Saints FB making most of his chance

Free agent Jed Collins knows veteran Korey Hall has two things going for him as they battle to be the New Orleans Saints starting fullback when the regular season opens Sept. 8.

Hall, a four-year NFL veteran, has an edge in experience and also has a Super Bowl ring to go with it after helping the Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in February in Cowboys Stadium.

But Collins, 25, has spent more time with the Saints as a member of their practice squad for 15 games last season and is well-versed in Sean Payton’s offensive system.

As a result, Collins, who has been on an active roster for two games in his career, has been running with the first-team offense since training camp began and is making a strong push to win the starting job.

For Collins, the chase continues Sunday night when the exhibition season hits its peak. The starting units will get their most extensive playing time of the preseason when the Saints (1-1) meet the Oakland Raiders (0-2) in O.co Coliseum, formerly known as McAfee Coliseum, at 7 p.m.

Collins was in the starting lineup for last week’s game at Houston and made an immediate impact on the first play from scrimmage. The 6-foot-1, 255-pounder plowed into a Texans’ defender and perfectly executed a block that allowed Pierre Thomas to rip off a 13-yard gain.

Later in the first half, Collins put a solid hit on Texans linebacker Xavier Adibi that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by rookie Mark Ingram.

It’s those kind of blocks that have given Collins a chance to make a roster for the first time, which would be an upset since the Saints signed Hall, an unrestricted free agent, to a two-year, $2.07 million contract in late July.

Collins has been to four training camps in four years with Philadelphia (2008), Kansas City (2009), Tennessee (2010) and New Orleans, and he can only hope he’s done enough for the Saints, who’ll likely keep only one fullback on the 53-man roster.

“All you can hope for in this league is a chance to compete to keep playing and win a job,” Collins said recently. “Korey is a good guy, and he’s got some experience and some shiny jewelry on his hand.

“He also has a lot of confidence, so I just have to kind of keep my nose in there and keep grinding. That’s all I can do right now.”

Collins, who’s been cut at least eight times since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2008, has been with seven teams (including one twice).

“I’ve always kind of been the second guy,” he said. “I’m always competing with the first guy and somebody always nudged me out. That makes every day that much more intense. You come in every day just knowing you’re going for a starting job.”

Despite his travels, Collins said like he’s learned something along the way at every stop.

Last year, he joined the Saints on Sept. 23 and learned some of the tricks of the trade from 10-year veteran Heath Evans, a free agent whom the team did not bring back this season.

“I got to see how he practiced every day and how he went about his job,” said Collins, who was active for two games in 2008 with Cleveland but didn’t play. “Heath is a veteran of the position, and I made it a point to learn how he saw things, how he does things, his work ethic.

“So I took a lot from him and tried to transform it into my game and keep learning the offense,” he said. “That year in the system feels good and it makes everything at practice seem a little slower, which is nice.”

The Saints coaches got a good look at Collins last season and liked what they saw.

“As the season went on last year, he was on the practice squad and he did some real good things against our defense,” Payton said. “We began to see someone we thought was physical, and that was encouraging.

“So that has continued. His growth has been right in front of us, and he’s done well.”

At the end of the preseason, Collins knows either he or Hall, who excelled as a blocker, receiver and special teams player with the Packers, will likely be gone.

“There’s only going to be one guy (here) and he’s going to be the starter,” he said. “There’s no room for second chances or growth. You’re either the guy, or you’re gone — and that’s kind of been my experiences. But after four years, it would be a great accomplishment to get it.”

Notes

The Saints worked on Raiders formations in practice Friday evening and had a walkthrough Saturday morning to wrap up a week of work in Oxnard, Calif. After the walkthrough, they boarded a chartered plane for the short flight to the Bay Area. … Payton said three players who were injured this week — G Carl Nicks (knee), WR Lance Moore (groin) and WR Joseph Morgan (knee) — won’t play against the Raiders. S Roman Harper (finger) and DT Sedrick Ellis (shoulder) are questionable. … The Saints will likely play their starters for the first half, with the side of the ball that doesn’t get as many snaps in the first 30 minutes possibly getting more time in the third quarter. … With Morgan out, Payton said WR Montez Billings and RB Darren Sproles will likely return punts. … Payton was coy Friday night about a report that FS Darren Sharper, an unrestricted free agent, is still in talks to return to the team. “I think we’re doing well,” Payton said. “We have to get some guys healthy, of course, but we’re doing well.”