The New Orleans Saints gave wide receiver Preston Parker something no other team NFL did after his unexpected release from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early last season.
A second chance.
And he intends to make the most of it.
Considered a longshot when training camp opened July 25, Parker is slowly but surely creeping up the depth chart and into the minds of those who ultimately will decide the team’s opening-game 53-man roster at the end of August.
Two of his four catches in Friday’s 17-13 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs twice resulted in touchdowns of 2 yards, catapulting him into the thick of the battle for the No. 3 job behind starting wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore.
Parker also caught a 33-yard pass and returned a kickoff 20 yards.
Parker, 26, hopes to add to his résumé Friday night against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“The experience (of) going home (last year) was probably the longest I’ve ever been away from football,’’ said Parker, an undrafted rookie free agent from North Alabama who originally signed with Tampa Bay in April 2010. “It gave me a reality check and let me know who I was. It made me cherish my job much more than I did before.
“I love the game now and that’s the difference. You have to love the game. That’s when the hunger keeps coming out every game and every practice.
“It just feels good.’’
Parker felt anything but good after being unceremoniously dumped by the Buccaneers two games into the 2012 season after distinguishing himself the year before with 40 catches for 554 yards and three touchdowns. He also starred on special teams, returning kicks and punts and making tackles in 2011.
But when push came to shove under Buccaneers rookie coach Greg Schiano, Parker got the heave-ho in Tampa Bay on Sept. 20. He returned home to Delray Beach, Fla., and over the next six months, he reconnected with his son Preston Jr., prayed, listened to inspirational rap music, watched football on TV and waited for opportunity to knock.
The Saints called, he came to New Orleans for a workout and eventually signed a one-year, $550,000 contract Jan. 4.
“(At Tampa) new coaches came in, and they decided they wanted someone else, and they released me,’’ said the 6-foot, 200-pound Parker. “I was good with their decision because that’s how things happen in the NFL. I had to take it, go home and get a reality check.
“I don’t blame them, and I’m not mad at them. You just keep going and take the experience from Tampa and bring it here.’’
Whether Parker goes from one team’s trash to another team’s treasure remains to be seen, but he’s squarely in the mix for one of five projected wide receiver spots.
The depth chart at wide receiver remains fluid now that speedy Joseph Morgan is out for the season after tearing an ACL in the Black and Gold Scrimmage on Aug. 3.
Team officials have added veteran wide receivers Steve Breaston and Patrick Crayton to the equation with fifth-round draft pick Kenny Stills, Nick Toon and Andy Tanner, among others.
When the dust finally settles Aug. 31, Parker hopes to be among the chosen 53. At the moment, it’s too close to call. But the reviews for Parker seem promising.
“He made some plays in the passing game the other night,’’ Payton said. “He’s physical, and we feel like he is a guy who has shown that he can play in the kicking game. I think he seemed to be ready to play. I thought he blocked very well Friday night, and I think guys like him understand the significance of being able to help when it comes to the kick units, coverage or return game.
“He’s very eager and willing. He’s been in this league and he understands how difficult it is to make a roster. He’s hungry for a position.’’
Parker sees it as a means to an end.
“I see the ball in the air and I go get it, because I’ve got to pay bills,’’ he said, smiling.
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