Saints’ players battling for roster spots after the first preseason contest

Tight end Dan Arnold (85) celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Vikings Friday.

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints starting lineup for the regular season is nearly set.

Many of the primary backup positions are clear.

But there are spots down the depth chart that are wide open, which will determine the final spots on the 53-man regular-season roster.

The playing time and performances in a 34-25 loss to Minnesota in the preseason opener Friday shed a little more light on all of the personnel questions.

Center appears to be the primary battle for a starting position.

Rookie second-round draft choice Erik McCoy has emerged as the favorite after practicing with the first team for the last seven practices. He started against the Vikings and was the only member of the first-team line to play more than one series. He didn’t appear to do anything that would reduce his lead over Cameron Tom and Nick Easton to start the Sept. 9 opener against Houston.

McCoy said his goal in the game was to “just go out and try to solidify myself as a good player.”

“(The coaches) haven’t seen me in live action yet,” he continued. “I was just trying to make a statement.”

McCoy said he was nervous for his initial practices but he said for his first game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome “my nerves were very high to start this game off.”

Elsewhere on the offensive line, Easton started at left guard as starter Andrus Peat was given the night off. No one seemed to emerge as the primary backup to starting tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.

Dwayne Washington (eight rushes, 36 yards) seemed to hold his lead in the battle to make the team as a third running back behind Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, though newcomer Jacquizz Rodgers had the most snaps (24) among the backs, two more than Washington.

Eight different wide receivers played between 16 and 30 snaps with Simmie Cobbs Jr. leading the way with 30. It’s a logjam behind starters Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr.

Rookie free agent Lil’Jordan Humphrey appeared to increase his stock as much as anyone on the team. He hasn’t stood out in the first 11 practices, but he had a 33-yard touchdown pass from Taysom Hill in the fourth quarter.

“It was cool,” Humphrey said of his first NFL touchdown, “but I’ve got a lot more to prove so that I can make this team.”

Humphrey said he still has to get better at “all of the little things as a receiver.”

“I need to be more detailed as a receiver,” he continued. “Once I do that, I think that I will be OK.

“I was able to show my ability to run with the ball after the catch. I feel like I did that a little bit today. That was a main point of my game at Texas, turning small plays into bigger plays.”

Tight end Dan Arnold had a roller-coaster night, catching an 18-yard touchdown from Teddy Bridgewater then letting a pass from Hill bounce off his hands and turn into a Vikings interception and return for a touchdown.

The competition to join starter Jared Cook and Josh Hill as tight ends on the regular-season roster remains wide open.

On defense, linebacker Kaden Elliss (an intriguing seventh-round draft choice) and undrafted rookie outside linebacker/end Porter Gustin led the way with 32 snaps each.

Rookie safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson (29 snaps plus special teams) and Saquon Hampton (12 snaps plus special teams) didn’t do anything to dampen training-camp enthusiasm for them.

The following players did not get into the game: wide receivers Emmanuel Butler and Keith Kirkwood, cornerback/punt returner Marcus Sherels, tight end Alize’ Mack, cornerback T.J. Green, tight end Garrett Griffin, fullback Michael Burton, defensive end Wes Horton, offensive lineman Ethan Greenidge and running back Kerwynn Williams, who was signed Thursday.

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