Lewis: Cornerback Corey White works to find fit with Saints

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — You can’t see it for his helmet, of course, but Saints cornerback Corey White is sporting a yellowish Mohawk these days.

Maybe that will help him stand out in a crowd.

White may be going into his third season, but he readily admits he’s seldom recognized by fans. And when his name comes up, it’s usually in connection with replacing a better-known player, just as last season when he started the final six regular-season games plus the two playoff games, acquitting himself well in place of Jabari Greer.

And this time, with Champ Bailey still sidelined, it’s White who’s running neck-and-neck with Patrick Robinson for the starting role.

“I just work,” White, a 2012 fifth-round draft pick out of Samford, said after Monday’s morning practice session. “I don’t look at the numbers or worry about where I should play or if I should play.

“I just go out and do the best I can.”

There are scores of players like White in the NFL: low-round draft picks, often from small schools of whom not that much is expected until the occasion demands it.

They may never reach superstar status, but it’s a way to last in the league.

“Any time you get experience, it helps a lot,’ White said. “My confidence is a lot better than it was last year.”

That was despite the high-profile signing of Bailey, the drafting of Stanley Jean-Batiste in the second round, and the return of Robinson, a former No. 1 pick, after a season-ending knee injury after just two games last year.

With Keenan Lewis entrenched in the other corner, it was up to White to fight for whatever role he could.

That’s meant nickel back and any special teams roles he can work his way into.

“I’ll play special teams until my career is over,” White said. “That’s what I like to do.

“I like to be able to make plays. Whatever they want me to do. If they want me to kick, I’ll kick.”

That won’t happen, but starting is a definite possibility.

Both Bailey and Robinson were out Monday, and Jean-Batiste has struggled to adjust his 6-foot-3, 218-pound body into the demands of defending against NFL receivers.

That leaves White in the starting spot, at least for Friday’s home exhibition opener against Tennessee — and possibly beyond.

To stay there, White will have to improve on his deep coverage skills. There’s no doubt about his hitting ability.

“Corey’s big, good tackler,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday. “He’s played in the slot for us. And last year, he played outside because of our injuries.

“I think he’s got pretty good ball skills. He’s getting lots of reps, lots of playing time, not only in the nickel but in the base.”

And are you comfortable moving forward with the idea of White as a starter?

“Yeah,” Payton answered. “He was starter for us a year ago, and we’re comfortable with these guys.

“We’re got four weeks, and right now, we’re working to bring him up to speed to get better.”

Meaning, yeah, if it looks like that’s our only choice.

Which is fine with White.

“Everybody (looks) to that starting guy, the guy who makes plays and everything,” he said. “Sometimes it works out that way, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Sean wants everything to be competitive with no plays off, which is what you’ve got to do when you get in that fight. All I can control is what I can do, stay in that fight mode and compete every play.”

This season is one of a shifting dynamic in the Saints secondary.

Gone are Greer, along with safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, all veteran locker room presences.

Enter Bailey, a Canton-bound 12-time Pro Bowler, and Jarius Byrd, working on his own Hall of Fame credentials after five years in the league. Add Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro, both of whom had major impacts last season, their first with the Saints.

So where does a guy like White fit in?

“Everyone knows how deep we are in the secondary,” White said. “But it’s a lot different than it’s been for me before.

“Jabari, Roman and Malcolm were all vocal leaders while I like to lead by example. It’s definitely a different look.”

As is the hair.

“I tried to get it gold, but it didn’t work out too well,” White said. “I was just trying to do something different. Sometimes if you’re going to stand out in the crowd, that’s what it takes.”