Saints’ young receivers catch on fast

Saints receiver Preston Parker (87), fullback Jed Collins (45) and tackle Bryce Harris (79) celebrate Parker's touchdown reception during the second half Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Saints receiver Preston Parker (87), fullback Jed Collins (45) and tackle Bryce Harris (79) celebrate Parker's touchdown reception during the second half Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

After the Saints announced they had lost No. 3 receiver candidate Joe Morgan for the season, they promised the remaining wideouts would be targeted plenty of times as they auditioned to fill the void.

The Saints kept their word for Friday’s preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, turning largely to Preston Parker, Nick Toon, Andy Tanner and Kenny Stills.

Parker caught a pair of 2-yard scores from second-team quarterback Luke McCown in the third quarter of the Saints’ 17-13 win. He finished with four catches for 43 yards.

Toon and Tanner had four and three receptions for 66 and 59 yards, respectively, combining for five catches, five first downs and 68 yards on an 80-yard drive that yielded Parker’s first touchdown.

Stills, working with the first-team offense, caught one pass for 22 yards, but he attracted the most looks (three) from quarterback Drew Brees.

Almost immediately after coach Sean Payton confirmed Tuesday that Morgan would miss the year with a meniscus tear and a partially torn ACL in his left knee, Saints observers narrowed in on Toon, a fourth-round pick in 2012; Stills, a fifth-round pick this year; Tanner, who has been on and off the practice squad since 2010; Parker, who was signed in January after being waived by Tampa Bay; and Steve Breaston, who inked a one-year deal Monday.

Morgan’s mishap seemed to be the biggest opportunity for those receivers, who were among the 12 healthy ones left on the roster Friday.

Toon, Parker, Tanner and Stills hauled in the lion’s share of passes against the Chiefs. Breaston, the least familiar with the playbook, did not catch a pass but did field punts.

Though their yards-per-catch didn’t rival Morgan’s total of 37.9 from last year, the receptions by Toon, Parker, Tanner and Stills resulted in first downs and set up scores — valuable contributions for a No. 3 wideout.

Stills’ 22-yard grab was on first-and-10 from Kansas City’s 33. Stills fumbled a reverse the following play but, at the end of the drive, kicker Garrett Hartley nailed a 24-yard field goal to cut a 10-0 Chiefs lead by three.

Then there was the 80-yard, third-quarter drive in which Toon caught passes from McCown for 22, 17 and 7 yards. Those catches came on third-and-9, first-and-10 and second-and-7.

Tanner — who caught a 37-yard pass in the second quarter — had a 7-yard reception and a 15-yard reception on a second-and-7 and second-and-13. McCown then hit Parker on second-and-goal for a touchdown, meaning Parker, Tanner and Toon accounted for 70 yards on the drive.

The Saints’ second score came at the end of an 82-yard drive. Parker and Toon were responsible for 57 yards.

Parker caught a 33-yard pass on second-and-6 and scored on third-and-goal. McCown found Toon on second-and-7 from Kansas City’s 42 for 20 yards.

Following the game, Payton and Stills praised Parker.

“I’m happy for him,” Stills said. “We’re all competing, but at the same time, we’re looking out for each other.”

Coach Sean Payton added, “Preston played exceptionally well with the opportunities he was given.”

Unsurprisingly, though, Payton was reluctant to get too complimentary about his receiver without having a chance to review film from the game.

“In my experience,” Payton said, “it’s never quite as bad as you think and never quite as good as you think.”

McCown echoed Payton and mentioned Parker, Toon, Tanner and Stills as receivers who stood out.

“There’s a stable of receivers who all have unique qualities and all (fill) a niche,” McCown said. “You know they’re going to come down with the ball when given the chance, and they showed that tonight.”