METAIRIE, La. -- With inspiration from Drew Brees and a generous offer from Florida football coach Jim McElwain, New Orleans Saints quarterback Garrett Grayson is going back to his roots to try and salvage his NFL career.
Grayson went to Gainesville after the Saints’ season to reunite with McElwain, who coached him at Colorado State before he was drafted by the Saints in the third round in 2015. There, Grayson has Florida’s facilities and some of the staff at his disposal.
McElwain said it’s the first time he’s done this with a former quarterback. But it’s not uncommon for former athletes to come back and train at college facilities.
“It’s one of those deals that when you get into coaching, you really mean that you’re gonna be there for these guys and help in any way you can, even after they’re done playing for you. This is just an example of that,” McElwain said between recruiting stops. “We’ve got a bunch of guys in the organization that are helping him. It’s all hands on deck. And that’s how we kind of treat people -- whatever we can do to help 'em.
"But I told him now, I’m gonna put him on a schedule. So he better not miss anything because then he’s gotta deal with me.”
Grayson said his agent came up with the idea of reaching out to McElwain after Grayson struggled during his second NFL preseason and wound up getting cut and relegated to the practice squad.
McElwain’s offer was even more generous than expected.
“The fact that he’s doing that shows what kind of person he is,” Grayson said. “That’s why I have so much respect for him, and I thank him so much for everything that he’s done for me.”
Grayson, 25, is obviously determined to revive his game this offseason for a number of reasons -- especially if the Saints wind up drafting another quarterback, which is a very real possibility.
But Grayson said he was particularly inspired by Brees’ own career story.
Brees got benched during both his second and third years with the San Diego Chargers before his career finally took off.
“Last year, it was kind of late in the year, we asked Drew some questions about his career in San Diego,” Grayson said. “And he said going into that third year, that offseason, he committed himself to working as hard as he could, not taking much time off, just trying to perfect his craft. And, obviously, it’s worked out.
“So I’m kind of taking that story and kind of using it as motivation that it can be done. And, hopefully, it works out for my benefit."
Grayson completed just 55.7 percent of his passes last preseason for 409 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
“Going back to my last preseason, I still definitely need to prove myself. And obviously with as much urgency as possible," Grayson said. "Because if you don’t get yourself out there and get your best film out there, nobody’s gonna want you."
Grayson insisted that he didn’t look at his practice squad demotion as a total negative, because, “Hey, I was still here. They didn’t completely get rid of me. So I was able to take another season in and learn the offense even more.”
But he admitted that it was frustrating to spend another season barely getting any live reps, since the No. 3 quarterback doesn’t take live reps during practice.
“Any competitor, you want to be out there playing and getting better. So I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t [frustrating]," Grayson said. "But I also respect how they handle things and just gotta learn to perfect my craft in any way I can. Whether that’s staying after practice or coming early, whatever it is.
“It’s something that I’ve tried to overcome these last two seasons, I guess. And, hopefully, I can go into this offseason knowing the offense even better and just know how to physically put everything together going into next preseason.”
Grayson said his biggest struggle has been mastering the offense to the point where he doesn’t have to think as much on the field.
Grayson admitted that it took him a while in his first summer in 2015 to start reciting the lengthy play calls with confidence. Last year, Grayson said it was often a matter of technical issues -- like the difference between 2-yard and 4-yard splits.
Saints coach Sean Payton said quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi spent extra time with Grayson during the season and agreed that this next summer will typically be “an important 'here we go' offseason for a third-year quarterback.
McElwain said they will spend time figuring out "what are the things we need to polish and what are the things that are kind of broken."
As much as anything, Grayson also hopes to get back into his comfort zone while working with McElwain, who arrived at Colorado State before Grayson’s junior year and helped bring out the best in him over the next two seasons.
"My message to him was, you know what, 'This is good. You’re kind of getting back to your roots a little bit,'" McElwain said. "He is really driven. He’s a little bit of a quiet guy, and yet he is truly driven. And I know he has the skill set and talents. It’s a matter of trying to bring those out and figuring out the flaws that we need to get better at."