Tanner’s play at wide receiver keeping him in mix for roster spot
METAIRIE — Throughout his career with the New Orleans Saints, wide receiver Marques Colston has been a man of few words — on and off the field.
What Colston said this week about wide receiver Andy Tanner, however, speaks volumes about Tanner’s desire and determination as a long shot trying to win a roster spot.
An undrafted free agent from Midwestern State, a Division II school in Wichita Falls, Texas, Tanner is in his third training camp with the Saints. The thing that’s different this summer is he’s finally getting an opportunity to at least be in the discussion when it comes to the five roster spots that go to wide receivers.
“Tanner’s coming out and he’s handling his business day in and day out,” said Colston, who has five 1,000-yard receiving seasons in six years with the Saints. “I just have a lot of respect for a guy like that.”
That’s quite a compliment for Tanner, who is among the team’s leading receivers through the first two preseason games with eight catches for 120 yards going into Friday’s 7 p.m. meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
For the 24-year-old Tanner, it’ll be another chance to make an impression on the coaching staff — including new wide receivers coach Henry Ellard — that has to make some decisions with two rounds of roster cuts coming soon.
Of course, three spots should go to Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore — with the final two up for grabs.
Currently, Tanner is competing with veteran Courtney Roby and Joe Morgan while rookie Nick Toon, a fourth-round draft pick, and Adrian Arrington are missing valuable practice time and games because of injuries.
The opportunity to compete is something Tanner hasn’t had since signing with the Saints back in 2010, in part, because they’ve had little turnover at the position.
The Saints thought enough of him, however, to sign him to their practice squad after he was released in 2010 and last season, which has made him a more confident receiver this time around.
“We have a great group of receivers here, but I never come in looking at the depth chart,” said Tanner, who had no receptions in the 2010 preseason and only four in 2011. “Of course, we have Marques, Devery and Lance. But I never come to camp telling myself that I can’t make this team.”
This camp started differently with Robert Meachem, the team’s No. 4 receiver the last few years, now a member of the San Diego Chargers. Then, Toon and Arrington were sidelined — which helped Roby and Tanner show up more often, especially in the first two preseason games.
“I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity they’re giving me,” Tanner said. “Whatever opportunity I get, I’m taking advantage of — whether it’s special teams or receiver.”
Tanner’s emergence this season has him being compared to Moore, who joined the Saints as an unheralded free agent in 2005 and was cut twice before finally sticking in 2007.
Like Moore, the 6-foot, 183-pound Tanner doesn’t mind going across the middle to make the tough catch and he seems to have a knack for finding seams or weaknesses in the defense.
They’re just some of the qualities that quarterback Drew Brees, who believes in equal distribution of his passes, likes in Tanner.
“He shows up everywhere. … He shows up on the practice field, he shows up on game day,” Brees said. “Whenever he’s in there, it seems he’s making plays. There’s not a guy that works harder.
“Andy’s a smart player, he never fools you and is always doing the right thing,” he said. “He’s always where you need him, so he’s dependable.”
Another thing Brees likes is Tanner’s 4.4 speed, which he said he ran at a couple of Pro Day workouts after catching 75 passes for 1.176 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior.
“I don’t run that many deep routes,” a smiling Tanner said, “but if I need to, I can get past a defender.”
In addition to Brees and Colston, interim coach Joe Vitt and Ellard, who is in his first season with the Saints, have been singing Tanner’s praises for his consistency throughout training camp.
“He’s a slot receiver that can get off the jam and work the middle of the zone defense,” Vitt said. “He can make the tough catch and he can separate from safeties and linebackers.
“He has confidence and isn’t scared to make catches between the numbers.”
“Andy’s been a model of consistency, and he can line up at any (receiver) position and do well with it,” Ellard said. “But again, he has been called upon and is making plays when asked to make plays.”