It was already a tall order for Seneca Wallace to learn the New Orleans Saints’ offense well enough to prove he deserves to be quarterback Drew Brees’ backup this season. Then, Wallace — who last played in the NFL in 2011 — strained a groin, missing four days of practice as well as the first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Wallace attended meetings and studied film as he rehabbed his injury. He met with coaches after and during practices to review the plays he would have run had he been able to, accumulating what he and his teammates call “mental reps” until he healed and got live ones again.
Wallace’s response to his injury was typical of the professionalism he’s shown since he joined the league in 2003, according to the Saints. But how much it served to boost his prospects of landing on New Orleans’ 53-man roster is a question that will begin to be answered Friday night, when he is expected to get plenty of snaps in a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I just need to show I can handle the offense and just run the system the way coach (Sean) Payton wants it run,” Wallace said when asked about facing Oakland. “Obviously, nerves will be there, but I’m just excited to be playing again and being out there, because you never know when your last game is going to come.”
Wallace, 33, is five years removed from his best season, 2008, when he completed 141 of the 242 passes he attempted for 1,532 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in eight starts for the Seattle Seahawks, where he played from 2003 to 2009 before going to the Cleveland Browns for the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
Over the next three seasons, he passed for just 1,961 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He reported to training camp in 2012 with the Browns, who cut him at the end of the preseason and preferred to head into Week 1 with quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis.
Wallace didn’t get a job elsewhere.
“It’s tough ... being released at the end of training camp, because most (other quarterbacks) have been with their team six or seven months at a time,” Wallace said. “It’s tough for another team to come and pick you up after you’ve been released, not knowing their offense.”
The Saints signed Wallace after the Chiefs’ acquisition in March of quarterback Chase Daniel, who barely played in the four seasons he was with New Orleans. At training camp, Wallace split second-team snaps with Luke McCown before hurting his groin before the preseason opener.
Wallace watched as McCown handled all of the second-team work against the Chiefs, going 18-of-28 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a solid outing. McCown praised Wallace for the way he spent his time recovering from his tweaked groin.
“Those are the kinds of things that you see professional guys do, guys who care about their jobs, guys that want to get better no matter what the case,” McCown said. “It speaks a lot about who he is and what he cares about.”
Wallace has displayed an accurate, quick and strong arm. On Wednesday, he coolly tossed one touchdown each to tight end Michael Higgins and Austin Johnson during a hard-hitting, goal-line drill.
“He has a pretty good grasp of what we are doing,” Payton said. “Now, it is just running the offense and moving the team, all of the little things that go into playing that position.”
However, there have been moments where it appears that he hasn’t quite mastered the Saints’ famously intricate offense. In one such instance, Wallace inadvertently threw a pass directly into he hands of linebacker David Hawthorne during a play simulating a second-down situation around the red zone.
Nonetheless, despite McCown’s performance against the Chiefs and the fact that Friday marks his first NFL game in almost 12 months, Wallace denied feeling any unusual pressure as he awaits the Raiders.
“You can’t look at it that way, like this is your only shot,” Wallace said. “That’s not what it is. We have (more) preseason games left, and this is just one of the processes to go through.”
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