METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints are in game-week mode for the first time this season as they prepare for their preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Friday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It’s not the same as a regular-season game week, but head coach Sean Payton said it does bring a sharper focus after two weeks of grinding through training-camp practices.
Instead of spending the entire week preparing for the opponent as they will during the regular season, the Saints didn’t start working on the Vikings until Wednesday. They’ll have a walk-through on Thursday.
With 90 players on the roster, it can get a little complicated divvying up playing time but some starters likely won’t play and others likely will miss the game because of injury, though Payton wasn’t prepared to release any plans after Wednesday’s practice.
“We’ll talk about, I’d like to see this guy get this,” Payton said.
“It’s a little bit harder at receiver. As the game’s going we talk about play count because one side of the ball might get more of the second quarter than the other so the other might stay on longer.
“(We’ll say) we’d love to see this guy get a return. We’d love to see this guy how he does in third down. We’d like to see how the protection is with this combination of players and what we can do with the linebackers. We try to map out what to expect.”
Quarterback Drew Brees and defensive end Cameron Jordan were among several starters who sat out last season’s preseason opener at Jacksonville.
Payton didn’t reveal his plans for the quarterbacks, but he did say Teddy Brdigewater, Brees’ primary backup, “certainly will play a lot this week.”
The most competitive starting position during training camp is center and Payton said each of the primary contenders – second-round draft choice Erik McCoy and veterans Cameron Tom and Nick Easton all will play. Each has practiced with the first team, but lately it has consistently been McCoy with the starters.
“There’s a philosophy with all of (the preseason games),” Payton said. “How we’re playing guys can vary in each game. We’ll go through the roles relative to Minnesota. We’ll discuss every player that’s dressed in the game, how many plays we’d like to see them play in the kicking game, both offensively and defensively.
“And the key is then communicating that so we have an organized game(plan) and we’re not stuck with 10 guys on the field. It’s a little bit harder in the kicking game sometimes. But from that standpoint, I would say week by week there might be some differences. I think from a competitive standpoint and trying to win and trying to put your best foot forward, that would be consistent in each week.”
Payton said he’s “hopeful” that undrafted rookie wide receiver Emmanuel Butler can play.
Butler was a standout early in camp before missing five straight practices due to an undisclosed injury.
He returned to the practice field Wednesday, but did not participate in team drills.
“He’s real close,” Payton said.
Another wide receiver, Keith Kirkwood, was working mostly with the first team before missing the last five practices because of an undisclosed injury.
In recent days, the Saints have phased in specialized situations such as red zone, short yardage and hurry up in preparation for their first game.
Wednesday might have been the most humid day since training camp began July 26.
“Today obviously it felt different,” Payton said.
The Saints are spending about the first 40 minutes of practices inside their indoor facility, stretching and doing their walk-through.
“It’s really not a full practice when that is happening,” Payton said.
“It’s just the beginning of practice relative to stretch, walkthrough and then you work to get acclimated.”
The Saints didn’t practice Tuesday and Payton said the organization is cognizant of the injury risk when returning to practice after a day off.
“Anytime we practice after an off day, it’s an alert injury day, statistically,” he said. “We used to say that they’re fresh, they’re ready but if you looked at any of the studies, you see more soft tissue injuries following a day off.
“And so, training, no different than in any other sport, there’s peaks and valleys and so today is how long are we on the field, what are the drills we’re doing and we’re alert that what the challenges can be.”