WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia — Tight end Ben Watson and receiver Marques Colston looked more like enduring playmakers running downhill than aging veterans in decline.
As Drew Brees drove the Saints to the end zone on the opening series of the club's annual preseason scrimmage Friday, his six completions included two to Watson and two to Colston, capped by Colston's touchdown on 3-yard fade.
While Colston is the Saints' all-time leading receiver, he is also 32 and began his 10th training camp last week on the physically unable to perform list. Apparently, his undisclosed ailment was minor, and he said he doesn't foresee his role in the offense changing significantly.
"It's felt really similar to what I've done in the past," Colston said. "Going into Year 10, physically I'm not the same as I was in 2006, and with that comes some little nuances and just things that I can do technique-wise that can make up for maybe some of that."
Chemistry built over nine seasons, during which Brees and Colston have connected for around 9,000 yards, also helps.
"We have such a great rapport and he's got such a great feel as a football player," Brees said of Colston. "We've been in so many different situations together that we both see the same thing, feel the same thing, and it works."
Less clear was how much the Saints could expect in the passing game from Watson, 34 and entering his 12th season. While Watson was once one of Tom Brady's preferred targets in New England and had more than 750 yards receiving during his 2010 season in Cleveland, he spent his past two years in New Orleans as an afterthought in a passing offense that featured star tight end Jimmy Graham.
But since Graham was traded to Seattle, Watson has made his transition into a more prominent role as a receiver look elementary.
"Obviously Jimmy was our lead tight end last year. And as I said plenty of times, he's an elite talent, and he should've gotten all the balls that he got," Watson said. "I'm in a position to get the ball a little more, obviously, without Jimmy here. And with that, getting the (practice snaps) and being with Drew, there's obviously a relationship that gets built there."
During the opening drive of the scrimmage, Watson caught a pass in front of safety Vinnie Sunseri, then hauled in a tough catch between defensive backs Delvin Breaux and Kenny Phillips on a crossing route.
"He's on the field a lot and he contributes a lot," Brees said of Watson. "He's great (blocking) in the run game. He's great in pass protection. He's great in his route-running ability, his ability to catch the football, his run after the catch. He's just a pro. He can do it all."
NOTES: The offense scored three TDs in the scrimmage. Mark Ingram scored on a short pass over the middle from Luke McCown, who was running the first-string offense at the time. Running back Edwin Baker scored on an end run with the third-team offense led by Garrett Grayson. ... Grayson completed a long pass down the left sideline to R.J. Harris, who fought through a pass interference penalty to make the catch. ... Sunseri intercepted a pass from Grayson after snuffing out a short pass over the middle. ... The defense had several substitution problems that annoyed coach Sean Payton and sent defensive coordinator Rob Ryan into tirades audible to many spectators. As punishment, defensive players had to go through additional conditioning after practice. "We all as a unit have to clean those things up," cornerback Brandon Browner said. "We've got to do a better job being composed." ... Several regulars sat out the scrimmage, including running back C.J. Spiller, guard Tim Lelito and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. Left tackle Terron Armstead participated in warm-ups only, so rookie Andrus Peat took first- and third-team snaps at that spot. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and Anthony Spencer did individual work on a side field, as did safety Jairus Byrd. Payton, who generally refuses to disclose preseason injuries, declined to provide reasons for any absences.