The New Orleans Saints began their preseason with a stirring 24-20 comeback over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Thursday night. While the game didn't count in the standings New Orleans Saints Hats , it at least gave fans a small preview of the newcomers to the 2018 Saints. While most of the talk this time of year is about highly drafted rookies, key free agent acquisitions, and bubble players as the roster cutdowns near, it may be easy to forget that the Saints have built one of the most balanced rosters in the NFL. The team has stars at nearly every position on each side of the ball, a key factor in winning the NFC South title a year ago. In order for the Saints to repeat as division champions, and make a run for the Super Bowl as many have predicted, they will once again need all-star performances from their stars. Players such as Marshon Lattimore, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas are young Pro Bowlers looking to take the next step towards superstardom. A player like safety Marcus Williams, who had an outstanding rookie season, looks to rebound from a tragic playoff mistake to end 2017. Today however, we take a look at a few established New Orleans veterans, and one newcomer to the team, who have some very important questions of their own to answer in 2018. Mark Ingram, running back Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsIngram is coming off of the best season of his seven year career. His 230 carries, 1,124 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 58 receptions, and 416 receiving yards were all career highs, and earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. Ingram is an underrated every down back, and has been a vital part of the New Orleans offensive game plans. He sits just 735 yards away from passing Deuce McAllister as the team's all-time leading rusher, and is one of only four players in franchise history to have multiple 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Unfortunately, Ingram became one of the team's main offseason storylines for events off the field. The 28-yr. old former Heisman Trophy winner will serve a four game suspension to begin this season because of use of a banned substance. The looming suspension has many wondering how the Saints will manage to replace Ingram's production, at least at the start of the year, along with the question of how quickly the former 1st round draft pick can get into game shape. In addition, there were reports that Ingram was unhappy sharing a backfield role with last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara. Some reports that New Orleans was actively shopping Ingram for a trade were unfounded, but he is in a contract year and will be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. So far it's business as usual in camp for Ingram, traditionally one of the team's hardest workers. Saints fans can likely expect a hard running Ingram upon his return, given his highly competitive nature. He and Kamara seem to have a harmonious relationship, and coach Sean Payton was masterful a season ago at keeping both of his talented backs heavily involved in the offense. While New Orleans must find a way to replace Ingram's production during the first four games, the question of how quickly the veteran back returns to his normal effectiveness also remains. Craig Robertson, linebacker Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsRobertson has been the Saints most versatile and most consistently effective linebacker since joining the team as a free agent in 2016. One year after leading New Orleans in tackles, Robertson finished second on the team in the same category a year ago. He also added 2 sacks, 2 interceptions New Orleans Saints Womens Hoodie , 2 fumble recoveries, and a fumble forced while being credited with 6 passes defensed. The Saints have attempted to revamp their linebacking unit with high draft picks (Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Alex Anzalone), free agency (James Laurinaitis, A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o), and trade acquisitions (Dannell Ellerbe) over the past few years, but only Robertson has remained the constant. A fast and aggressive defender, he can play either inside or outside positions, be an effective blitzer, plays the run well, and is athletic in pass coverage. The offseason addition of Demario Davis in free agency, along with the return of Anzalone, Klein, and Nate Stupar from injury, may give the Saints their deepest and most athletic linebacking corps in decades. Expect Robertson to be in the thick of the competition among the linebackers for snaps Cameron Meredith, wide receiver Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportsNot long ago, Meredith looked like one of the top up and coming wideouts in the league. In 2016 with the Chicago Bears, his second season, his 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns led the squad. Unfortunately for Meredith, he suffered a devastating knee injury in last year's preseason that forced him to miss the entire 2017 season. This past offseason, New Orleans signed the 25-yr. old Meredith, a restricted free agent, to a two year contract for a reported 9.6 million dollars that the Bears declined to match. A physical receiver with good size and sharp route running ability, he is expected to add another playmaking element to coach Sean Payton's dynamic offense. During the team's OTA and mini-camp workouts, Payton had commented that Meredith was 'ahead of schedule' in his rehab, but he has been on the field little during training camp and sat out the Saints preseason opener. Just a precaution, perhaps, as they bring the wide receiver back slowly from such a serious knee injury. But a unit that struggled at times last season to consistently produce other than Michael Thomas will need Meredith's skillset to go along with the still explosive Ted Ginn Jr. and promising 3rd round pick Tre'quan Smith. Vonn Bell, safety Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty ImagesBell enters his third NFL season with increased expectations in the Saints defensive backfield. A 2nd round draft pick in 2016, the safety from Ohio State has appeared in all 34 of his team's games, starting 26, including playoffs. He finished second on the team in tackles his rookie year, and led the Saints in stops last season. He has been extremely effective on blitz packages, finishing second on the team with 4.5 sacks in 2017, and was far more consistent in pass coverage last year after some struggles as a rookie. What Bell has failed to do thus far is be the ballhawking presence that he was in college Womens Customized New Orleans Saints Jerseys , having yet to record an interception in the NFL. He is often around the ball, and has forced four fumbles in his career, but must step up to be more of a playmaker in the passing game. With the departure of Kenny Vaccaro in free agency, Bell will also get more opportunities close to the line of scrimmage. Despite high tackle totals, he still sometimes takes poor angles to the ball carrier. The emergence of second year safety Marcus Williams, and the free agent signing of veteran Kurt Coleman will combine to soften the loss of the inconsistent Vaccaro, but Bell will also be looked to for to take on far more responsibilities in the New Orleans secondary. Drew Brees, Quarterback Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY SportsDespite continuing to be one of the NFL's most productive quarterbacks, the future first ballot Hall of Famer has had to prove doubters wrong every season of his prolific 17-yr. career. The most recent question/concern has been: 'When will we see a sharp decline in Brees' play?' That question may be a valid concern. Recent examples of signal callers that had a massive and sudden decline in play are Peyton Manning, who showed a noticeable decline in his play at age 38, and Brett Favre, who was no longer close to an effective passer at 41, his final season. Brees, who will turn 40 on January 15, has had no noticeable dropoff in his level of play, earning the 11th Pro Bowl bid of his illustrious career last season. History has shown us that when the end does come, it often does so suddenly and with ugly results. Statistically, his 536 pass attempts last year were his fewest since 2009, and the second fewest of his twelve years with the Saints. Brees' 4,334 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes were both the lowest output of his New Orleans career. The lower output was more a result of the team around Brees, rather than a dropoff in his performance. The Saints have surrounded their veteran quarterback with a ton of young talent, including the best running attack that he's worked with during his time in New Orleans. Brees still completed an NFL-record 72% of his passes, and threw just eight interceptions. His 385 passing yards during a heart-stopping 11-pt. fourth quarter comeback victory over Washington last season, and combined 670 yards and five touchdowns in the playoffs certainly proved that Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback, not that there was any doubt. Brees needs just 1,495 passing yards and 78 completions to become the NFL's all-time leader in both prestigious categories, but the great number 9 has a more important goal in mind this year. Despite the fact that New Orleans has one of the league's most talented rosters, the Saints will undoubtedly need Drew Brees to continue playing at a Hall of Fame level to navigate through a difficult schedule in a talent-laden NFC to have a chance at another championship.Life of a Saint: Tyrone Hughes October 23, 1994 – As the New Orleans Saints get set to take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Superdome, a camera pans through a sea of Saints scoured across the field during pregame warm-ups. The camera stops on phenom kick returner Tyrone Hughes as he sits on the turf, stretching his hamstrings. “I think I’m good for two today”, Hughes stated, predicting two returns for touchdowns in that game. Hughes set the stage for what would become one of the most remembered games in Saints history.But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.Life of a Saint: Tyrone HughesTo know Tyrone Hughes’ roots, you don’t have to travel far from the aforementioned Superdome. In fact, you’d have to head a few miles east to the Lower Ninth Ward. Prior to high school, Hughes would move a few minutes closer to the Dome into the Seventh Ward, eventually attending one of the highest NFL player producing high schools in the country in “St Aug”. Fate would eventually land the local product inside walls of the Superdome www.saintsauthorizedshops.com , playing as a Saint.The Early YearsIt didn’t take long for Tyrone Hughes to realize he stood out from his peers. “I wouldn’t say I was better, but as a young kid playing playground ball, I was always faster”, Hughes mentioned. His speed was not only known by the kids up the street at Hardin Park, but also the coaches of multiple sports. Hughes played on park ball teams, excelling in football, basketball, track and baseball. As ironic as it may be, Hughes started playing football in junior high school as a punter. Hughes stated, “That was really my first experience with older players.” While Hughes stated he did well, he noted that as he headed to St. Augustine High School, he was known more as a baseball prodigy than a football phenom. While the focus was on baseball, Hughes did find himself on the football roster as a junior in high school, still as a punter. About three games before the end of the season, the coaching staff decided to mix things up. “The defensive backs coach was also the baseball coach. He knew I was fast from stealing bases in baseball. He and the linebackers coach said, ‘Let’s put Tyrone back there to return a punt.’. They punted the ball to me and I returned it for a touchdown, but there was a flag. They had to re-punt. They punted to me again. I returned it for a touchdown.” A star was born. By the end of the season, Hughes would land himself on the “Top five players to watch” list for Sports Illustrated leading into his senior year.National AttentionFollowing the eye-opening success of his junior year, the St. Augustine coaching staff redesigned the offense to a “Delaware Wing-T” playbook, specifically designed for Hughes. Hughes remembered, “What really got me noticed was my third game of the year. I would say it was my ‘Al Bundy” game. I had four touchdowns in the first half. I had a kickoff return, a punt return, a run and a pass.” At that point, local buzz had turned into national buzz. Hughes earned the Gatorade Player of the Week award. The mailbox was immediately and regularly filling with colleges attempting to attract Hughes. In one year, Hughes went from punter to Offensive Player of the Year for the state of Louisiana, averaging a whopping 40 yards per return, 10 yards per carry at running back and 30 yards per reception at wide receiver.The 1993 NFL DraftHughes emergence in his junior and senior year of college landed him in the NFL, getting drafted by the very local New Orleans Saints in the fifth round. For Hughes, it was a dream come true in many ways. But, given the choice, would he have rather gone to a Super Bowl contender? Hughes answered, “You’re talking about the draft, so you don’t get to pick and choose. At that time, I think it would have been the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, I would have gone to them. However, I think my best opportunity to play was with the Saints because of what I did (returned kick-offs and punts). Hughes was happy to stay home though. After jesting that he dodged a bullet by not being selected by the Bengals the pick prior, Hughes spoke about how happy he was to join the Saints. “My family and I were just so thrilled. They had brought me in for a workout and I knew they needed a punt and kick returner.” Hughes in the NFLHughes not only earned his roster spot on the Saints as a rookie New Orleans Saints Womens T-Shirt , but also made such a splash that he played his way onto the Pro Bowl team. His family was able to join him on the trip as fate would have it. Prior to starting his rookie season in the NFL, Hughes played in the American Bowl. Hughes said, “I ended up being the MVP of the game. Along with the trophy, they gave me two first class tickets to the Pro Bowl. When I made it to the Pro Bowl that year, I ended up trading those first-class tickets in for four coach tickets and paying for the rest of them. I ended up having my whole family come. We all hung out in Hawaii and had a great time.”Hughes success continued into year two. “Again, I led the NFL in kickoff returns and kickoff return yardage, which I don’t know if that was a good sign for our defense”, Hughes joked. “I led the NFL in my third year as well. Three years in a row I broke my own record.” Hughes held the record for most kickoff returns for several years until current record holder MarTay Jenkins of the Arizona Cardinals eclipsed Hughes’ mark. Jim MoraIt’s well chronicled that with the Saints offensive woes mounting at the tail end of Jim Mora’s 11-year stay with the New Orleans Saints, fans and media went to the head coach to ask why he didn’t use Tyrone Hughes at wide receiver. Between his speed and his experience at the position, Hughes was a logical answer on the offensive side of the ball, or so it seemed to most. When asked if he still had any bitterness toward Jim Mora in not being afforded the opportunity to play wide receiver, Hughes responded, “Yes, I do. There was always bitterness. First of all, I was one of the fastest guys on the team. They could have put me at receiver while I was still learning the defense. Whether it’s political or whatever, everything is not done in the best interest of the team. It was more in the best interest of the organization. What I mean by that is how they would justify the reasons for not doing something, regardless of how stupid it may have sounded. Jim Mora’s response was, ‘We don’t feel he can catch good enough’. Think about that. If I drop a pass, that’s incomplete. If I drop a punt or kickoff, that’s a turnover.” October 23, 1994So, whatever happened to Tyrone Hughes’ pregame prediction on October 23, 1994. Tyrone Hughes did, in fact, return two kicks for touchdowns and in the process set NFL records for most kickoff return yardage in a game (304) and most combined return yardage (kickoffs and punts) in a game (347), of which both still stand today. When asked how he knew such a prediction itself, Hughes commented, “That was actually the first time I had done something like that. It just felt that, after watching the film, we would have the opportunities to return.” After Hughes’ success that day, he didn’t make a habit of making pregame predictions. “I had never done it before and I never did it again. But that day, it just felt like we had an opportunity.”, Hughes mentioned. Tyrone Hughes was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2015 along with another great returner, Michael Lewis.