Disclaimer No. 1: It’s the preseason.
But that doesn’t take away from the dazzling body of work that Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara has been putting on tape this summer while taking full advantage of his snaps with the first team.
Last week it was runs of 12 and 22 yards against the Cleveland Browns. And it has been more of the same on the practice field for the third-round pick from Tennessee, whom the Saints liked so much that they traded away next year’s second-round pick to grab him.
It’s still difficult to project a major role for Kamara in New Orleans’ offense since he is stuck behind Ingram and Peterson in the pecking order -- and both of them have looked solid this summer, as well. But the Saints absolutely will find ways to get Kamara on the field as a runner/receiver/returner if he continues to show this level of potential.
Over his last two seasons at Tennessee, Kamara had 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing and 74 catches for 683 yards and seven touchdowns receiving. When the Saints drafted the 5-foot-10, 215-pounder, they said they envisioned him in the type of “joker” role once held by Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush.
I thought it might take a year or an injury before Kamara played a significant role. But he looks like he’s trying to speed up the timetable.
Other observations from Sunday’s game:
QB depth chart: Brees rested for the second straight week, and Chase Daniel was solid in his place. Those guys remain written in stone at their respective positions. Meanwhile, nobody is stepping up to win the No. 3 job. The Saints gave former New York Giants backup Ryan Nassib the entire second half as an audition after he played well last week. But he didn’t have a very strong night while dealing with heavy pressure. He threw a 99-yard pick-six midway through the fourth quarter (which arguably could have been caught by WR Tommylee Lewis) and finished 6-of-15 for 55 yards.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Saints looked unrecognizable on defense -- in a good way. The Saints were dominant, with eight sacks overall and five of them in the first half. The Chargers’ offense never scored a point and gained only 158 yards. New Orleans might have three new starting linebackers this year, and all three of them (A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o and Alex Anzalone) played a big role Sunday.
Klein had six tackles, a half-sack and consistent pressure in the backfield as he continues to look like a big upgrade as the “quarterback” of the Saints’ defense. Te’o had nine tackles, a sack and three other tackles-for-loss against his former team. Defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro also had sacks with the starting units, while defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins had a half-sack. Safety Rafael Bush added a big fourth-down stuff in the first half, cornerback Sterling Moore forced a fumble in the third quarter and linebacker Adam Bighill made an interception to seal the game in the final minute.
One reason to be concerned: The Saints’ offense didn’t do much after Kamara’s opening TD. They gained only 215 more yards the rest of the game and never scored another touchdown. But that’s really just nitpicking on a night without Brees, Peterson, Ingram, receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and center Max Unger. Receiver Michael Thomas, who has looked dominant all summer, didn’t play long, either (but still made time for a 28-yard catch).
That guy could start: Anzalone, a rookie third-round draft pick from Florida, is the front-runner to win the weakside linebacker job. He drew the starting nod Sunday after continuing to flash in practice, and he took advantage with two nice solo tackles (one behind the line of scrimmage). There will be ups and downs (he also got flagged for holding in pass coverage). But the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is showing enough athleticism and playmaking ability to earn his way on the field.
Rookie watch: The rookies under the biggest microscope in this one were first-round picks Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk -- both of whom were making their preseason debuts. Naturally, both had highs and lows, but neither looked overwhelmed.
Ramczyk started at left tackle and had a nice block on Kamara’s touchdown. He allowed at least three pressures (one that led to a holding penalty), but he also held his own several times against two standout pass-rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
Lattimore also started and got his welcome-to-the-NFL moment when running back Melvin Gordon made him whiff in the open field. But he had no noticeable issues in pass coverage while the Chargers offense failed to get anything going.
Secret star: In case you weren’t paying attention to the punt coverage, you missed a dominant night by Saints veteran safety Chris Banjo (who should now be written in pen on your projected 53-man roster). He had three special-teams tackles, plus an assist.
Finally! This was the Saints’ first preseason victory since 2014, ending an ugly 10-game skid. Wins and losses don’t mean much in August, but they were still long overdue.