The Saints aren't quite in uncharted territory as they enter a preseason with a position battle at quarterback, but it's difficult to remember the last time they had questions to answer at the most important position in football.
That's exactly what will take the field when the Saints face off with the Ravens in their preseason opener, with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston showing what they can do in game action for the first time in their race to be the next Saints starter.
The game will also mark the first-ever preseason for second-year players, with the preseason called off last year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
So how will it play out when the Saints take the field in Baltimore at 6 p.m. on Saturday? Coach Sean Payton didn't announce which QB would get the first snap, but he did share some details on how the split will work.
BOTH WILL PLAY ... THEN FLIP
Whichever quarterback gets the "starting" nod on Saturday will undoubtedly draw headlines, but they'll only last for a week. That's because, as Payton indicated, the name on the starting line will flip for the ensuing matchup against the Jaguars.
"Look, we’ll have a plan," Payton said. "They’ll both play in this first game and they’ll both play the following week, and we’ll flip them and go from there."
It's unclear how the QBs would be staggered and how they'll be incorporated with the wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and starting offensive line. It's unlikely to see either of Winston or Hill taking snaps behind majority backup linemen, so when the offensive line cycles out, it'll likely be the time for Ian Book and/or Trevor Siemian to shine.
HOW ARE THOSE ROLES COMMUNICATED TO EACH QB?
Hill and Winston are competing for a job, but they're working together in the QB room on how their roles and gameplan are established, Payton said. They'll know going in how many snaps they can expect, what personnel groups they'll take the field with and the "vision" for what they'll be doing in the game.
Payton, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry will have developed a plan and met with Hill and Winston together to go over it.
"We do that with every position. … We want organization, not clutter,” Payton said. “We want 11 guys on the field, no substitution problems, no quarterback-center exchange problems. You want the fundamentals to be in place to get started in the right direction. As coaches, it’s giving clarity to that as best as we can."
WHAT ABOUT SNAP COUNTS?
The Saints typically divide each preseason game into three “phases,” Sean Payton said, and that'll still likely be the case despite the preseason slate being trimmed from four to three games, which accommodates the 17th regular season game added this season.
Phase 1 (mostly starters) is typically 18-22 snaps, though some players will see action north of that depending on the situation and their role on the roster.
Phase 2 will see players log a similar amount of action, and Phase 3 begins at some point in the third quarter. Payton said he wanted to avoid seeing players log higher than 29 snaps. Special teams will be split up, with different rotations of players for each half.
"We will go through all of that tomorrow with stuff like how we come out of the tunnel and warm up. That’s a first for a lot of these guys," Payton said. "We’ll go over what we do and don’t do on the sideline. We’re never giving an interview during a game in our bench area ever. Whoever is out there, it’s important for them.”
WILL PAYTON TURNER AND/OR PETE WERNER BE AVAILABLE?
Both of the Saints' top two rookie selections in defensive end Payton Turner and linebacker Pete Werner missed time with injuries this week, but aren't yet ruled out of the action on Saturday.
"They don’t seem to be long term injuries," Payton said, adding that he was anxious to hear from the trainers in regard to those players.
WILL THERE BE ANY VETERANS IN PHASE 3?
The names become less and less familiar the later you get into a preseason game, but Payton wouldn't rule out the possibility if it's necessary.
“Sometimes you have to [do it]. We have not purposely left a veteran in for continuity. These guys have to function just as they would out here. They’re going to make mistakes and we’ll correct it on film. But we want them to make mistakes going fast. In some areas we’re a little thin, like every team, so some guys might play a little bit more.”
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