NEW ORLEANS — It may come down to the last healthy receiver standing when the New Orleans Saints pick their final 53-man roster on Aug. 31.
That position took another hit during Friday night’s exhibition game between the Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when long-shot hopeful Andy Tanner left in the second quarter with an injured left ankle.
Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt declined to shed additional light on Tanner’s injury after his team’s 27-24 defeat.
“(Tanner) came off the field and it looked pretty bad,’’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “I don’t know how bad it is, but he’s a guy you pray for because of how hard he’s worked.’’
Tanner joins two other wide receivers on the injured list. Adrian Arrington is recovering from minor surgery to repair a torn meniscus and rookie Nick Toon has been sidelined with an injured foot. Both were considered to be leading candidates to make the final 53, and neither has been healthy enough to play in a preseason game.
Enter first-year wide receiver Joseph Morgan, who perhaps took one huge step toward claiming a regular-season job.
Morgan and backup quarterback Chase Daniel combined on a 53-yard scoring pass to tie the game at 17 with 11:13 remaining in the third quarter. In Daniels’ words, Morgan used his “Olympic speed’’ to slip past two Jaguar defensive backs and glide untouched into the end zone.
“Yeah, I was surprised that I was that open,’’ said Morgan, who finished with three receptions for a game-high 68 yards. “But speed is one of the biggest assets of my game.’’
Morgan’s touchdown catch atoned for an earlier gaffe in the second quarter when he took a knee after dropping a kickoff four yards deep in the end zone.
On the sideline, fellow wide receiver Marques Colston offered Morgan some encouraging words.
“Honestly, I got down a little on myself and you could see it in my body language,’’ Morgan said. “Marques pulled me aside and talked to me and told me I had to just let it go.’’
Vitt praised Morgan for putting the muffed kick behind him, saying, “I think he got better tonight.’’
“I was very proud of the way he came back and competed and put that play behind him,’’ Vitt said. “A young player is more likely to dwell on his mistakes. One mistake becomes two mistakes, two mistakes become three mistakes, three mistakes become four mistakes and four mistakes become a series.
Morgan improved his preseason numbers to seven catches for 110 yards, third best in both categories among Saints wide receivers, behind Courtney Roby (10-146) and Tanner (8-120).
Morgan also has five punt returns for 42 yards and one kickoff for 29 yards, putting him solidly in the hunt for a spot on the final 53-man roster with two exhibition games remaining.
“It really could come down to the last man standing,’’ Morgan said. “But we’re not just competing against the guys on this team. We’re competing with guys on all 32 teams in this league. I needed to play better tonight because the first two preseason games weren’t as good as they could have been for me.’’