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Scouting the Saints: Preseason Week 3

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The Chargers complete their preseason schedule Friday night in New Orleans.

For some players, it's one last chance to make an impression before the roster is pared to 53 on Tuesday.

We chatted with Luke Johnson, who covers the Saints for the New Orleans Advocate, to get a preview of the preseason finale.

Which Saints player could play himself onto the roster with a big game Friday night?

LJ: Keep an eye on No. 85, Kirk Merritt. He's opened some eyes throughout training camp with his playmaking skills at receiver, but with that position already well stocked, the Saints are seeing what he can do at running back. He hasn't played the position since he starred at nearby Destrehan High School, but he looked comfortable there in practice this week.

What's the biggest roster question for the Saints ahead of Tuesday's cutdown deadline?

LJ: Who is the team going to keep at linebacker? Their presumed starter on the weakside, Pete Werner, has dealt with a groin injury throughout training camp and the Saints have cycled through several players in his place. Nephi Sewell (last year's No. 7 pick, Penei Sewell's younger brother) is the latest to work in with the starters, but we've also seen Jon Bostic, Eric Wilson and Chase Hansen take those reps. All have a legitimate shot at making the team.

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What kind of culture is Dennis Allen creating in his first season in charge?

LJ: Frankly, it's not all that different than the culture Sean Payton established, and that's exactly what the Saints were hoping for when they hired Allen. New Orleans has virtually the same coaching staff and front office in place that it's had for the last six or seven years, minus Payton. It's been a successful group, and the last thing the organization wanted was a drastic change.

What will it take for the Saints to be in the playoff mix come December?

LJ: They should be there as long as two things happen: They stay relatively healthy and Jameis Winston performs as a top 15 or 20 quarterback. New Orleans was on the cusp of a playoff berth last season when nothing went right — whether it was a Hurricane that forced them to evacuate to Texas for a month or the injuries that forced them to start an NFL-record 58 players (including four quarterbacks). They are a deeper, more talented team this year, with a top-of-the-line defense and a much improved cast of playmakers. As long as Winston doesn't completely implode, they should compete for an NFC South title.

Finally, a non-football question, what's your best dinner recommendation for Thursday night in New Orleans?

LJ: Why stop at dinner? This is one of America's great food cities, and you should hit up as much as possible in town. Around the Superdome, grab some locally roasted coffee at French Truck, Cochon Butcher for lunch and Peche for a seafood dinner. If you've got a ride, my favorite dinner place in the city is Saba, and on your way out there grab a cocktail at Cure.

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