(Sports Network) - The 2012 NFL preseason gets underway when the annual Hall
of Fame Game returns to the schedule this weekend following a one-year hiatus.
The New Orleans Saints probably can't wait to officially turn the page.
When the defending NFC South champions take the field at Fawcett Stadium in
Canton, Ohio for Sunday's matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, they'll be doing
so without the services of both head coach Sean Payton and middle linebacker
Jonathan Vilma. Each were suspended for the entire 2012 campaign by league
Commissioner Roger Goodell due to their knowledge and involvement of the
Saints' notorious "pay-for-performance" system orchestrated by former
defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, with the controversial decision capping
an offseason filled with turmoil and upheaval for the team.
Acting head coach Joe Vitt and defensive end Will Smith were also handed big
penalties for their role in the program, with Vitt sacked with a six-game
suspension and Smith to sit out the first four regular-season contests. Both
are eligible to participate in the entire preseason, however, and will be part
of the Saints' contingent for this game.
New Orleans' tumultuous offseason also contained a lengthy contract impasse
between the front office and star quarterback Drew Brees, but those issues
were resolved when the club signed the record-setting triggerman to a massive
five-year, $100 million deal just prior to the start of training camp.
"Just to get back to playing football after what's gone on, I think it's a
sanctuary for us," linebacker Scott Shanle remarked.
Brees and the first-team offense are slated to get in some work, though
journeyman Luke McCown and 2011 practice-squad member Sean Canfield will
likely get the majority of the snaps under center when the Saints have the
The game will provide an opportunity for New Orleans fans to catch a first
glimpse at a refurbished defense that will no longer have Williams making the
calls from the sidelines or Vilma barking out signals on the field. The unit
also lost three starters from last year's group, with tackle Aubrayo Franklin,
linebacker JoLonn Dunbar and cornerback Tracy Porter all departing via free
Ex-Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was hired to assume Williams' post as
coordinator, with free-agent addition Curtis Lofton stepping into Vilma's spot
in the middle. The Saints also brought in veterans Brodrick Bunkley and David
Hawthorne as replacements for Franklin and Dunbar, respectively.
The Cardinals entered camp with some important questions of their own that
need answering, namely at quarterback. Arizona thought it had that all-
important position solved when it traded for Kevin Kolb last summer and gave
the former Philadelphia Eagle a long-term contract, but he went just 3-6 and
missed a good portion of the 2011 season with injuries, enabling backup John
Skelton to make an impression by engineering five wins in his seven starts.
Kolb currently rates as a slight favorite in the battle and will draw the
starting assignment on Sunday despite sustaining a minor thigh contusion
earlier in the week. Both quarterbacks are expected to play sparingly,
however, with rookie sixth-round choice Ryan Lindley and holdover Richard
Bartel in line for more extensive time as the two compete for the No. 3 slot
on the depth chart.
Arizona does come in rather thin at running back, with returning starter
Beanie Wells presently on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers
from an offseason knee procedure and 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams
questionable for the game as he continues to make his way back from a torn
patella tendon that sidelined him his entire rookie season.
The Saints are projected to be without starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer
(groin) and Patrick Robinson (shoulder), which should provide second-year pro
Johnny Patrick and offseason pickups Elbert Mack and Marquis Johnson an
opportunity to state their case for the open nickel back job.
The Hall of Fame Game, which will be conducted for the 49th time, is one of
the signature events of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Enshrinement Festival
that takes place this weekend, though last year's contest was postponed as
an aftereffect of the NFL labor stoppage. Six new members will be inducted
into the institution on Saturday, with cornerback Jack Butler, center
Dermontti Dawson, defensive end Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez
Kennedy, running back Curtis Martin and offensive tackle Willie Roaf making up
the 2012 class.
Roaf was a first-round draft choice of New Orleans in 1993 and spent nine
years with the Saints, making seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams over that
This will be the Saints' fifth appearance in the Hall of Fame Game, with the
last one coming in 2007. The Cardinals will be playing in Canton for the
fourth time overall and first since 1986, when the team lost to New England
while still based in St. Louis.
New Orleans dropped a 20-7 decision to Pittsburgh in the 2007 edition and is
1-3 all-time in Hall of Fame Games, while the Cardinals own a 1-1-1 mark in
The Sports Network