It was your typical fourth preseason game. Starters were sparse, lineups composed of names fighting for final roster spots when, for most of them, the harsh reality of the waiver wire is set to kick in.
Nevertheless, the table was set and the New Orleans Saints welcomed the Baltimore Ravens as both teams closed out their preseason preparations at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome last night.
Peering into the microscope, the game provided more than just a final audition for players on the fringes, as some of those players found themselves ensconced in legitimate position battles. Thursday night's game presented the final opportunity for those players to make their impressions upon their respective organizations.
For the Saints, in addition to a possible unblemished preseason record at stake, there were a couple of key battles to monitor well into the fourth game. It was also a chance to catch a glimpse of rookies and other youngsters vie for places on the practice squad, with some pushing for final spots on the 53-man roster. All 32 NFL teams must trim their current 75-man rosters down to 53 players by 3 p.m. CT Saturday afternoon.
The Ravens backups won in the end, and the Saints' chance to go 4-0 in August went by the wayside, but the final score was not important. Having performed well in last weekend's dress rehearsal against the Colts, New Orleans was in pure evaluation mode, with roles and spots still very much up for grabs. The final record may have been imperfect, but the situation to run the rule over these players in a competitive, live game setting for the last time was ideal.
Here are 5 takeaways from the Saints' final preseason game:
1.McCown "Lukes" the part
In the battle for the backup quarterback job, Luke McCown appears to have emerged victorious in his spirited duel with Ryan Griffin. Veteran McCown started and played ahead of the younger Griffin in three of the team's four preseason contests. McCown started the first two games as Drew Brees nursed a minor oblique injury sustained in training camp. McCown did not run away with the competition, but was more consistent and polished than Griffin, whom the organization remains high on. McCown also served as the primary holder throughout preseason. The Saints know what they have in McCown, who has a good grasp of coach Sean Payton's dynamic offense. Griffin, who played his college football at nearby Tulane, is still developing. Luke McCown has been steady throughout the preseason for the Saints.
“I continued to get better," McCown, who was re-signed by the team in March, said. "It never stops. The competition and evaluations never stop. It doesn’t end because it’s the fourth pre-season game. The mindset is to get better each week and to help Drew (Brees) and Ryan (Griffin) prepare. We want to feel equipped to endure any situation that might come up during the season.”
2. Good win, Jonathan
Another close battle, another veteran seemingly besting a youngster. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin appears to have outlasted Tim Lelito for the starting center gig. Goodwin has been tkaing most of the reps with the first string in recent practices. Lelito's future with the team remains bright, and his versatility to play across the interior of the offensive line could lead him to the field at some point. Goodwin, like most starters, received the night off against Baltimore.
3. Just for kicks
Ah, the kickers. Seriously, one of the tightest, if not the tightest battle throughout the summer, neither veteran Shayne Graham or youngster Derek Dimke have done themselves much, if any harm this preseason as both have performed well. This battle remains neck-and-neck. Graham did not kick last night, as Dimke got the duties to himself. That can be construed both ways, as the team either gave Dimke the last opportunity to fight for his place, or simply knows what it has in Graham and gave him the night off with other veterans. This will likely go right up to tomorrow's 3 p.m. CT deadline for teams to trim their rosters down to 53 men, but the Saints will be fine with either choice. Graham's veteran track record and experience kicking in high-pressure situations may give him the ultimate edge, but whoever comes out on the unfortunate end of this decision will surely have another opportunity elsewhere. There will be a quality free agent kicker on the street soon, but not for long. Derek Dimke (right) has been part of a spirited kicking competition with veteran Shayne Graham.
4. Joe a go?
WR Joe Morgan has come on strong at the most important time, making impressive grabs in practice while also standing out in live game action. Morgan caught 4 passes for 33 yards last night, and showed that he can operate as more than just a deep threat. Morgan, Nick Toon and Robert Meachem are all vying for spots, but the trio should be safe, assuming the team does elect to carry six receivers, with Kenny Stills continuing to battle a thigh injury.
5. Incredible Edebali
Undrafted free agent linebacker Kasim Edebali's story has been fun to follow. The Boston College alum seems poised to crack the Saints' final roster, and once again stood out last night against the Ravens, providing solid play from his outside linebacker spot, while continuing to make an impact on the team's coverage units. The German Born 25-year old appears to be this summer's camp success story, and could be the latest undrafted gem to find his way onto the team's final roster.
“(Edebali's) a guy that can help in the kicking game," Payton said after the game. "We’ve seen him in special teams, and I think his first impression comes there. He’s one of those guys competing for a spot.”
Fellow UDFA Pierre Warren continues to push for a spot at safety, and could have a chance to earn a place thanks to an injury to teammate Marcus Ball.
Let the fun begin...
That's it for preseason. Stay tuned as the Saints prepare to open their 2014 regular season with a date against the arch rival Atlanta Falcons next Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.