Saints’ Tyrunn Walker not letting up in quest for roster spot

Tyrunn Walker had not heard that New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan recently described him to reporters as “not the prettiest guy” but “a hell of a football player.”

Walker, who played at Westgate High in New Iberia, didn’t seem to accept the first statement when informed of it Wednesday. And he certainly wasn’t prepared to feel satisfied with himself and accept the second one.

“It’s good to be on the right track, but you should never ease up in this system, in this organization or in this league,” said Walker, one of six defensive ends who remain on the Saints’ roster. “Everybody’s chopping at your heels — you’ve always got ... to keep working hard ... so (coaches) can keep praising you like that.”

That approach worked quite well for the 6-foot-3, 294-pound Walker in 2012, when the Saints signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tulsa for his potential as a pass rusher. He led the team last preseason with three sacks and emerged as one of just two undrafted rookies to make the 53-man roster.

However, he was inactive for 15 games and didn’t play a snap in the one contest for which he was activated.

Walker found it worthwhile to essentially redshirt his first year in the NFL.

“I was able to learn how to be a pro, how the pros carry themselves, the things they do,” Walker said. “I did all the preparations for games. I was in the locker room. I traveled to every game.

“It was a good learning experience for me, and it’s really helped me this year.”

That was evident in the Saints’ 17-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 9. He briefly lined up with the first-team defense on the first drive, played for more than 40 snaps and was among New Orleans’ leaders with three tackles.

Coach Sean Payton noticed.

Walker “played pretty well the other night,” Payton said at a practice following the Chiefs game. “He is ... a young player that is going to get a lot of snaps. I was encouraged.”

The Saints’ starters played longer in the 28-20 win against Oakland last week. Walker, though, still made a couple of solo stops on runs that went for 1 yard and no gain.

Starting defensive end Cam Jordan discussed the Saints’ defensive line earlier this preseason and predicted it would be “nice.” Jordan listed Walker’s presence as one of the reasons for that.

“He is a young guy, but he brings a lot of energy to the team,” Jordan said. “And that’s what we need.”

Walker was less vocal about the qualities he offers the defensive line. He instead insisted that he needs to bone up on his footwork and hand placement.

“I don’t really try to focus on the positives, because at the end of the day the negatives get you gone,” Walker said. “If your negatives are improved and your negatives become good, you’ll be here.”

Akiem Hicks, a projected starter at defensive end, said Walker’s stance was wise “because the moment you get comfortable is the moment you get hit in the face.”

Hicks laughed heartily at Ryan’s assessment of Walker’s looks, so much that he couldn’t resist sharing it with tight end Jimmy Graham after practice Wednesday.

Graham winced in jest, lowering his head and shaking it side to side.

But, regarding the second part of Ryan’s remarks, Hicks said he had no choice but to agree.

“Tyrunn ... has a knack for reading an offense, getting off the ball, and coming back and retracing his steps,” Hicks said. “Like Rob said, he’s a great football player.”