- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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All four NFC South teams now have played a preseason game and the New Orleans Saints have played two. That’s given us a chance to see which players seem to be on the rise and which seem to be falling. Let’s take a look:
Chris Ivory, Saints. New Orleans already had a wealth of riches at running back entering training camp. Now, the Saints look deeper than ever with undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet having a very nice preseason. Ivory entered camp clearly as the fourth running back. But Cadet has made that a little murky. Cadet has shown he can run and catch the ball and pass protect. He also has return skills, which make him more versatile. Maybe the Saints keep Ivory and try to stash Cadet on the practice squad. But that would be a risky tactic because 31 other teams have been watching tape of his preseason.
Akeem Dent, Falcons. Dent probably still will end up as the opening-day starter at middle linebacker after playing almost exclusively on special teams last season, though he needs all the practice time he can get to get used to his new role. But a concussion suffered in the preseason opener means Dent will miss some practice and probably a preseason game or two.
Mike Pollak, Panthers. Although they didn’t pay him big money, the Panthers did go out and sign Pollak in free agency. The thinking was that he could start at guard or, at very least, be one of the top backup offensive linemen. But rookie Amini Silatolu seems destined to start at guard. Pollak has been banged up and hasn’t been a factor in training camp. Bruce Campbell, another free-agent pickup, can play both guard and tackle. Pollak might not even make the roster.
LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers. You have to give the running back a ton of credit for the way he’s handled every challenge the Bucs have thrown at him. Some thought Blount would fold the tent after the Bucs used a first-round draft pick on Doug Martin, and that he might not even last until the regular season. But Blount has worked on his ball security, pass-catching and blocking -- and it showed in the first preseason game. Obviously, the Bucs have big plans for Martin. But Blount, who still might be one miscue away from being gone, has done everything right so far and that means he could have a fairly prominent role in this backfield.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Falcons. The quarterback and receiver were spectacular in the preseason opener. They played only a quarter, but put up big numbers and showed explosiveness. If they can continue that into the regular season, new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is going to look like a genius.
Courtney Roby, Saints. He’s been on the roster since 2008, mainly as a special-teams player. But Roby is making an impact as a receiver this summer. He has nine catches in two preseason games. Adrian Arrington and Nick Toon, who have been banged up, were supposed to be the favorites to be the fourth receiver. But it looks like Roby might have moved ahead of them. For that matter, Andy Tanner also might have edged ahead of Arrington and Toon.