HOUSTON – Six Saints did not dress out for Sunday’s preseason game with the Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium.
Not dressing were LBs Jonathan Vilma (knee), Junior Galette (knee), Martez Wilson (elbow) and Chris Chamberlain (excused); FB Jed Collins (undisclosed); and WR Joe Morgan (knee).
Wilson returned to practice last week, but is still recovering from a dislocated elbow that he suffered early in training camp.
Among those not playing for the Texans were RB Arian Foster (knee/calf) and DE Antonio Smith (suspended).
Foster practiced for the first time this summer earlier this week after passing his physical and Smith was suspended for the final two preseason games and season opener for swinging a helmet at Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito last week.
Saints coach Sean Payton took another early step in trimming his roster down nearly a week before the first mandatory cut to 75 players on Wednesday when tackle Jason Smith was cut.
Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft by the St. Louis Rams, was released after three seasons there and was on the New York Jets’ roster as a backup in 2012.
Smith was signed to see if he had what the Rams thought they had when they chose him in 2009, and to create competition with Charles Brown and rookie Terron Armstead for the left tackle spot vacated by Jermon Bushrod.
But the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Smith never threatened Brown, who finished the last two seasons on injured reserve, and quickly was demoted from the second team to third team just a few days into camp.
Armstead, one of the Saints’ two third-round draft picks, moved in with the second-team line and will be Brown’s backup going into the regular season.
The Saints’ roster now stands at 80 players with five more cuts due by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
NO RISK: On the third day of training camp, Payton was asked about the team’s decision bring Smith in as a free agent.
Earlier in the spring, Payton expressed concern about the position when he said the name plate on the coaching staff’s depth chart at that position was “gray” — meaning they were unsure of what Brown could give them.
Because Smith only received a one-year contract at the minimum salary for a player going into his fifth season, they had nothing to lose.
“It’s not an exact science,” Payton said in noting that players drafted high sometimes struggle and players picked much lower become stars. “We like the opportunity for us to take him (Smith) here and take a peek at him and see how he is doing.”
GRAHAM ON BREES: Tight end Jimmy Graham, who’s said several times he doesn’t want to catch a pass from any other quarterback than Drew Brees during his NFL career, apparently isn’t backing down from that statement.
When told Wednesday that the 34-year-old Brees, who’s entering his 13th season, wants to play until he turns 40, Graham said the Saints’ record-setting quarterback has it in him.
“I had a press conference with him myself and asked him how long he was going to be here for,” Graham said, noting that Brees’ decision to retire will influence his thinking. “When (that happens), I’m going to have to retire.
“But he’s definitely got it in him to play until 40 — and beyond.”
SITTING IT OUT: After practicing two days in a row, wide receiver Marques Colston did not participate in Wednesday’s workout.
It wasn’t clear if Colston had a setback from the foot injury that has limited his practice time in training camp, or was just being cautious because Payton usually doesn’t talk about injuries after practice.
Also missing during the 30-minute window media can view practice were linebackers Jonathan Vilma (knee), Junior Galette (knee), Will Herring (undisclosed) and Chris Chamberlain (undisclosed); guard Jahri Evans (undisclosed); and fullback Jed Collins (undisclosed).
GETTING READY: After having his team run a series of gassers following Tuesday’s practice, Payton was asked if he was putting more emphasis on conditioning than in the past.
He said he tried to have players run three times a week during training camp and preseason, which is following again this season.
“What’s getting ready to happen is, these guys that have started off playing 12 snaps, 18 snaps, 30 snaps (in preseason games),” he said. “Very shortly, they’re going to be playing more than that. It’s just really preparing your body to have that staying power to play the whole game (in the regular season).”
Veteran quarterback Seneca Wallace’s long-awaited debut with the Saints didn’t go as planned Friday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Wallace appeared to lose ground in his battle with Luke McCown for the backup job, twice turning the ball over in the third quarter, resulting in 10 points for the Oakland Raiders.
The Saints raced out to a 23-0 lead late in the second quarter, then held on to post a 28-20 victory.
“It was a tale of two halves for us offensively,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Wallace inherited a 23-7 lead from Drew Brees on the final play of the first half, only to see the Raiders close the gap to 23-20 by the time rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin of Tulane moved under center early in the fourth quarter.
Wallace’s turnovers came on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. He fumbled at the Saints’ 1 after being blindsided by Raiders defensive end David Bass, who slipped behind rookie left tackle Terron Armstead for the sack and strip.
Raiders’ defensive end Ryan Robinson scooped and scored, cutting the Saints’ lead to 23-14.
On the Saints’ next possession, Raiders middle linebacker Omar Gaither snatched a deflected pass from Wallace out of the air for an interception at the New Orleans 21. A 46-yard field goal from Eddy Carmona trimmed the Saints’ lead to 23-17.
A strained groin kept Wallace out of the Saints’ first exhibition game against Kansas City. McCown (coach’s decision) did not play Friday night.
DID YOU NOTICE?: Line judge Sarah Thomas was part of Friday night’s officiating crew headed by referee Jerome Boger.
Thomas worked several practices at Saints camp earlier this month and is on the fast tracks to possibly joining the NFL next season. Thomas correctly called intentional grounding on Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor late in the third quarter.
SIDELINED SAINTS: Eight players did not dress Friday night — WR Marques Colston (foot), WR Courtney Roby (toe), ILB Curtis Lofton (unspecified), ILB Jonathan Vilma (knee), G Andrew Tiller (unspecified), C Eric Olsen (foot), OLB Junior Galette (knee) and OLB Martez Wilson (elbow).
PLENTY OF TIME: Unofficially, Brees had eight seconds of protection before unloading a 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Brees initially stood in the pocket, then rolled left as the Saints’ line walled off a slow-developing the-man rush from the Raiders.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — Saints sacks after two exhibitions under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, including seven Friday night.
By comparison, the Saints had four sacks after their first two exhibitions a year ago against Arizona (3) and New England (1) under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
LAGNIAPPE: On the Raiders’ opening possession, which ended on downs, quarterback Matt Flynn of LSU twice missed wide open receivers that would have resulted in touchdowns. … Former Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, a native of Port Allen and one of the stars of Super Bowl XLIV, now is playing for the Raiders. He sustained a groin injury with 11:51 remaining in the second quarter and exited the game with four tackles. … Former Saints safety Usama Young also is on the Raiders’ roster … Friday night’s exhibition marked the Raiders’ first preseason trip to New Orleans.
ON TAP: Training camp officially ended with Thursday’s practice. The Saints are expected to return to practice at 4 p.m. Monday in preparation for their third exhibition on Aug. 25 against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said.
The preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and Saints on Friday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be a homecoming of sorts for several Raiders — including coach Dennis Allen.
The 40-year-old Allen, who is in his second season, was an assistant on Sean Payton’s staff from 2006-10 — working his way up from assistant defensive line coach to secondary coach in his five seasons.
Allen’s roster includes four players with Louisiana ties: former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn, Port Allen native and former Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, former Catholic High running back Jeremy Stewart, and linebacker Eric Harper, a New Orleans native and Grambling standout.
Flynn and Porter have lasting memories of the Superdome. Flynn led LSU to the 2007 BCS title in the building, while Porter, who played for the Saints from 2008 to 2011, helped them win Super Bowl XLIV.
BROWN PROGRESSING: One of the bigger question marks in late July is a little clearer after three weeks of training camp, which officially came to a close Thursday.
Saints coach Sean Payton said left tackle Charles Brown, who is trying to earn the spot vacated by two-time Pro Bowl pick Jermon Bushrod, has been consistent throughout camp.
“I think he has been pretty good,” Payton said. “That’s one of those positions where no news is pretty good news. He’s playing well. It’s been encouraging, but it’s still early on in the preseason. He’s certainly ahead of the other guys.”
BREASTON TO GET WORK: Payton said wide receiver Steve Breaston, who did not get any offensive snaps after being signed just four days before last week’s preseason opener, will see some action against the Raiders.
“He’s going on his second week now, so there is a role for the snaps he’ll play,” Payton said. “You will see a lot of Kenny (Stills) and Nick (Toon), especially with the first group. A lot of these receivers will get chance to play, but we’ll get (Breaston) in there.”
STILLS HEARS IT: Stills said his goal going into his second NFL game is to play mistake-free after he dropped a pass and fumbled the ball on an end around last week.
Stills did make a difficult 22-yard catch, but still heard from his father, former NFL player Kenny Stills Sr., about the miscues.
“He just said it was unacceptable to drop a ball and that I’m lucky I have a few more opportunities to prove myself,” said the younger Stills, a fifth-round draft pick.
When asked if he got any tips from his dad during the conversation, he said, “No, it was very short and sweet.”
SITTING IT OUT: In his post-practice news conference Thursday, Payton said linebackers Junior Galette and Jonathan Vilma, who has his knee scoped Thursday, and wide receiver Marques Colston won’t play against the Raiders.
Other that are likely to sit out are linebackers Curtis Lofton, Martez Wilson and Chris Chamberlain — who all missed Thursday’s practice.
SMALL TO APPEAR: Former Saints wide receiver Torrance Small will meet and greet fans at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum, which is located at Gate B on the Plaza level of the Superdome, between 5 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Friday.
Admission to the museum is free for ticketholders.
After saying earlier that he might not have his team do live goal-line work until next week, Saints coach Sean Payton called an audible and put in a 12-play segment Wednesday morning that highlighted the next-to-last practice of training camp.
Sensing that the Saints were sluggish at the start of the practice after two crisp workouts, Payton decided to pick up the pace a little bit.
“You want to guard against just running plays and not improving,” said Payton. “It was kind of what we expected. We made it a live drill.
“I just thought we were sluggish at the beginning and I wanted to create some tempo. I thought there was some good on both sides of the ball.”
OFFENSE WINS: While the defense won at the end of Tuesday’s practice when free safety Malcolm Jenkins intercepted Drew Brees to end a two-minute drill, the offense had the better of it in goal line.
The first-team offense went against the first-team defense on six plays from the 1- and 2-yard line before the second team got six plays as well.
The offense wound up scoring on eight of the 12 plays with the first and second teams each chalking up four touchdowns.
“I thought the goal line scrimmage was one of our best we have had here in the past,” said running back Pierre Thomas, who walked in for a 1-yard TD after being stopped one play earlier. “Guys were on their blocks very quick. The offensive line and tight ends did a great job getting to their guys and pushing them back.”
RYAN RILED: The play of the defense in the goal line drill angered defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was quite vocal with his players on several of the plays.
Safety Jim Leonhard said the players get used to coaches yelling at them during the course of practice.
“It’s a live goal line period,” Leonhard said. “If coaches can’t get fired up for that, they’re never going to get fired up. He was ready to go. We might have to apologize to some of the younger kids here at practice today.”
NICE JOB: Undrafted free agent linebacker Eric Martin did make Ryan happy when he kept running back Travaris Cadet from scoring with a textbook tackle just inches from the goal line.
Cadet looked like he would score easily from the 2 after taking a handoff from Seneca Wallace. But Martin sniffed the play out, came up quickly and hit Cadet straight on — driving him back as his teammates roared.
The first-team defense also stopped Mark Ingram on the first play of the goal-line drill before the offense scored on four or its final five opportunities.
VILMA ABSENT: After practice, Payton said he had no updates on his injured players.
That included inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who’s missed six of the past eight practices with an undisclosed injury and was not out at practice Wednesday.
Citing a league source, ESPN.com reported that Vilma flew to Philadelphia to get a second opinion on an unspecified injury.
FANS GET LAST LOOK: The second-to-last practice of training camp was the final opportunity for fans to watch practice.
Several players took time to thank the fans who turned out in the heat and humidity for the past three weeks even though it was cloudy and 78 degrees during Wednesday’s practice.
New tight end Benjamin Watson tweeted: “Many thanks to all you #Saints fans for sweating it out w/ us this training camp. Great to finally meet the #WhoDatNation! C U in the Dome!”
Just as they did Monday when a spirited short-yardage period highlighted a steamy practice, the Saints ended Tuesday’s workout with a two-minute drill that had a lot riding on it.
Before the first-team offense got the ball 80 yards away from a game-winning touchdown, coach Sean Payton told his team that the side that won wouldn’t have to run conditioning sprints after practice.
After Drew Brees threw a 30-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and eventually moved the ball to the 17, safety Malcolm Jenkins perfectly read a throw to wide receiver Lance Moore in the flat, broke quickly on the ball and made the interception that ended practice.
“That was big … we had to have it,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said of Jenkins’ takeaway. “The offense had to run and we didn’t, so it was big.”
“There was a lot riding on it,” Jenkins said. “We gave up a big play earlier and it got to the point where somebody needed to make a play. It just happened to be me.
“We had a pressure call on and I knew Drew had to get the ball out quick. He kind of threw it where he didn’t want to and I made the play.”
CONTROVERSIAL PLAY: Brees’ long pass over the middle to Graham was a sore subject for the offense, which contended Graham would have pulled away from safety Roman Harper if there had been live tackling.
“Well, that is very arguable because I caught a pass and I would not have been tackled,” Graham said. “It would have been a 65-yard touchdown and somehow they blow the whistle like Roman was going to catch me.
“So I would say we won that and they got a second chance. Either way, I would have scored.”
“Malcolm picked off the Drew Brees pass and we won,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma said when told that Graham said he should’ve had a touchdown. “Yeah, he said ‘should’ve.’ They didn’t.”
PAYTON PLEASED: Even though the offense was denied in the end, Payton was pleased with the competitive nature of the drills and the way the defense got off the field.
“I thought the practice was lively,” he said. “Defensively, we made a lot of plays, especially in the third down (work) and obviously in the two-minute. So it was good work for us.”
THOMAS, WILSON RETURN: Even though they were limited, running back Pierre Thomas and outside linebacker Martez Wilson were back at practice after missing time with injuries.
Thomas, who was sidelined for nearly a week with an undisclosed injury, participated in the walkthrough portion of practice and in 7-on-7 drills, while Wilson, who was out two weeks with a dislocated elbow, also was able to do the walkthrough.
ROBY LEAVES FIELD: The list of injured wide receivers grew Tuesday when Courtney Roby hurt a toe while trying to down a punt inside the 5-yard line and had to be helped to the locker room by two trainers.
Roby joins Marques Colston, Joe Morgan and Chris Givens on the sideline. Morgan is out for the season with a knee injury, Givens is on injured reserve with a shoulder problem and Andy Tanner also missed practice time with a shoulder injury.
LAST CHANCE: Wednesday’s 8:50 a.m. practice is the final chance for fans to watch the Saints work out this summer.
After Thursday’s practice, which is closed to the public, the Saints will wrap up their three-week training camp.