METAIRIE — Andy Tanner flips through photos in his cell phone before every Saints practice and preseason game.
These private moments with his wife, Kristine, and 3-month-old son, James, remind Tanner why he’s endured so much in his professional career, and why he is willing to catch more.
“His smile just lightens up my world,” said Tanner, a shifty receiver who is competing for one of the last spots on the Saints 53-man roster.
“I can have a terrible day at practice or a bad day, just in general, and go home and see them; it’s just awesome.”
Wednesday morning’s practice proved to be a good one for Tanner, said coach Sean Payton, who praised his work ethic and patience. It was the latest example of Tanner’s improved skill set since first arriving here in 2010.
He’s a better route runner, which includes understanding how to adjust routes based on coverages.
He can play multiple receiver positions.
He’s gained the trust of Drew Brees, the Saints version of having a football godfather.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment: surviving football purgatory.
He has yet to catch a pass during the regular season. Tanner’s bio reads like a out-of-control copy-and-paste error:
Signed by Saints as a rookie free agent, 5/13/10... Waived, 8/31/10... Signed to practice squad, 12/29/10... released from practice squad 1/7/11... Signed to reserve/futures contract, 1/13/11...Waived 9/3/11...
It goes on. The Saints have cut Tanner 16 times.
“It seems like he’s been here for a long time,” Payton said. “For a player like that, every season will be like this.”
The proverbial chip on the shoulder wouldn’t work. It would be too heavy for Tanner to carry down the field.
“It takes a stronger-than-strong person to do something like that,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “He’s close friend of mine, so obviously, I’m pulling for him.”
Entering Sunday’s third preseason game at Houston, Tanner is competing against Preston Parker for the fifth receiver spot. Tanner caught all three of his preseason passes during a 17-13 win two weeks ago against Kansas City, highlighted by a 37-yard grab in the second quarter.
He’s performed against the Saints defense at training camp, giving fits to defenders young and experienced. Still, the receiving hierarchy is one with the league’s top-ranked offense from 2012, and he’s not expected to break past veterans Marques Colston and Lance Moore, or upcoming receivers Nick Toon and Kenny Stills. His competition appears to be against Parker, and perhaps Courtney Roby, a special teams veteran.
Tanner and Parker, on the bubble at their position, are also competing against teammates at other positions, as well as available free agents around the league that the Saints could bring in to replace them. The Saints normally keep five receivers, but the number could change based on needs at other positions.
The roster cutdown to 75 is Tuesday.
Tanner’s focus, though, remains narrow, which allows him — at least publicly — to forget the long, winding, bumpy, detour-filled road he traveled to get to the third week of the 2013 Saints preseason, and to concentrate on catching the next pass in front of him. Or work as a gunner on kickoff coverage. Or make one more tackle on special teams.
After practice, he’s catching kickoffs and trying to persuade special teams coordinator Greg McMahon to let him try it in a game. So focused is he on making the regular-season roster that he didn’t think he was eligible for 2013 practice squad until he was reminded.
“I have one goal, and it’s to make the 53 man roster,” Tanner said. “That’s the one reason why I’m here.
“I’m playing every preseason game like it’s my last.”
It may be.
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