs, and he’s not afraid to bring the wood and lay out a big hit. But we still haven’t seen what — if anything — he can do with his arm as a potential back-up for Drew Brees. All eyes will be on Taysom and his ability to make tough throws. He’s also been reportedly used on special teams to hold for field goals and extra points, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Saints break out any trick plays in the preseason.
3. Again, starters, will get limited reps, but with the Jaguars vaunted defense and smash-mouth offense, are there any players you are excited to watch or are concerned about?
I’m one of a few Saints fans who doesn’t really watch LSU games, but I’ll answer for Saints Nation and say that I imagine they will welcome the chance to see Leonard Fournette live.
I, on the other hand, am just focused on both of our teams getting out of the first preseason game without injuries. (Editor’s note: Amen to that).
4. Cameron Meredith is coming off of a torn ACL and avoided the physically-unable-to-perform list to start training camp. He is also learning a new offense with the Saints. Will we see Meredith play Thursday, and could he be another wide receiver that Drew Brees is able to make into a star?
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Meredith skip the first preseason game as the Saints will be extra-cautious bringing him back from injury.
But to answer your primary question, yes, I think Meredith absolutely could be a huge piece in the 2018 New Orleans offense. Tre’Quan Smith is entering his first NFL season. Ted Ginn Jr is entering his 12th. Willie Snead is gone. Brandon Coleman is gone. Coby Fleener is gone. There are a lot of targets to be had in the Saints offense, and I think Meredith has the best chances of becoming Drew’s No. 2 receiving option this season.
5. The Saints defense was much improved in 2017. Are there any new additions on that side of the ball you’ll be watching for, or players from last season you are expecting to progress? Do you expect the Saints to continue to improve defensively this season?
The Saints defense made huge strides last year, thanks almost entirely to play from the secondary, including Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore and fellow rookie star Marcus Williams. The linebacking corps and pass rush (aside from Cam Jordan) were still a liability last year. At linebacker, the Saints signed Demario Davis, formerly of the New York Jets, and have former (Florida) Gator Alex Anzalone returning from season-ending injury last year. On the defensive line, the Saints re-signed Alex Okafor, who was also lost to season-ending injury last year after tearing his Achilles, and paid a king’s ransom to move up and draft Marcus Davenport in the first round.
If the Saints hope the defense can make similar progress in 2018, it will be up to those key pieces contributing this year.
There you have it — our first opponent Q&A of the 2018 (pre)season. Thank you to Christopher for taking the time to answer my (ridiculously thorough and intelligent — just kidding) questions. Follow him on Twitter, and if you’re looking to learn more about the Saints, be sure to follow Canal Street Chronicles as well.