MIAMI — Ryan Griffin was a sophomore at Tulane when he watched the New Orleans Saints march into Miami’s Sun Life Stadium and win the most important game in their history.
Now Griffin is a member of the Saints, and on Thursday he will return with the team for its first game at that site since it won Super Bowl XLIV.
The preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins will mean little to any players who have secured a spot on New Orleans’ 53-man roster and everything to those who haven’t.
For Griffin, an undrafted rookie and the Saints’ No. 3 quarterback, it will be the first time he’s expected to handle the bulk of the snaps as a pro.
“It’s ... a chance to show people what I can do, another chance to improve and get better,” he said. “You put stuff on film out there, so it’s definitely important.”
If what’s recorded at all resembles his outing in the Saints’ 31-23 win Sunday at Houston, anyone evaluating him will like what he sees.
Griffin completed eight of the 13 passes he attempted against the Texans after taking over for backup Luke McCown in the middle of the third quarter. Three of Griffin’s completions went for first downs on third-and-long.
Another, on third-and-9, went for a touchdown — the first of his pro career, delivered from Houston’s 15-yard line to Andy Tanner in the end zone over two defenders.
Griffin was 9-for-15 for 96 yards in the first two exhibitions. He has not turned the ball over.
“I think he’s handled this transition very well for a first-year player,” said coach Sean Payton, who told reporters that he anticipates Griffin entering Thursday’s game after McCown plays for about a quarter. “He’s got a demeanor that you want at that position.”
As many thought could be the case when he signed with New Orleans after going undrafted, Griffin has so far had success operating an offense he was introduced to while playing for coach Curtis Johnson at Tulane. Johnson, a former wide receivers coach under Payton, brought the Saints’ system with him when he accepted the job with the Green Wave in 2012.
Last year, Griffin set a school record by passing for 466 yards in a 55-45 victory against UAB, and he surpassed that mark the next game when he threw for 476 yards in a 49-47 loss to Rice. Unaided by a running attack that ranked 123rd in the nation, Tulane finished 2-10.
Griffin’s numbers haven’t been as extravagant with the Saints, but he has impressed his coach.
“He’s able to digest and spit out the terminology pretty fluidly and pretty quickly,” Payton said. “I think that has helped him.”
Many have penciled Griffin onto the Saints practice squad, where the former backup to Drew Brees, Chase Daniel, started before landing the No. 2 quarterback job and eventually signing a three-year, $10 million free agent deal with Kansas City this offseason.
To afford himself a chance at similar options, Griffin said he has stuck his nose into every huddle he can to see how Brees and McCown command things. He reviews photographs of the coverage the quarterbacks are seeing, and he stays behind with them long after practice, throwing to receivers or at targets to work on his accuracy.
“At some point, you are going to get your opportunity, and you know what? It may not be here (in New Orleans),” Brees said while discussing advice he would give to Griffin ahead of Thursday’s game. “It may be somewhere else, but look at a guy like Chase Daniel.”
Until then, though, Griffin said he was excited to line up under center on the field where the team he cheered for as a college kid had its best moment.
“It was a great game, and it meant a lot to this city,” Griffin said. “It’s ... been my dream and my goal ... to get here.”
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved