Saints on the bubble get more reps to show they belong
“You can observe a lot just by watching.” — Yogi Berra.
But doing’s better.
Especially if you’re a player fighting for a roster spot with the Saints, and the absence of the projected starter at your position during minicamp plus the organized team activities is giving you more reps than you would normally have.
“It makes a ton of difference,” tight ends coach Terry Malone said. “You can say whatever you want about learning from somebody else and watching somebody else.
“But it’s when you have to go out there and make decisions on your own is when we find out whether you know what you’re doing and how well you can do it.”
Case in point: Tight end Josh Hill, who is benefitting from the most prominent MIA from minicamp, All-Pro Jimmy Graham, whose grievance hearing is scheduled for next week.
“I’m definitely getting a lot more reps with the (first team),” said Hill, a second-year man whose locker is next to Graham’s, which is overflowing due to its occupant’s nonattendance while his case is being resolved. “And I try to get better on each one of them.”
“This is definitely a lot better than standing and watching most of the time in team drills. You have to watch your body language when you’re doing that, because the coaches are always keeping an eye on to see if you’re paying attention.”
With 11-year veteran Benjamin Watson, whose skills are well known by the coaches, and free agent rookies Je’Ron Hamm and Nic Jacobs, the only other tight ends on the roster, Hill, who made the team as an undrafted free agent last year, is getting plenty of opportunities as the No. 1 tight end.
Last season he appeared mainly on special teams but did have six receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Hill said he hasn’t noticed any more or less plays with him lining up at wide receiver instead of tight end, the heart of the dispute between Graham and the Saints.
“We’re pretty sticking to what we do, which is moving guys around,” Hill said. “You’ve got know everything there is to know about your position, especially when you’re battling for a roster spot, which I’m definitely doing,”
Wide receiver Nick Toon finds himself in a more-precarious bubble position than Hill.
Going into his third season, Toon has been active for only eight games.
But with first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks finishing up class at Oregon State and Joe Morgan still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out all of last season, Toon is getting more time on the field than he’s accustomed to,
“I don’t keep count,” Toon said. “But every rep is an opportunity to learn.
“You can learn from watching, but it’s always great to be able to go in there and go through the motion and (make) adjustments on the fly.”
Toon’s early work has drawn praise from his coaches and the quarterbacks.
“Guys are always looking for the chance to help the team, and especially help themselves,” wide receivers coach Henry Ellard said. “You can tell Nick is working on the field and in the classroom because he knows how important this time is for him.”
Safety Marcus Ball is another player benefitting from having a teammate out.
In this case, it’s Pro Bowler Jarius Byrd, who is missing OTAs after back surgery. For Ball, who spent the past two seasons in the CFL, it’s a chance for more visibility than he might have had otherwise.
“The X’s and O’s in the classroom are only half the battle,” Ball said. “The real battle is when you get a chance to actually get out there, move around and do things.”
Plus, Ball added, having Byrd on the sideline is an asset.
“He’s a smart guy who caught on the defense pretty quick, quicker than I did,” Ball said. “But Jarius can help you out from the aspect of seeing things from the sidelines that the coaches can’t always help you with.
“Every day in the classroom, you ask questions. And every rep, you try to learn. That’s how you make it in this league.”