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Roster Analysis: New Orleans Saints

The SportsXchange

Here is a close look at the New Orleans Saints as they head into their season opener against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS:

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Drew Brees. Backup -- Luke McCown.

Brees is coming off another 5,000-yard season, his third in the past five years, and is poised to have another big year with all of his main weapons returning. While he threw 19 interceptions -- the second-most of his 12-year career -- he completed 63.0 percent of his passes, had 43 touchdown passes and compiled a passer rating of 96.4. McCown won a duel with Seneca Wallace to be the backup after Chase Daniel left in free agency.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Mark Ingram, FB Jed Collins. Backups -- RB Pierre Thomas, RB Darren Sproles, RB Travaris Cadet, RB Khiry Robinson,

While the Saints averaged only 98.6 rushing yards per game last season, part of that was because they were playing from behind so much. They're focused on getting that corrected with Ingram, Thomas and Sproles doing most of the work as they did in 2011 when they ranked sixth. Cadet, a solid receiver out of the backfield, takes over as the fourth halfback after Chris Ivory was traded away.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jimmy Graham. Backups -- Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill.

Graham's numbers were down slightly last season, mainly because he played most of the year with a wrist injury that required off-season surgery. He also had a sprained ankle but still recorded a team-high 85 receptions and had 982 yards and nine TDs. Watson, an experienced veteran, adds more to the offense as a solid receiver and blocker, while Hill earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Marques Colston, Lance Moore. Backups -- Nick Toon, Kenny Stills, Andy Tanner, Robert Meachem.

After signing a rich contract, Colston had 83 catches and led the club in receiving yards (1,154) and TDs (10) while sharing duties with Graham as Brees' go-to guy. Moore, a former street free agent, had his best season in breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career with 1,041 yards and six TDs on 65 catches. The next three guys -- Toon, Stills and Tanner -- haven't played in a regular-season game.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Charles Brown, LG Ben Grubbs, C Brian de la Puente, RG Jahri Evans, RT Zach Strief. Backups -- T Terron Armstead, T Bryce Harris, C/G Tim Lelito.

The biggest news out of training camp is that Brown played well in earning the job as a replacement for two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod. Brown steps in and joins a group that's been rated among the league's best for the past four seasons. Led by Evans, a four-time All-Pro pick, Grubbs, de la Puente and Strief. Harris is a capable backup and could be called on if Armstead, a third-round draft pick, needs a little more seasoning. Lelito, an undrafted free agent, earned a spot as a backup guard and center.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Akiem Hicks, NT Brodrick Bunkley, RDE Cameron Jordan. Backups -- DE Tom Johnson, NT John Jenkins, DE Tyrunn Walker, DE Glenn Foster.

The Saints took a hit when Kenyon Coleman suffered a season-ending pectoral injury early in the first week of training camp. Hicks and Jordan appear to form a solid duo on the edge with Bunkley in the middle. Jenkins, a third-round draft pick, will get a chance to help plug the run up in the middle. Walker, another youngster who didn't play last season, showed some promise, while Foster, an undrafted free agent, won a roster spot with a strong camp and four sacks in the preseason.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Martez Wilson, ILB Jonathan Vilma (IR-designated for return), ILB Curtis Lofton, OLB Junior Galette. Backups -- ILB David Hawthorne, OLB Parys Haralson, ILB Ramon Humber, ILB Will Herring, ILB Kevin Reddick.

Vilma, a former middle linebacker who missed most of training camp after having his knee scoped was put on injured reserve, designated to return. That leaves Lofton to anchor a group that has been wrecked by injuries -- losing projected outside linebacker starters Victor Butler and Will Smith to torn ACLs before the regular season even began. Wilson and Galette, who each missed all four preseason games with injuries, will get first shot at starting with Haralson, acquired in a trade, counted on to help replace Smith. Hawthorne and Humber will be valuable backups inside -- especially if Vilma continues to have knee problems.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Jabari Greer, FS Malcolm Jenkins, SS Roman Harper, RCB Keenan Lewis. Backups -- S Kenny Vaccaro, CB Patrick Robinson, CB Corey White, S Rafael Bush, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, CB Rod Sweeting.

After ranking 31st against the pass, the Saints made two big moves to upgrade the secondary with the addition of Lewis in free agency as an up-and-coming cover corner and Vaccaro with the 15th overall pick in the draft. Lewis will start opposite Greer, while Vaccaro, who can play both safety spots, will be the nickel with the ability to play in all kinds of situations. Jenkins and Harper will be motivated by the play of Vaccaro. Robinson will be in the mix as a backup this season after being a starter in 2012, while White and Bush will also get plenty of playing time.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Garrett Hartley, P Thomas Morstead, LS Justin Drescher, KOR/PR Darren Sproles, KOR Travaris Cadet.

Hartley, who has a booming leg, had accuracy issues in the past. But he was solid in preseason after going 18-of-22 in field-goal attempts last season. Morstead was a Pro Bowl pick after setting a club record with a 50.1-yard gross average -- becoming one of only seven players in NFL history to average more than 50 yards in a season. He also was on track to set the league mark for net punting average, but fell a little short with a solid 43.2 average. He had 45 touchbacks on kickoffs. Sproles is still the main return man after averaging 8.0 yards per punt return and 26.8 yards per kickoff return. Drescher again was solid at his long-snapping duties.
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