MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Having lost several players for the season to knee injuries, the New Orleans Saints’ main objectives heading in to Thursday’s final exhibition against the Miami Dolphins were to leave Sun Life Stadium with all of their remaining top personnel healthy and to see who could boost their cases to be on the Week 1 roster.
They succeeded on both fronts, for the most part, despite losing a sloppy 24-21 contest to Miami in which the Saints turned the ball over four times and were whistled for 11 penalties and 80 yards.
Wide receiver Nick Toon hurt his chest and had blood in his mouth, and defensive end Glenn Foster, who had four sacks in the preseason, tweaked an ankle, but both should be fine, coach Sean Payton said.
With backup running back Travaris Cadet absent for reasons that weren’t known at kickoff, his chief competition, Khiry Robinson, and first-teamer Mark Ingram handled most of the rushing.
“There are a lot of guys fighting for jobs, fighting for roster spots,” Ingram said. “The last preseason game is important to a lot of people, so it’s important to all of us.”
Robinson, an undrafted rookie, capped off his preseason bid for Cadet’s job with 22 rushes for 115 yards and six catches for 50 yards and a lost fumble. He had a bit of good fortune when he fumbled on the goal line on another occasion in the fourth quarter and offensive lineman Tim Lelito fell on the ball in the end zone.
Nonetheless, that recipe of hard running and soft hands got Cadet a spot on the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie in 2012, and this year Robinson outplayed him for most of the preseason.
Meanwhile, despite Payton’s decision to sit most of his first team for the majority of the game, Cadet being out meant someone had to split carries with Robinson. That duty fell to Ingram, who had nine carries for 49 yards and an 8-yard touchdown in three quarters of work. He lost a fumble at New Orleans’ 14 in the second quarter, but Payton and his staff will be glad Ingram didn’t tweak, pull or tear anything.
Aside from Robinson and the alert Lelito, who recovered a Cadet fumble in the second preseason game, others trying to convince the Saints that they’re worthy of a roster spot did things they hoped would complicate the team’s potential decision to cut them. Cornerback Korey Lindsey, a Baton Rouge native, intercepted Dolphins quarterback Pat Devlin on the Saints’ 1 in the second quarter.
Safety Jerico Nelson, who spent most of 2012 on the Saints’ practice squad and played his prep ball at Destrehan, picked off Devlin at New Orleans’ 45 in the third quarter after cornerback Corey White batted a pass intended for Dolphins receiver Chad Bumphis.
Speedy receiver Saalim Hakim, who has been overshadowed this preseason by Toon, Kenny Stills, Preston Parker and Andy Tanner, hauled in a 53-yard pass from backup quarterback Ryan Griffin and later drew a pass interference penalty after outrunning the coverage.
Jim Leonhard, vying for one of the last spots at safety, led the Saints defense with six tackles. Perhaps the only New Orleans defensive player whose name was called out more than Leonhard’s was third-round pick John Jenkins, the nose tackle who had five tackles and a fourth-quarter sack.
“You want to go out there and put a strong performance out,” Leonhard said. “If you are playing in this game, you are fighting for a roster spot.”
Whether it’s enough to save any of their jobs will be known when the Saints announce their 53-man roster Saturday.
Aside from Ingram and Lelito, fullback Austin Johnson scored a touchdown for New Orleans (3-1) on a 2-yard pass from Griffin in the fourth quarter. Griffin, who played most of the game, went 15-of-31 for 198 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also lost a fumbled snap.
Miami (2-3) scored off Devlin touchdown passes to Dion Sims and Marvin McNutt and three field goals from kicker Caleb Sturgis. Devlin also ran in for a two-point conversion off the strike to McNutt. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed a 55-yard field goal.
The Saints headed into Thursday’s game having defeated the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders at home and the Houston Texans on the road.
The defense had less success seizing on turnovers during this preseason, picking off just three passes and recovering one fumble.
But tempering the optimism were the injuries to outside linebacker Will Smith, outside linebacker Victor Butler, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma, all who had been expected to either start or play significant roles.
Smith, who has the fourth-most sacks in Saints history, is going to be out for the year after tearing an ACL in Sunday’s win at Houston.
Coleman is done for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle Aug. 5. Butler tore his ACL at organized team activities in June and may miss the year, though he remains on the team’s physically unable to perform list, leaving open the possibility of his return after six weeks of the regular season.
Vilma in mid-August underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, reportedly to relieve pressure and swelling he was experiencing. It is not clear whether he will return when the Saints face the Atlanta Falcons at home to open the season Sept. 8.
Editor’s Note: This story initially stated Khiry Robinson had 19 rushes for 87 yards and that Ryan Griffin threw 26 times. In fact, Robinson rushed 22 times for 115 yards, and Griffin threw 31 times. Griffin also threw an interception, meaning the Saints had four turnovers, not three, as was reported at deadline. The story has been corrected..