NFL Preseason. The gateway to heaven for football fanatics. While the games mean absolutely nothing, you can still learn a ton about your team and what’s to come for the regular season. People want to see their new draft picks and free agent acquisitions compete in real-game situations for the first time in a new uniform. Well, that time is now. With the first week of exhibition games officially underway, let’s take a look at the matchup between the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams that will be kicking off at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri Friday, Aug. 8.
First, we’ll take a look at the Saints and what they have to offer. Many people believe that New Orleans is looking at its most talented roster in the history of the franchise. From Drew Brees to Cam Jordan, to the additions of Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey and rookie Brandin Cooks, the Black and Gold have some pretty intriguing weapons on both sides of the ball.
Unfortunately, Brees is nursing an oblique strain, which may keep him sidelined for the competition. Not to worry, sophomore Ryan Griffin from the Big Easy’s own Tulane University has been one of the talks of camp — keep an eye on the young gun tomorrow.
Most of the veterans will only see a series or two, so let’s peek at a few other guys to watch for. With ridiculous speed, great hands and excellent versatility, first-round pick Brandin Cooks will look to light it up. Look out for the up-and-coming Khiry Robinson in the backfield as well. Receivers Nick Toon and Joe Morgan (returning from injury) should also have your attention.
Defensively, keep an eye on guys like OLB Victor Butler (injured in 2013), rookie CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste and the hard-hitting Rafael Bush at free safety. As a backup, Bush could see a ton of action when Rob Ryan utilizes those three-safety sets.
Again, the starters will be limited. Some other notable players to watch are DE Rufus Johnson and rookie OLBs Khairi Fortt and Ronald Powell. Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of UDFA safety Pierre Warren, who has been nothing but a pleasant surprise at camp. New Orleans has some nice, young talent on both ends.
The Rams had an incredible 2014 NFL Draft. Of course, all eyes are on seventh-round pick Michael Sam at the moment. What about LG Greg Robinson? The second overall pick should be solid protection from the get-go. Aaron Donald, the aggressive defensive lineman and No. 13 overall pick, should see plenty of time with Michael Brockers likely sidelined with an ailment. Rookie defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Marcus Roberson — both out of Florida — should be fun to watch as well.
Last year, we all saw what RB Zac Stacy could do. Now, it’s time to see what rookie Tre Mason can do. The Saints’ run defense was pretty vulnerable at times last season, so the 2013 SEC Offensive Player of the Year could be in line for a big game. Another rookie to monitor is CB E.J. Gaines, who has made several big plays at camp so far. Between him, Mason, Joyner, Roberson and Sam, St. Louis is pretty stacked with rookie SEC talent.
Sam Bradford has looked pretty solid at camp, but we likely won’t see much of him. Instead, we’ll see veteran Shaun Hill, Austin Johnson and rookie Garret Gilbert fire the pigskin. Between Jake Long, Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold, the offensive line is a little banged up, so we’ll have to see how the quarterback protection fairs against a tantalizing New Orleans pass rush. St. Louis has some promising talent, so we could see a nice little showdown from Jeff Fisher and company.
Overall, we’ve got an intriguing matchup on our hands. The Rams were victorious in the Week 15 game against the Saints last season. Sean Payton and his “Krewe of Black and Gold” struggled a bit on the road in 2013, so they’ll be looking to change that up this year, starting with tomorrow’s preseason contest.
Don’t forget to see how Payton and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams greet each other — we all remember the famous Bounty Scandal. Be sure to tune in to NFL Network at 7:00 p.m. CT to watch New Orleans and St. Louis go at it in what should be a great head-to-head battle.