Glenn Foster blew up at Illinois’ Pro Day in March, jumping farther and higher than any of the defensive linemen who participated in the NFL Scouting Combine. He thinks he is making just as loud an impact at Saints training camp, zeroing in on a roster spot despite being an undrafted free agent.
After sacking and stripping Kansas City backup quarterback Tyler Bray in the preseason opener last Friday, he was more confident than ever.
“I have a great shot,” he said. “The only way I don’t make this club is if I mess up.”
That might be an exaggeration, but Foster, formerly a long shot, is much more than that now — a combination of his quick maturation and the attrition at his position. Last week, the Saints lost experienced free agent pickup Kenyon Coleman for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. They also moved Jay Richardson to outside linebacker, leaving only five ends on the roster.
If they don’t bring in anyone else, Foster (6-feet-4, 285 pounds) will compete with Tyrunn Walker and Tom Johnson for backup spots at end behind Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks.
He certainly helped himself against the Chiefs. Asked on Monday to talk about Foster’s huge play, defensive line coach Bill Johnson wondered which one, noting Foster made three or four in his eyes. The forced fumble, which Richardson recovered at midfield, was only the most noticeable.
“He was one of the handful of guys that when we finished watching the tape, we saw a lot of good things from him,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Foster. “He is going to continue to receive more reps, but he has been a good surprise.”
Johnson admitted he knew nothing about Foster when he signed in April. After coaching him the last few months, though, he hardly was shocked to learn Foster recorded a vertical jump of 39½ inches at the Illinois combine, a standing broad jump of 10 feet, nine inches and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.79.
That performance, which came less than two weeks after the NFL combine to which he failed to get an invitation, put him on the radar of plenty of teams.
“His best attribute is explosion,” Johnson said. “He’s come in here and represented himself well.”
Foster returned the praise, crediting Johnson with helping him develop rapidly after he finished his Illinois career as an undersized defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. He made 31 tackles with 2½ sacks last year and 32 tackles with a half-sack as a junior.
Johnson changed his stance and his base. The alteration paid immediate dividends.
“I came into this camp confident knowing my abilities, but I became even more confident when coach Bill polished a lot of things up that made me more explosive,” Foster said. “It’s given me everything needed to be a dominant defensive lineman in this league and a fast defensive lineman in this league.”
Foster attributed his anonymity coming out of college to a position switch. After spending three years at end, he moved inside to fill a void and had to learn a whole new role. At times, he felt like he did not know what he was doing. All he needed was a better fit, which he believes he has found in New Orleans.
Signing with the Saints was an easy choice. Payton sold him on the team’s positive history with undrafted free agents, including fellow former Illinois alum Pierre Thomas, so he knew he would get a fair shot.
The rest was up to him. So far, so good.
Against Kansas City, Foster even received some snaps on the first series when Hicks went out with temporarily with a dislocated finger. Although the Chiefs scored a touchdown, Johnson said Foster held his own against rookie tackle Eric Fisher, the top pick in the draft.
Foster’s sack came when the Saints were in two-down-linemen front. He lined up on the edge of the guard, did a “swipe swim” move on him and ran right into Bray, causing the fumble without even realizing it.
“A lot of interior guys are surprised with how fast I come off the ball,” he said. “It’s a deadly force as far as pass rushing.”
With more plays like that, he hopes to force his way on to the roster.
“I feel like I’m the most underrated player here, and I have a lot to prove,” he said. “I had a big chip on my shoulder, and I knew there was no way I would get beat out for a position. That chip on my shoulder, with a little confidence, is going to take me a long way.”
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