Saints’ special teams top list of things to watch against Raiders

After permitting a 55-yard punt return and a 79-yard kickoff return in a 17-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs a week ago, the New Orleans Saints’ special teams can expect some close attention from coach Sean Payton and his staff in tonight’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints emphasized special teams coverage when they returned to practice on Sunday. Against the Chiefs, no one really stood out on special teams, which recorded nine tackles in coverage.

Defensive back Rod Sweeting and linebacker Chris Chamberlain led the unit with two tackles each; defensive back Chris Carr, outside linebacker Eric Martin, long snapper Justin Drescher, wide receiver Jarred Fayson and wide receiver Preston Parker, who caught two touchdown passes, had the remaining tackles.

Backups will either land on or miss the 53-man roster depending on their contributions to special teams coverage.

Elsewhere for the Saints, the competition to replace No. 3 wide receiver candidate Joe Morgan will continue tonight; quarterback Seneca Wallace will see plenty of snaps as he auditions to be the backup to Drew Brees; and a handful of players will have the chance to man the middle positions of the linebacking corps, with weakside inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma having undergone arthroscopic knee surgery and strongside inside linebacker Curtis Lofton missing practice on Thursday.

Wideouts Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Preston Parker and Andy Tanner spent significant time working with the first-team offense this week. Parker led that group against the Chiefs with four catches for 43 yards and two touchdowns; Toon had four catches for 66 yards; and Tanner had three catches for 59 yards, all with the second team.

Stills lined up with the first team against Kansas City and hauled in a 22-yard pass. However, he fumbled a reverse, dropped a pass and was flagged for offensive pass interference, miscues he vowed to avoid against the Raiders and beyond.

Morgan will miss the season after tearing a meniscus and partially tearing an anterior cruciate ligament at the Black and Gold scrimmage Aug. 3.

Wallace enters tonight’s matchup after he missed four days of practice, the scrimmage and the Chiefs game while recovering from a groin strain. He was back full-time this week and will attempt to surpass Luke McCown’s 18-for-28, 216-yard and two-touchdown passing performance against the Chiefs.

Wallace is more mobile than McCown, a traditional pocket passer. Wallace said he would resort to that aspect of his game if necessary against Oakland.

Lastly, at the middle linebacker positions, David Hawthorne should be the first up to step in for Vilma, who may reportedly miss at least the rest of the preseason after submitting to a procedure meant to relieve swelling and discomfort he was experiencing in a knee.

Hawthorne arrived in New Orleans last year after four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He missed five games with a hamstring injury and had just 20 solo tackles.

Ramon Humber, who is penciled in as the backup to Lofton, is expected to see much work at the strongside inside position. He was mostly on special teams with the Saints last year.

Lofton’s status was not discussed Thursday. Other inside linebackers on the roster who should play against the Raiders are Kevin Reddick and Will Herring.

Inside linebacker Chamberlain and outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, who’ve been dealing with injuries and sat out Thursday’s practice, are not expected to play.

With Galette and Wilson probably out, Martin, Chase Thomas, Rufus Johnson, Jay Richardson and Baraka Atkins are among those who should get lots of activity against the Raiders.

Atkins and Richardson, who’ve both been out of the NFL for a few years, did well at practice this week. Atkins had a sack against the Chiefs, and Richardson recovered a fumble.

Check theadvocate.com and tomorrow’s edition of The Advocate for much more coverage of the Saints’ game against Oakland.