Saints keeping it simple in preseason opener against 49ers

METAIRIE, La. -- If Sean Payton's play-calling prowess isn't on full display in the New Orleans Saints' preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night, blame the lockout.

If the play on the field is sloppy, that's another matter.

Payton said he shortened his playbook for the first preseason game because he didn't want to rush things, and instead dictated a deliberate pace to make sure players got the things they were working on right.

"They're in good shape," Payton said. "I think they're ready to handle the snaps that they're given, and we'll go from there."

The Saints have had just seven full practices since the NFL's collective bargaining agreement was ratified last week, opening the way for veteran free agents acquired after the lockout to get back on the field.

The team didn't hold a scrimmage as it has done in every other preseason since Payton arrived in 2006. Full tackling has been allowed during only one portion of one practice Tuesday.

"It's not about doing a lot of things. It's about doing the little things extraordinarily well," said running back Joique Bell, a young reserve who needs to perform well to make the roster. "We're just trying to master our craft as far as what we've learned up to now."

While labor strife prevented teams from holding their normal offseason workouts, the Saints suspect they are better prepared than most. The main reason is that quarterback Drew Brees and linebacker Jon Vilma called on dozens of teammates to join them at Tulane University over the summer to simulate the offseason work they would have otherwise done at the team facility.

"We're ready to play," said backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who should see significant playing time against the 49ers. "Everything this team has done through the offseason, working out at Tulane ... coming back here and being in shape and ready to go for our conditioning test. ... People are going to be surprised."

Despite the compressed timeframe, Payton still plans to have most starters and backups get about the same playing time they normally would in a first preseason game.

"From a playing-time standpoint, we kind of stuck with the snap count that we felt comfortable with," Payton said, adding that offensive and defensive starters would play between 14 and 16 snaps. Payton noted, however, that a few key players such as Brees, Vilma and newly acquired running back Darren Sproles might play less.

That could mean more time for the players who need it in order to make an impression. Payton has expressed particular concern about having less time to evaluate new, undrafted players this season. In past seasons, such players have turned into key contributors for the Saints, such as running back Pierre Thomas.

"It's important that our players understand certainly the importance of these preseason games," Payton said. "I know it's a preseason game that won't count on the regular-season schedule. However, it's very important for guys that are competing for roster spots."

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Those players include tight end Tyler Lorenzen, a converted college quarterback who has been on the practice squad for much of the past two seasons, trying to get his weight up and learn a new position.

Lorenzen suggested that it was "hard to say" if the lack of formal offseason training will lead to sloppy play early in the preseason. He was more certain that the lockout has only heightened players' enthusiasm to be back on the field.

"Everyone's just excited to get out there, mix it up and play some football," Lorenzen said. "No one knew if we were going to play our first preseason game, and the fact that we are is awesome. I think everyone across the country could agree on that."

Notes: LB Clint Ingram, who hasn't played since injuring his left knee in 2009, sat out Thursday night's practice with a sore hamstring, leaving his status for the game uncertain. ... WR Marques Colston sat out a sixth consecutive practice to rest his right knee and will not play Friday night. Colston has said he is fine but getting extra rest during training camp because he had offseason surgery. ... Payton said WR Adrian Arrington (left ankle) also will be held out of the game. ... Starting RT Jon Stinchcomb returned to practice Thursday night and is expected to play. ... Ivory (left foot, groin), CB Tracy Porter (left knee) and rookie DE Greg Romeus (right knee) still have yet to practice in training camp.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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