The New Orleans Saints left their practice facility in Metairie on Monday knowing Luke McCown would be their No. 2 quarterback, and they showed they were just fine with the idea of placing young wide receivers like Nick Toon and Kenny Stills under starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore on the depth chart.
The Saints earlier in the day released NFL journeyman Seneca Wallace, McCown’s main competition to be Drew Brees’ backup; and they cut veteran wideouts Steve Breaston and Patrick Crayton, brought in after No. 3 wide receiver candidate Joe Morgan tore a meniscus and partially tore an ACL on Aug. 3. Wallace, Breaston and Crayton were among eight players cut or waived Monday, and a ninth — defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who has a torn pectoral muscle — was placed on injured reserve.
It was expected that Wallace would relinquish the backup quarterback job after he had a dismal outing against the Oakland Raiders on Friday and McCown had performed solidly against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, it seemed Breaston and Crayton became expendable after Toon, Stills and their fellow wideout Preston Parker impressed in the Saints’ first two preseason games.
Payton told reporters that the Saints cut Wallace to provide more repetitions to McCown and undrafted rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin. He noted that the less physically demanding training camp schedule adopted as part of the NFL collective bargaining agreement reached in 2011 made it feasible to cut players earlier.
McCown “is doing well, and Ryan is doing well, so we decided to make that move,” Payton said about letting Wallace go.
The Saints have until Aug. 27 to reduce their roster to 75 players. After Monday’s transactions, 80 players remained on the Saints’ active roster.
Though he acknowledged Toon and Stills had to work on “a number of little things” that appear on tape but are not as apparent on live television, Payton said both “are picking things up fairly quickly.”
“Both of them are ... getting acclimated to what we’re doing,” Payton said. “The repetitions are valuable for both of them.”
Wallace began fighting an uphill battle for the backup quarterback job when he strained a groin during training camp and missed four days of practice as well as the first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In the 17-13 win against the Chiefs, McCown completed 18 of the 28 passes he attempted for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. McCown’s yardage against the Chiefs was the NFL’s single-game high two weeks into the preseason.
Wallace got plenty of work with the second-team offense in practices leading up to the Raiders game, but he struggled badly after he was subbed in with 31 seconds left in the first half.
He was 3-of-6 passing for 32 yards and one interception. He fumbled at the Saints’ 1-yard line when he was sacked from behind by Raiders defensive end David Bass. Oakland defensive end Ryan Robinson recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown.
The Saints pulled Wallace out of the Oakland game with 12:29 to play and let undrafted rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin finish the game, which the Saints won 28-20.
Griffin went 5-of-6 passing for 69 yards against Oakland and 4-of-9 passing for 27 yards against Kansas City.
Wallace, 33, is five years removed from his best season, 2008, when he passed for 1,532 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in eight starts for the Seattle Seahawks. He played in Seattle from 2003 to 2009 before going to the Cleveland Browns for the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
Over the following three seasons, Wallace 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 preseason, preferring to enter Week 1 with quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis.
Wallace sat out all of last season, and New Orleans picked him up after the Chiefs’ acquisition in March of quarterback Chase Daniel.
Asked to comment on Wallace’s release after practice Monday, McCown said, “You hate to see a veteran like that go. He came here, worked hard and had some tough breaks — unfortunately, that’s just the nature of what we do.”
McCown said he believed the time he spent last year at Saints’ training camp learning New Orleans’ intricate offense before joining the Atlanta Falcons as the backup to Matt Ryan gave him an edge over Wallace.
“Now, I need to be more sharp,” McCown said. “I need to continue to prove (the Saints’) decision right ... that I’m worth what they think I’m worth.”
As for the wideouts, Toon, a fourth-round pick in 2012, leads the Saints in receiving yards with 122 on five catches, an average of 24.4 yards a reception. His 56-yard reception against the Raiders is the longest catch for the Saints so far.
Stills, a fifth-round draft pick this year, has five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Sixty-four of Stills’ yards, four of his catches and his score came against Oakland.
Preston Parker, who spent three seasons in Tampa Bay before joining New Orleans this year, had 73 yards on six catches in the first two preseason games and caught a pair of touchdowns from McCown against the Chiefs.
On the other hand, Crayton, 34, had one catch for 31 yards, and Breaston, 29, had one catch for 4 yards.
Speaking with the media after releasing Crayton and Breaston, Payton said, in part, “The younger guys have done some good things.”
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