New Orleans Saints game announcers haven’t mentioned Courtney Roby’s name this preseason as much as they have other younger players at the wide receiver position.
For example, wideout Preston Parker has caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff 52 yards in the first three exhibition games. Kenny Stills and Andy Tanner have also caught two touchdowns, and Nick Toon has a 56-yard reception to his credit.
But when it’s time for Saints coaches to decide whether to keep Roby on their 53-man roster, the veteran can count on a diverse special teams portfolio he’s built in his eight years in the NFL to distinguish him from others vying for his spot.
After all, when New Orleans asked him to return kickoffs, he was one of the best ever to do the job for the organization. He’s shown he can lead the Saints in tackles if tasked with covering the kicking game as well.
And that’s done more for Roby than having a spectacular preseason ever did, for he delivered one once and was dumped in the end.
“I don’t really pay attention to who is in front of me,” Roby said earlier this preseason. “I just go out here and do whatever it takes to win and continue to fight and do what my team needs.”
Completing two seasons with Tennessee — the team that selected him in the third round of the 2005 draft — and a brief stint in Cincinnati, Roby signed with his hometown Indianapolis Colts in 2008. He scored a touchdown on a 103-yard kickoff return in the final exhibition that year, and he had 101 yards on five returns in Week 1 of the regular season.
But the Colts apparently weren’t too impressed. They cut Roby before Week 2.
In the middle of 2008, the Saints signed Roby, who finished his college career at Indiana as the school’s most productive receiver. But it wasn’t as a wideout that Roby established himself with New Orleans — he’s mostly returned kicks and corralled kick returners with equal vigor.
Since joining the Saints, Roby has made 61 tackles on special teams coverage and averaged 25.6 yards on 94 kickoff returns, ranking fourth in team history in kickoff return average.
In 2009, his best year, he posted a kickoff return average of 27.5 yards, fourth best in the league; ran a kickoff back for a 97-yard touchdown; and had 13 solo tackles on special teams on the way to helping the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.
It stopped being Roby’s duty to return kickoffs when his cousin — Darren Sproles, the NFL’s leader in all-purpose yards since 2007 — joined the team two seasons ago. But Roby kept himself relevant by leading the special teams unit in 2011 with 13 tackles; and in 2012 he added 10 more stops, forced a fumble, and scored a touchdown off the recovery of a blocked punt.
The Saints awarded Roby by voting him special teams captain both seasons.
“I just continue to do what I am coached (to do) and continue to push,” Roby said. “Like I always say, everything else will take care of itself, so I come out here ... and put my best foot forward and just work.”
This preseason, Roby has drawn much less attention than other receivers whose stocks have risen in the wake of the season-ending knee injury No. 3 wideout candidate Joe Morgan suffered at the intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 3.
Roby lined up on special teams against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 9 and the Houston Texans on Sunday, when he caught one pass for six yards. He sat out the Aug. 16 exhibition versus the Oakland Raiders after hurting his toe attempting to down a punt during a practice.
Nonetheless, despite attracting less air time than other receivers, Roby’s been instructive with his teammates, according to Parker, who spent three seasons in Tampa Bay before coming to New Orleans as a free agent this year.
“He’s been around here for a long time, and what you can take away from that is knowledge,” Parker said. “I ask him about a lot of plays, why they do certain plays this way or that way, and he’ll be able to explain it to me more than me just trying to figure it out.”
Parker denied that he, Roby or their teammates “worry about the competing part.”
“We let the coaches handle that,” he said.
Asked whether he’s careful about sharing too much of his knowledge, Roby said it’s important to him to be helpful to all of his teammates, even ones who could nudge past him on the depth chart.
Roby acknowledged the receivers with the Saints this preseason are “fast ... have good skills and ... come out here and work hard.” But he said he wasn’t afraid to honestly answer any questions they had for him.
“Whatever it takes to help this team win, that is what I am about,” Roby said. “That is the type of guys that we have in this organization. We are all out here for one purpose.”
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