QB Ryan Griffin vying for backup role with Saints

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER Back up quarterback Ryan Griffin is flanked by Luke McCown (7)  and Seneca Wallace in the final day of minicamp Thursday in Metairie.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER Back up quarterback Ryan Griffin is flanked by Luke McCown (7) and Seneca Wallace in the final day of minicamp Thursday in Metairie.

Quarterback vying to make team as free agent

Ryan Griffin led running back Travaris Cadet perfectly on a short throw that turned into a long gain Tuesday on the opening day of Saints minicamp. A day later, he found wide receiver Jarred Fayson deep down the sideline for what would have been a touchdown in a live drill.

Griffin, a rookie undrafted free agent from Tulane, is unlikely to make New Orleans’ active roster this season as he competes with veterans Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace to replace Chase Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup. A spot on the practice roster is well within reach, though, and he’s giving himself the best shot possible because of his familiarity with the system.

Tulane coach Curtis Johnson brought the Saints offense with him when he took the Green Wave job last year after six seasons as the receivers coach in New Orleans under Sean Payton. The terminology and many of the plays Griffin is running in minicamp already are second nature.

“I’m still getting used to a lot of stuff, but it definitely helps having a similar terminology out there,” he said. “There are some differences, but it’s pretty close. I’m able to say the play and know what’s going on without having to think too hard.”

Griffin made it look easy at Tulane last season despite being saddled with a rushing attack (39.58 yards per game) that was the second worst of any college team this century. The Green Wave was a miserable 2-10, but Griffin enjoyed some monster games in the Superdome.

He threw for a school-record 466 yards in a 55-45 victory against UAB, then broke his own mark a week later with 476 yards in a 49-47 loss to Rice.

Tulane averaged 30.3 points after he returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three weeks early in the season. Those numbers, plus his MVP performance at the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game (14 of 18 for 214 yards and two scores), earned him private workouts with four NFL teams before the draft.

The Saints were one of them, and they followed up when he went undrafted.

“There were seven other teams that offered, but it was a pretty easy decision,” said Griffin, a California native. “I’m so happy I get to stay, hopefully, for a while longer. It’s a great city, and Drew Brees has been great. From on the field to the film room, he’s pointed out little technique things and drop things. I’m trying to absorb every bit of information that I can.”

Daniel was an undrafted free agent, too, joining the Saints in 2009 after failing to make the Washington Redskins final roster as a rookie. He spent one season primarily on the practice squad and the next three as Brees’ top backup before signing with Kansas City as a free agent in March.

Griffin, trying to follow in Daniel’s footsteps, turned a few heads at minicamp, which ended Thursday.

“He’s good, he really is,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “He’s improving every day. The more he practices, the better he’ll be. He definitely has velocity, and to be going through the reads like he does this early is awesome.”

Brees said he noticed the difference between Griffin and a typical rookie right away. Yet, he cautioned against reading too much into the smooth transition.

The Saints offense Tulane ran was a modified version of the real thing.

“It definitely puts him ahead of the curve,” Brees said. “He’s really done a good job of picking up the system and being able to do some things beyond being a rookie. But still, there are nuances and requirements for quarterbacks at this level that are different from college.”

Griffin, who spent five years at Tulane, knows he has a long way to go. He’s just happy he did not have to travel anywhere to begin the journey.

“I’m blessed to be out here as a free agent,” he said. “Every day I wake up and am still on the team, I’m happy.”