WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — If record-setting, 13-year veteran Drew Brees misses any meaningful action this season, the next Saints quarterback in line could be a second-year pro without a single regular-season snap to his name.
Ryan Griffin, signed last year as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane, is establishing himself as a serious contender to unseat 10-year veteran Luke McCown as Brees' primary backup.
And it does not appear that Griffin's relative lack of experience is much of a concern to coach Sean Payton.
"That's not going to be a factor as to where we see him this season," Payton said about Griffin after practice on Sunday evening.
If the decision is based more on preseason production, Griffin is off to a strong start.
Because of a left oblique muscle strain that has kept Brees from practicing more than week, McCown and Griffin saw the most action in Friday night's 26-24 preseason victory at St. Louis.
Griffin was 16 of 23 for 179 yards. He led the Saints on four scoring drives, three of which ended in touchdowns.
McCown, who started the game and played the first two series, was 7 of 10 for 49 yards with one interception. His second series ended with a field goal.
Though the numbers were skewed in Griffin's favor, he had more snaps, and Payton showed little interest in saying whether one played better than the other.
"Luke played well in his role," Payton said. "I wouldn't say anything coming off of that game in regards to the two of them. It's just nice to be able to get them snaps."
Still, it's apparent the Saints see long-term potential in Griffin. Last season, the Rams tried to sign Griffin off the Saints' practice squad, so the Saints made a move to keep Griffin by promoting him to the active roster.
Payton said it would be "fair" to infer from that roster move that the Saints saw Griffin as "someone that we felt like developed and we wanted to protect."
Griffin's teammates often compliment him on his confident body language as he gets the offense out of the huddle and makes calls at the line of scrimmage. Griffin, though, is careful when speaking publicly not to sound overconfident.
"Getting moved up last year on the active roster definitely confirmed some thoughts that I had that maybe they'd keep me around, but I know that in this league NFL stands for "not for long," Griffin said. "Every practice they're evaluating what you can do, so you never really feel safe."
Because Griffin wears jersey No. 4, teammates often refer to him as "RG4," a takeoff of "RG3," the nickname for Redskins star QB Robert Griffin III.
Stylistically, however, the two quarterbacks are nothing alike, as running back Mark Ingram is quick to explain.
"RG3 runs; RG4 does what he has to do," Ingram said.
The Saints' Griffin isn't much of a scrambler, but at 6-foot-5, 206 pounds, he has some of the attributes of prototypical NFL quarterback.
"Ever since he first got here we knew he had a big arm, that he was smart," Ingram said. "He's getting a great grasp of the entire offense and he definitely has the physical ability and mental ability to be successful in this league."
Against St. Louis, Griffin read an all-out blitz and showed the ability to deliver an accurate pass moments before taking a hit. It went for a 25-yard touchdown strike to rookie Brandin Cooks. His sense of calm also was evident on a 46-yard completion to tight end Josh Hill.
Hill was Griffin's primary receiver, based on the defense, but explained that he was jammed coming off the line of scrimmage and expected Griffin to look for another receiver.
"He stuck with me and put a great ball on me," Hill said.
NOTES: Second-year NT Jon Jenkins was activated Sunday off of the physically unable to perform list. In addition to Brees, others missing Sunday night's practice included RB Pierre Thomas, CB Champ Bailey and WR Kenny Stills. CB Patrick Robinson started practice, but did not finish. Payton, per his usual policy, declined to discuss injuries.