METAIRIE, La. – Finally, there will be football.
When the Saints open their 2012 preseason campaign against Arizona tonight in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, the focus will, for at least several hours, be confined to football and not on bounty scandals or contract holdouts.
After an offseason of defending itself, the New Orleans franchise will care only about defending its end zone.
But don’t expect to see the players you’ve come to know most the past several seasons to play a lot.
“I don’t want to talk about the snaps,” acting head coach Joe Vitt said. "We have done things the same way. If you go back and look at the Pittsburgh game we played in the Hall of Fame back in 2007, you will know exactly how we are going to play the game.”
That means quarterback Drew Brees will see a series or two along with the first-team skill players, including running back Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles and receiver Marques Colston.
Defensive starters like linebacker Curtis Lofton and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper also are likely to see very little playing time.
Yet, Sunday night’s game, which Vitt likened to a Black and Gold scrimmage recently, will go a long way in helping the coaching staff begin full evaluations of players on the bubble.
The new collective bargaining agreement takes away practice time that, in the past, coaches used to give younger players repetitions in practice. With two-a-days outlawed, those snaps have just disappeared.
“We have to know what a player’s physicality is,” Vitt said. “Physicality is going to fill what we are looking for. Number two, can he finish? Can he finish every play? Can he finish every series? Can he finish every down, quarter, and half? Then this, does the player know what to do? Does he know how to do it? Does he know what to do? Does he know how to get them?”
The Saints, like the 31 other NFL teams, have beefed up rosters this season, 90 players up from 80 in the past. That means even more players for the coaching staff to evaluate in less practice time.
Only 53 players will make the Saints roster; likewise for the other teams. Only eight can make the practice squad so that means when all is said and done, 928 players won’t be in the NFL come final cuts.
In other words, while preseason games might not count for Brees and Thomas and Colston and Lofton and Harper and Jenkins, it does for many others.
“There are a lot of guys trying to make other teams,” Saints center Brian de la Puente said. “It is not just this team they are putting on film for, everybody gets to watch this film. Preseason games are very, very important.”
Still, tonight could be more like a glorified scrimmage, one under the lights and in a stadium. At least that’s how the Saints will treat it.
“We’ve got to take a good hard look at some of our younger players but we are going to treat it like we would the Black and Gold scrimmage,” Vitt said.