Lewis: Shayne Graham helping out rookie kicker

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — For Saints kicker Shayne Graham, it started not too far from here: across the state line in his hometown of Radford, Virginia, and then at nearby Virginia Tech.

And it might be that it ends here, or at least in New Orleans at the end of the preseason, a 15-year NFL career that has seen Graham in the uniform of nine teams, including the 2000 Saints who cut the then-rookie in favor of Doug Brien.

Derek Dimke, trying to make an NFL roster for the first time, is pushing hard to earn the job.

But knowing that this might be his final stop hasn’t stopped Graham from paying it forward, so to speak: doing all he can to aid Dimke even though ultimately it might cost him his livelihood.

“We’re friends,” Graham said after the Saints’ Tuesday morning practice. “If we see things, with share them with each other. “It really comes down to who performs best. Just because you know the consequences, bringing a lot of negative energy into this isn’t going to help anybody.”

Such is the culture of brotherhood in a sport where the average careers are short, seemingly making it counterintuitive to aid your competitor.

To be sure, there are some player haters out there who think only for themselves. And sometimes things can get out of hand, such as the Richie Incognito imbroglio last year at Miami.

But in this ultimate team sport (sorry, soccer) where even the greatest players are dependent on the efforts of others, it starts on the field, in the meeting room and especially in the locker room.

And it’s been that way since the days of leather helmets.

“It’s real now and as far as I know, it always has been,” said Saints radio analysis Hokie Gajan, who as a player, scout and now broadcaster has been affiliated with the team since 1981. “When I came in, we didn’t have many older running backs, but guys like Archie (Manning) and some of offensive linemen did everything they could to help me.

“Older players always have helped the younger players, even if they were competing with them. You compete, but you never take it personally.”

Especially during these early days of training camp, when there are still 90 players on the roster and the final cuts are four weeks away, there’s far more patting of shoulders than looking over them. Maybe some of it is lip service, but in the main players repeatedly talk about how much help they’re getting from their teammates, even those who seemingly don’t need it like rookie sensation Brandin Cooks.

“I find myself going to them, and they’re going to me for advice,” Cooks said. “Guys like (Marques) Colston, Robert Meachem; I continue to just learn from those guys.

“Obviously I have a lot to work on and they’ve been in this game for a really long time. After every practice, I come up to them and ask them what I did wrong.”

The ones who are on the bubble seem especially aware of it. Rookie free agent wide receiver Brandon Coleman is a strong candidate to make the team despite a crowded field at the position.

So he is appreciative of the assistance he’s getting from those he’s trying to edge out of a roster spot.

“It’s just part of football,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of other teams are like that, but some might not be.

“When you have a winning culture like they do here, the older guys teach the younger guys because they understand we’re going to be in their shoes and we’re going to be responsible for doing the same thing in the next class.”

It especially comes though on special teams, the key to making the team for several players.

“The longer I do this, I respect the whole mentality of the locker room,” said Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon. “These guys are out there fighting for jobs, but you see them pointing out things to each other that the coaches might miss. I really appreciate that because it’s part of being a pro.”

While special team roster spots are still in the process of being defined, there are some where the competition is direct, such as kicker and backup quarterback where second-year man Ryan Griffin looks to having the upper hand against 11-year veteran Luke McCown.

Last year, McCown made the cut and Griffin was placed on the practice squad.

But when the St. Louis Rams were on the verge of signing Griffin, the Saints put him on the active roster.

This time, it looks like only one will be kept.

If it’s Griffin, he will owe a debt to McCown.

“Luke is awesome, a great professional,” Griffin said. “Here e is 11 years and he’s helping us (Griffin and rookie free agent Logan Kilgore), a couple of young guys.

“Every day, we learn from him, how he carries himself in the weight room, here on the field and even in the film room. Sometimes before I even have questions he’ll come talk to me because he knows what’s on my mind.”

For Graham, early in his career his equivalent of McCown was John Casey, whom Graham replaced five games into the 2002 season when Casey was injured.

The following season, Casey reclaimed his job and Graham wound up in Cincinnati where would play for seven years.

“John was such a good guy,” Graham recalled. “He helped everybody he was around.

“It made me realize than even when you’re in a full head-on competition, they’re still your teammates and you do everything you can to help them. I’ve been trying to do that ever since.”

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