New Saints FB Erik Lorig hasn’t run ball, but he’s plenty accomplished

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS.  New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson (21) pulls down Tampa FB Erik Lorig (44) during the fourth quarter of the Saints' 27-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.   MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/ Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS. New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson (21) pulls down Tampa FB Erik Lorig (44) during the fourth quarter of the Saints' 27-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/

Just because new Saints fullback Erik Lorig has never taken a handoff in the NFL doesn’t mean he hasn’t done many other useful things on the football field.

He’s played defensive end in college. He’s excelled at protecting passers or ball carriers while blocking out of the backfield or lining up as a tight end. He’s held his own running pass routes.

And that, Lorig believes, is the primary reason he’s gearing up for a fifth year in the pros despite being the third-to-last pick in 2010 draft.

“I just know that when teams analyzed my tape they saw that I took a lot of pride in blocking and doing really anything my team asked me to do, whether that was pass protecting, running routes or blocking as a tight end, (blocking) in the backfield as a fullback,” Lorig said on Wednesday’s edition of SportsTalk with Deke Bellavia and Bobby Hebert on WWL Radio 870 AM.

Lorig continued, “The kind of approach I took with football is anything they asked me to do, I just want to do it ... at an elite level. Certain teams like that; and they see that; and now I’m in a great situation.”

There’s no question about it. After spending his first four NFL campaigns with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers, who drafted him 253rd overall out of Stanford, Lorig this week signed a four-year contract with the Saints in free agency. The deal is reportedly worth up to $4.8 million and included a $1 million signing bonus.

Aside from the payday, Lorig went from an organization that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007 to one that’s won a Super Bowl and has been to the postseason four times since 2009.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Lorig’s arrival in New Orleans was a bit surprising, at least initially. He’s replacing Jed Collins, the Saints’ starting fullback since 2011, who had shown the abilities to block on running and passing plays and could also pick up tough short-yardage first downs on carries.

Collins, who caught four touchdown passes and rushed for three scores during his time in New Orleans, signed a one-year contract with Detroit on Wednesday.

Lorig on the other hand does not have a single rushing attempt in the NFL. He’s caught 30 passes for 193 yards, and his sole touchdown came in the Bucs’ seventh game of the 2012 season.

But New Orleans has gotten a close glimpse of how devastating a running game that features Lorig’s blocking can be.

Lorig sat out Week 1 of the 2013 season with a hurt calf, and the Bucs managed a paltry 65 yards on 24 carries from star running back Doug Martin in an 18-17 defeat at the Jets. Lorig was back for Week 2, and the Bucs hosted the Saints.

Although New Orleans won 16-14, the Bucs gashed a Saints defense that finished the year ranked fourth for 144 yards on 29 carries from Martin.

Tampa Bay lost Martin to a season-ending shoulder injury six games into 2013. The Bucs nonetheless rushed for more than 100 yards per game without Martin, and Lorig received a considerable amount of credit for that.

Either way, though he’s different from Collins, Lorig sounded confident he’s experienced enough to do anything that might be required of him in a Saints offense that was ranked fourth in 2013.

Lorig told Bellavia and Hebert that one of the most beneficial things to happen to him was his playing defensive end for three seasons at Stanford after starting out as a tight end. He made the switch under Jim Harbaugh, who was then in his first year at Stanford and has been the San Francisco 49ers’ coach since 2011.

“I think playing defense for a couple of years there ... really helped me out ... learning how to play better in space ... at a high level,” Lorig said.

He said his defensive background aided him in standing out as a tackler on special teams after Tampa Bay drafted him, and that resulted in his earning a spot on the Bucs’ roster.

“I think playing (defensive) end in Stanford for a couple of years really helped me out making my initial roster in the NFL as a special teams player,” Lorig said to Bellavia and Hebert. “I still try to tap in on that to this day.”

However, Tampa Bay converted Lorig from a defender to a hybrid tight end-fullback early in his rookie year. It turned out he could also capably tap into his offensive background — he’d go on to block for two 1,000-yard rushers, LeGarrette Blount (2010) and Martin (2012).

Lorig was asked whether he truly thought he’d be in the NFL as long as he has, given how close he was to going undrafted.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Lorig immediately responded. “Seven is my lucky number first of all. And when I got drafted, all I needed was an opportunity. I got that my first four years, and every year and every day I took advantage of every opportunity I got.

“And here I am, four more years with the Saints. It’s a great organization. Man, I’m excited.”