METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints still have two preseason games to play and it’s three weeks until they start the regular season.
But the training-camp portion of the preseason ends this weekend and the potential opening-day roster is taking on a different shape than it had when the team first reported last month.
Much can still change before the team the selects the 53 players that will be around when Tampa Bay comes to the Louisiana Superdome on Sept. 9.
But it’s worth noting that several players appear more likely to make the team than they did initially, and others appear less likely than they once did.
So here’s one list of who seems more likely and who seems less likely to stick around when the roster is set for the season opener:
Players more likely to make the roster
WR Keith Kirkwood – He’s still a long shot, in fact a very long shot. But he has had a very good camp and preseason. Something unexpected would have to happen for him to be on the 53-man roster at the start of September. But the chances of him being employed somewhere in the NFL in September, or in New Orleans later on, or both are greater than they were when camp began.
TE Dan Arnold – I wouldn’t put him on the 53-man roster, but he has a better chance of being one of three tight ends than he had of being one of five or six wide receivers before he changed positions at the start of camp.
DB Natrell Jamerson – The secondary is one of the most competitive areas of the team and Jamerson is probably more likely to stick around on the practice roster than the active roster. Nonetheless, he can contribute on special teams, an absolute must for a draft choice who plays DB, and secondary coach Aaron Glenn went out of his way to praise Jamerson’s rapid development the other day.
DL Davaroe Lawrence, DL Mitchell Loewen, DL Taylor Stallworth, DL Jay Bromley – Let’s go ahead and lump these guys together even though they can’t all make the team. When camp started they were all near the bottom of the depth chart. But Marcus Davenport’s development has been slowed by injury and Alex Okafor is going to miss a few weeks because of injury, so there are more opportunities on the line and each of these guys has shown something positive in the first two preseason games.
LB Jayrone Elliott – He didn’t follow up his impressive performance in the opener with anything that stood out against Arizona, but he’s definitely in the mix. Not only can he play linebacker, but he’s also a good special-teams player and he can rush the passer from a defensive-end spot.
DB Arthur Maulet – He didn’t have his best performance against the Cardinals, but he has had a solid camp overall. He’s a good special-teams player and has been running as the No. 2 nickelback behind Patrick Robinson. It’s a tough numbers game in the secondary, but Maulet has strengthened his case over the last three weeks.
RB/RS Boston Scott – He doesn’t have the team made, but he has shown the ability to run the ball, catch passes out of the backfield and return kickoffs and punts effectively. Brandon Tate appears to have a leg up on him as the No. 1 return specialist, but Scott has shown enough talent and versatility that the Saints should be reluctant to try and sneak him onto the practice roster.
RB Jonathan Williams – He had a pretty good chance at making the team all along, but now he looks like the guy most capable of filling in for Mark Ingram during the first four games of the regular season. That should eliminate whatever uncertainty about his future that might have existed in July.
Players less likely to make the roster
LB Colton Jumper – He was a long shot all along, but the coaches liked what they saw from him during the offseason program. That gave him an outside chance at a roster spot if he built on that good start in training camp and the preseason. But so far that hasn’t happened.
TE Deon Yelder – He’s got skills as a receiver and remains a practice-roster candidate, but the switch of Dan Arnold from wide receiver to tight end and the re-signing of John Phillips significantly increased the competition at a position where Yelder already had a lot of climbing to do.
RB Terrance West – Shane Vereen has been the more impressive of the two veteran running backs that the Saints brought in late and with Williams and Scott both looking strong, it’s really hard for West to find a spot in the top 53.
DB Kamrin Moore – As a sixth-round drat choice he probably had less than a 50-50 shot starting out, then he missed a few practices because of injury. He’s healthy now and there’s still time, so don’t count him out. But his chances are probably less than they were three weeks ago.
LB Hau’oli Kikaha – The Saints moved him to outside linebacker, presumably because they didn’t seem him making them team at the very competitive defensive-end position. He didn’t get into the game against the Cardinals until late, so it’s hard for him to find a spot even though he’s a capable football player.
S Chris Banjo – He’s a special-teams standout and still very much in the mix to make the team. But with so many young DBs who can play special teams, the Saints could try to get a little younger at safety. But the odds still favor Banjo sticking around.
C/G Josh LeRibeus – His experience and versatility still make him a pretty strong candidate for a roster spot. But Cameron Tom is healthy now, rookie Will Clapp has done pretty well and both are as versatile as LeRibeus. So he has some work to do to hold them off, but he certainly can do so.
DL George Johnson – There’s a lot of competition on the defensive line and Johnson missed a little practice time after hurting his left arm a week ago. But he bounced back quickly and played against the Cardinals. He’s got to come on the strong at the end of the preseason, just as he did after being signed late last season.
OL Jermon Bushrod – His experience and versatility make him a strong candidate to make the team, but he’s not the player he once was and it’s unclear whether he can still play tackle. If he’s limited to playing on the interior, he runs into a lot of competition with LeRibeus, Tom and Clapp. His fate could be tied to whether the coaches feel fourth-round draft pick Rick Leonard is ready to play tackle in an NFL game if the need arises.
WR Tommylee Lewis – He’s back after missing some time due to injury, but the bigger setback came when the Saints signed Brandon Tate. Lewis’ primary value is as a return specialist and Tate seems able to match if not surpass Lewis’ ability on special teams. Additionally, Tate is definitely the better receiver of the two.
By definition, these next seven players have a better chance of making the Saints roster than they had when training camp started because each has been brought in since the start of training camp. But beyond that their chances of making the team vary.
WR Brandon Tate – As mentioned above, Tate’s ability as a return specialist is the primary reason he’s in good shape to make the team. Secondarily he looks like he might be the fifth best receiver on a team that will carry at least that many receivers.
WR Michael Floyd – He came in at the same time as Tate, but he doesn’t have nearly as a good chance of making the team. He’s not a return specialist, he came in a little out of shape and he’s farther down the pecking order of receivers.
DB Marcus Williams, DB Robert Nelson Jr., DB Rickey Jefferson – All three of these guys were brought in recently and have an uphill battle to make the team, including Williams, who is merely a namesake of the Saints’ standout second-year safety.
OL Dan Barclay – He has some experience and some versatility, but will have a hard time surviving a tough numbers game on the offensive line.
TE John Phillips – He was just brought back last week, but he’s familiar with the offense and the coaches are familiar with him. So he’s more than just a camp body, but he faces a lot of competition.
One last reminder: Coach Sean Payton rightly points out that these battles for roster spots aren’t always as simple as they seem on paper because there’s a good chance that one or players who get released by other teams could wind up getting signed and making the roster. So merely prevailing in the current competition might not be enough to make the team.