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6 veterans with a lot on the line in Saints preseason opener

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The NFL preseason is here and that means there will finally be New Orleans Saints football tonight. The Saints will open their exhibition play against the Houston Texans, allowing fans a first look at some of the new additions on the roster. But it won’t be all about the faces new to league, there will be several veterans with a lot on the line in Houston as well. Some have been with the team for multiple years, others are new to the roster. But for all, one thing is true: this preseason matchup is about much more than just playing football. Here are six veterans who will be looking to make the most of their opportunities Saturday night.

WR Kevin White

AP Photo/John Froschauer

The 2015 seventh-overall draft selection is overrun with talent. His size and ability to move are notable, but things have not panned out as expected since he entered the league. He dominated collegiate competition at West Virginia but injuries derailed what could have been a fast start with the Chicago Bears. White joined New Orleans last year but only caught 1 pass on 5 targets. That single catch did amass 38 yards and many hoped it would be an “ah-ha” moment for a receiver that has been so persistent against adversity. Unfortunately things didn’t come together as hoped in 2021.

However, he did show the Saints enough to bring him back on a future/reserve deal this season. While he has had flashes throughout training camp, he’s also had some lows with more than a few drops to his name. Now, he’ll get an opportunity to show what he can put together in full-speed action as he hopes to build on the highs he’s shown throughout practices. It’s a crowded room at wideout all of a sudden in New Orleans, but a solid set of preseason performances could carve him out a spot on the practice squad at the least.

TE Nick Vannett

Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

In our 6 rookies to watch piece, Dylan Sanders highlighted undrafted free agent tight end Lucas Krull. The flip side of that coin is six-year veteran Vannett. His first season in New Orleans got off to a slow start in 2021 as he dealt with injury, But in the seven games he appeared in, he proved to be a consistent and effective blocker while bringing in 9 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown reception. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, he was third at his position in receiving yardage. Vannett was brought in to be a veteran leader at tight end, but now he has a lot more competition in the room. The aforementioned Krull is looking to carve out a role as a UDFA rookie, but coveted wide receiver Juwan Johnson has bulked up and is ready to show his progress as well. Not to mention Taysom Hill, who will focus more in 2022 as a pass-catcher working with the tight ends. With all of that compeition, a good performance would go a long way. But a poor performance against the Texans could be detrimental to the outlook of Vannett’s future in New Orleans.

OL Ethan Greenidge

AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman

Greenidge hasn’t seen a ton of playing time in New Orleans, but the staff has always been high on him. With new offensive line coach Doug Maronne in the building however, the familiarity factor may be jeopardized. That means Greenidge will have to prove he can stick around. The challenge is setting in on the former Villanova tackle, however. At tackle, the Saints have Ryan Ramczyk, their perennial All-Pro level lineman, they love James Hurst, invested highly in rookie Trevor Penning, and second-year tackle Landon Young is blossoming into a quality player. If Greenidge wants to land on the 53-man roster in September, it all has to start against Houston.

S Justin Evans

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It’s been a long road for Evans before landing in New Orleans this offseason. He was drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he showed a lot of his potential immediately. However, injuries set in for the Texas A&M product in 2019 and never let loose. Evans missed his 2020 year due to being on the physically unable to performance list as the season opened and did not play in 2021. After a two-year absence, the safety is back in the game and has shown some notable flashes throughout camp including multiple takeaways and pass break ups. Doing it all at full speed could propel him upward in an otherwise crowded safety room.

DL Shy Tuttle

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Next to defensive tackle David Onyemata, the Saints have options for a potential starter on the defensive interior. Tuttle, a former UDFA from Tennessee, held that role last year. Can he hold on to it again with veteran Kentavius Street and rookie Jordan Jackson hot on his trails? In camp, Tuttle has bounced around with each unit, so preseason will provide a much better look into where they project his evaluation and for him to be able to battle for his role.

QB Ian Book

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Okay, he’s a young veteran, but a veteran now nonetheless. Book is clearly very talented with his great accuracy, ball placement, and off-schedule ability. But there are questions about whether or not the Saints will hold on to two or three quarterbacks on this season’s active roster. In any case, active roster or practice squad, Book will have an important role on the team. But being an ultimate competitor, it’s obvious that Book would rather remain on the 53-man roster going into the season. Book once told me that his plan was to go into the 2022 season competing for the starting role, while that’s obviously a challenge with Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton ahead of him, that mentality is one that should be celebrated and if it means that he’s gone from trying to compete to start to competing for a roster spot, he’ll do it with all the same fervor.

Book is genuinely one of the player I’m most excited to see in Houston. You can see how he’s progressed as a passer in camp, but his abilities with the ball in his hands as a runner often get lost in the non-contact environment. After seeing only 24 snaps in 2021’s preseason, the former Notre Dame signal caller should see that more than that Saturday night alone. Book has a real opportunity ahead of him this preseason to establish who he is after the general disaster last year’s Monday Night Football matchup was against the Miami Dolphins which left him with unfair circumstances and therefore mostly unusable evaluations.

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