|Photos by Michael C. Hebert/Saints|
|Young receivers Nick Toon, left, and Kenny Stills, both sons of former NFL players,
are competing for playing time in a talented Saints receiving corps.
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — A young, unproven receiver will likely find himself on the field this fall for a Saints passing game that has been among the NFL's best since Sean Payton and Drew Brees joined forces in New Orleans in 2006.
Payton and wide receiver coach Henry Ellard, a former standout NFL receiver himself, will spend the next few months determining whether one of two recent draft choices or a host of undrafted free agents on the roster deserve that shot.
"At this point, it's hard to say," Ellard, now in his second season on New Orleans' staff, said after the first practice of minicamp on Tuesday. "We're keeping it wide open and changing the rotation, each and every day at practice and seeing how guys respond in different situations."
The candidates include Kenny Stills, who was drafted in the fifth round of this year's draft out of Oklahoma, and second-year pro Nick Toon, who missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury after being drafted in the fourth round out of Wisconsin.
At 6-foot-4, the same height as Marques Colston, Toon stands out and also has pedigree. His father, Al, was a former All-Pro receiver with the New York Jets. The younger Toon also distinguished himself during 11-on-11 drills at the end of Tuesday's practice, when he made an adjustment and diving catch on a back-shoulder throw deep down the left sideline.
"He has good size. I like that. And length," said Payton, who was suspended in connection with the NFL's bounty probe when Toon joined the team last spring. "It's just a matter of getting settled in and once we get into the pads, establish himself as someone who is consistent."
"We have some young guys at the receiver position," Payton said. "All of those guys are competing for spots and playing time."
Two seasons ago, the Saints' primary receivers were Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson. Meachem signed with San Diego as a free agent in 2012. Henderson became a free agent after last season and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has indicated the club plans to move on without him. That leaves at least one, if not two, receiver spots that will see regular time on the field.
"We've got a great group of young receivers that really all have a chance to make their mark and find a place in that group," Brees said. "Kenny Stills is showing a lot of promise. He's a young, talented guy. All those guys understand that they are going to get some opportunities and they have to make the most of them and see how they can fit into this offense."
Last year, Joe Morgan emerged at the Saints' fourth receiver. He made some spectacular plays, but was inconsistent and limited in the types of routes he ran effectively, Ellard said.
"We know he can run down the field," Ellard said. "But I want him to become that intermediate guy that can get in and out of cuts and still be able to make plays over the middle of the field instead of always just down the field."
Toon, Ellard said, is already ahead of the curve in terms of the precision of his routes.
"His father played the game and I'm pretty sure taught him a little bit," Ellard said, adding that Toon also has "great hands."
Stills' father, also named Kenny, played in the NFL as well, but as a defensive back, which is where Stills played in high school before the Sooners converted him to receiver.
A couple months before the Saints drafted Stills, he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
"Just a smart kid that can run. We love that part because you can't coach speed," Ellard said. "He's adjusting well to what we're doing, picking up on things and eliminating mistakes."
Stills said one of his biggest adjustments was dealing with the speed at which everyone else plays in the NFL.
"It's a fast game at this level," Stills said. "That's kind of the first thing that I learned and saw. But I'm always going to be confident in my speed and my ability to run by people, and hopefully I get that chance to do it in this offense."
Stills said his father warned him about the speed of the NFL, and also advised him that the best way to find his way in the league was to work hard on his own assignments and not get distracted worrying about the pecking order at his position.
"Talking to my dad, it's not about trying to find your spot or thinking about taking somebody's spot or getting on the field right away," Stills said. "For me it's just learning and being able to take advantage of my opportunity. Obviously it's a great opportunity for there to be spots open, but I just want to be able to be ready, that way if they feel like I'm ready to play I'll get in there and play and do the best of my ability."
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
Three bedroom in Port Barre or two bedroom in Opelousas
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
“I am only getting a little nervous about two projects — the proposed Sasol GTL facility [not the new ethylene plant] and the proposed G2X facility — both in Lake Charles. They need a hefty difference between oil and natural gas prices to make sense.”
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Lower oil prices also might slow the growth of oil production in parts of the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because it will no longer be so profitable.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
A Lafayette woman faces up to 20 years in prison for running up more than $1 million in unauthorized charges to her company credit card.
Signs that our state’s banking industry is undergoing a downsizing in 2014 were further confirmed today with the FDIC’s latest figures showing a third straight quarter in which Louisiana lost more banks and earned less money.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State police say a 47-year-old Lafayette man, who collected more than $83,000 in disability benefits, is accused of operating two businesses out of his home at a time when he claimed he had no income.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Saints Street cottage or River Ranch condo
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Facing opposition from a powerful industry, the governor and many in the Legislature, a New Orleans-area flood board's lawsuit against dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies seemed doomed early on.