PRESEASON REPORT: Pierre Thomas expected to play against Texans

The New Orleans Saints are expected to play their starters through the first half of Sunday’s exhibition game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium, including running back Pierre Thomas and possibly wide receiver Marques Colston.

Thomas, who missed the first two exhibition games with an undisclosed injury, went through a full week of practice without suffering a setback. Reserve cornerback Patrick Robinson (knee) also is expected to see his first game action of the preseason.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Colston (foot) and linebacker Will Herring (undisclosed injury) will be game-time decisions.

“We’ll go with the first group in the first half, then we’ll look at their snaps at halftime,’’ Payton said Friday. “Then we’ll go with the second group in the second half. Certain guys on offense and defense will be on pitch counts, say Darren Sproles on offense and Will Smith on defense.

‘’I want to see how (Colston) feels tomorrow morning after he moved around at practice today. He practiced pretty well today — or, he did more today than he has to date. We’ll kind of play it by ear. But he’s planning on going (to Houston).’’

Five players will not play: outside linebacker Martez Wilson (elbow), outside linebacker Junior Galette (knee), inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), fullback Jed Collins (undisclosed injury) and inside linebacker Chris Chamberlain (excused absence).

On tap

The Saints will hold a walk-through at their practice facility Saturday morning, then board a charter flight to Houston after attending the annual “Meet the Saints’’ luncheon hosted by The Touchdown Club of New Orleans at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Did you know?

Eleven players on the Saints’ current roster hail from Texas, including No. 1 draft pick, rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro of Brownwood, a town of about 20,000 located 285 miles northwest of Houston, 175 miles southwest of Dallas.

Anyone who has seen Vaccaro, knows he wears his emotions on his arms, neck, chest and hands, nearly anywhere a tattoo can be painted.

He got his first tattoo at the age of 17, in honor of his father, who died when Vaccaro was 15. It’s a verse from Philippians, 1:3. It reads: “I Thank My God in Remembrance of You.’’

Another meaningful tattoo simply reads “Blessed’’ because “I feel so blessed,’’ he said.

When asked to estimate the total investment, Vaccaro shrugged his shoulders: “I don’t know,’’ he said. “I used to spend every scholarship check (from University of Texas) on them ... Pell Grant money. But I’m done now. I had one vision and I got every tattoo I ever wanted. I paint ’em all out now. It takes months. It’s real painful, but it’s nothing worse than what I’ve been through to get them.’’

Xs and Os

Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins provided an insightful analysis on the 4-3 defensive schemes employed by former Saints defensive coordinators Gregg Williams (2009-’11) and Steve Spagnuolo (2012).

“There was a big difference from the defense we had last year and the 2011 defense,’’ Jenkins said. “They were totally different. There was a difference in the overall philosophy and the culture that was here. In 2099, ’10 and ’11, it was about population to the football, turnovers and being violent. The Xs and Os weren’t as important; it was just about getting 11 guys to the football. The play call was simply how we lined up. You had guys flying around. We had a lot of guys playing with an ‘edge’. That’s what we were used to.

“In 2012, we didn’t have that edge. It was more guys were trying to grasp the schemes, it was a lot of Xs and Os. Guys weren’t as physical and guys didn’t have the edge that we normally have.’’

Jenkins said the Saints defense under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan is regaining the edge that helped them win Super Bowl XLIV under Williams.

Key matchup

Texans’ All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt is expected to see his most extensive action of the preseason Sunday after playing only two snaps in their first two exhibition games.

Watt was named the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press after leading the league in sacks with 20.5.

“He’s their left defensive end, so he’ll line up over Zach Strief and Jahri Evans, but he moves all around,’’ Saints offensive line coach Brett Ingalls said. “They got a good defensive front and a good solid pass rush. So it will be a good test for us.’’

The Texans will be without right defensive end Antonio Smith, who has been suspended for the last two exhibition games and the first regular season game for his helmet-swinging altercation with Miami offensive tackle Richie Incognito.

He said it

“This game is very important because we got to make sure we’re getting things oiled up. This is a big evaluation game for us. Big.’’

— Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon

Brian Allee-Walsh