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Saints Players Teetering on Roster Bubble

These New Orleans players face a crucial week of action against Green Bay after poor performances against the Texans hurt their roster chances.
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The New Orleans Saints released seven players and moved another to injured reserve on Monday to get down to Tuesday's 85-player deadline. New Orleans will have to remove five more players from their roster by next Tuesday to get to an 80-player roster limit.

Between now and then, the Saints will have two organized scrimmages against the Green Bay Packers before playing their second preseason game at Green Bay on Friday evening.

New Orleans lost their first preseason outing by a 17-13 score against Houston this past Saturday. While the final outcome of preseason games doesn't matter, it’s a prime chance for coaches to make roster evaluations. It's also a great opportunity for players to earn jobs on the final roster.

Contrastly, players can also hurt their chances with a poor preseason performance. Here are five Saints players who may have hurt their roster chances with a poor outing against the Texans.

Ian Book, QB

New Orleans Saints quarterback Ian Book (16) attempts a pass against the Houston Texans. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints quarterback Ian Book (16) attempts a pass against the Houston Texans. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY

After an impressive opening drive from QB Andy Dalton and the top unit that played, second-year QB Ian Book controlled the offense for the remainder of the game. In 11 drives, Book's offense managed just 203 yards, two field goals, went three-and-out four times, and turned the ball over three times.

Despite some impressive showings during the first two weeks of training camp, Book again struggled in a game situation. He was 15 of 22 passing over the last three and a half quarters, but threw for just 121 yards. Book also threw an interception, fumbled twice, and was sacked five times.

Book’s interception came on a tipped pass that could have been caught, but the throw was off the mark. Several of his passes during the evening were off-target. He was indecisive with the football and seemed to have difficulty reading the defense.

A fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2021, Book had little preseason action as a rookie. His inexperience still shows. He’ll have opportunities to improve, but must develop quickly to justify the Saints keeping three quarterbacks on their active roster heading into the regular season.

Tre'Quan Smith, WR

New Orleans Saints receiver Tre'Quan Smith (10) works during training camp at Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints receiver Tre'Quan Smith (10) works during training camp at Ochsner Sports Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY

The 26-year-old Smith was re-signed this offseason after little interest on the free-agent market. He enters his fifth NFL season, all with the Saints, but faces stiff competition at a vastly improved receiving corps. Smith had one catch for 15 yards against the Texans and blocked well. He also dropped a touchdown catch and failed to get consistent separation against the Texans backup defensive backs.

Smith, a third-round choice out of UCF in 2018, has 112 career catches for 1,486 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s one of the league's better blockers at the position and has prototype size at 6’2” and 210-Lbs. to go along with good deep speed.

Smith has never been able to secure a number two or number three receiving spot for the Saints despite multiple opportunities. He’s missed 16 games with injury over his four-year career and fails to get consistent separation when he is in the lineup.

Out of 55 career games, Smith has just two 100-yard outings, both as a rookie. Over his last 35 games, he's failed to have at least 70 yards receiving 32 times. In an offense desperate for playmakers in 2021, Smith had only 32 receptions for 377 yards.

New Orleans rarely keeps six wideouts on their active roster. Perennial Pro Bowlers Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry and first-round pick Chris Olave will take the top three spots. Dynamic returner and underrated route runner Deonte Harty figures to be the fourth. That leaves Smith in a battle with Marquez Callaway and rising upcomers Dai'Jean Dixon and Kirk Merritt for the last one or two roster spots at the position.

Zack Baun, LB

Jul 29, 2022; New Orleans Saints linebacker Zack Baun (53) tries to punch the ball loose from fullback Adam Prentice (46) during training camp. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 29, 2022; New Orleans Saints linebacker Zack Baun (53) tries to punch the ball loose from fullback Adam Prentice (46) during training camp. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

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Several of the Saints top players sat out the Texans game on Saturday. One notable absence was a player not among the team’s stars, but one who could have helped himself with a solid performance — Zack Baun. A third-round choice in the 2020 draft out of Wisconsin, Baun has been dealing with an undisclosed injury and has been sidelined for over a week.

After a strong preseason last year, big development was expected from Baun after a quiet rookie year. He appeared in all 17 contests, but most of that was on special teams. Baun was in on just 17% of the defensive snaps in 2021 and finished with 30 total tackles and two QB pressures.

Too small for defensive end at 6’3” and 225-Lbs., Baun has been a poor fit for the Saints defensive scheme since the beginning. His strength and straight-line quickness make him a solid defender against the run and decent pass rusher. However, he looks lost in coverage and is a major liability in that role for a New Orleans defense that puts heavy responsibility on its linebackers.

The 25-year-old Baun is a solid special teams contributor, but it should take more than that to make the team this year. Even with starter Pete Werner dealing with a groin injury, Baun has an uphill battle to beat out Kaden Elliss, Eric Wilson, newly signed Jon Bostic, Chase Hansen, and Andrew Dowell.

*NOTE* John Hendrix of the Saints News Network reports that Baun has returned to practice Tuesday morning. 

DaMarcus Fields and Vincent Gray, CB

New Orleans Saints receiver Dai'Jean Dixon (84) runs though defensive back DaMarcus Fields (39) during training camp. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints receiver Dai'Jean Dixon (84) runs though defensive back DaMarcus Fields (39) during training camp. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Coverage breakdowns led to a 90-yard game winning drive by Houston in the final moments on Saturday. That dampened an otherwise strong performance by the New Orleans defense down through the backups. Veteran CB Brian Allen was at fault for some of those issues, but Allen also had some decent moments in the game.

Undrafted rookie corners Fields (Texas A&M) and Gray (Michigan) both struggled against Houston receivers throughout the night. To make matters worse, neither player has had a particularly strong camp. With the odds already stacked against them as undrafted rookies, they'll need strong outings against Green Bay receivers to have a shot in a loaded New Orleans secondary.

The Saints already have Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore, second-year stud Paulson Adebo, veteran starter Bradley Roby, and second-round pick Alontae Taylor at corner. With a deep and versatile crew of safeties, New Orleans may only keep those four corners heading into the regular season.

Fields, Gray, and even Brian Allen must have strong showings over the next week to even be considered practice squad candidates, let alone have a shot at the final roster.

These players may be safe as the Saints head towards their next round of player cuts next Tuesday. Especially Smith, who has vital experience in the system. However, all of them are squarely on the roster bubble and did not help themselves in the first preseason game. They'll each need a much better showing against Green Bay this week to have a realistic expectation of making through the cut down to a 53-man roster on August 30.

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