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Saints' Marcus Murphy, Brandon Coleman losing grip on roster spots

Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman loses his grip on the ball after taking a hit from Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson in Saturday night's preseason loss. Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

Coach Sean Payton said, “There’s gonna be a lot of dirty hands” when the New Orleans Saints review the tape from their ugly offensive performance in Saturday’s 16-9 loss to the Houston Texans.

But two players, in particular, may be losing their grip on a roster spot after their performances -- running back/kick returner Marcus Murphy and receiver Brandon Coleman.

Murphy lost a fumble on a punt return just 90 seconds into the game after the Saints’ defense had forced a three-and-out. He also fumbled last week (though he recovered it that time). And Payton has clearly grown tired of the act.

“It just can’t happen. We’ll find another returner,” said Payton, who later added that undrafted rookie receiver Tommylee Lewis will “get every opportunity as a returner. Because if the alternative is putting it on the ground, then we’ll find someone else.”

Payton was also hard on Coleman, who dropped at least two passes on Saturday -- including one that was originally ruled a fumble after a 35-yard catch in the middle of the field on New Orleans’ opening drive. Officials later ruled that Coleman didn’t have possession before a hit knocked the ball loose.

Either way, Payton wasn’t happy with the lack of security -- which has been a nagging issue for Coleman. The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder doesn’t seem to play with the physicality -- or attack the ball as aggressively -- as his size would suggest.

Coleman finished with a team-high six catches and 47 yards Saturday. But Payton said of his performance: “I thought it was just OK.”

He added: “And honestly, it’s been kind of pedestrian from him throughout camp. There’s certain things you see and you see and you see and you see, and then all of a sudden they reveal themselves in a game. And you know what, I’m not surprised. And I think he can be better, and I know I’ve seen better.

“So he’s gonna have to pick it up. I think he will. I think he’ll compete. But I don’t like how he’s catching the ball on the first play that comes out of his hands. Too many times the ball’s separating from him.”

At best, Coleman is the fourth receiver on New Orleans’ roster after being outperformed by rookie Michael Thomas this summer. But he needs to show vast improvement over the next two weeks to keep that job safe.

Murphy’s job is in even more danger because the Saints have so many kick-returner alternatives, with Lewis and running backs C.J. Spiller and Travaris Cadet, among others.

Coleman and Murphy both showed the proper contrition in the locker room, according to reports from NOLA.com and The New Orleans Advocate.

“It was so-so. Left a lot of plays out there,” said Coleman, who said of the first drop: “I got to make that catch.”

“I’ve got to get better,” Murphy said. “The main thing as a returner, you've got to hold onto the ball, and I didn't do that, so I've got to come back and improve.

"It's all about how you shake back.”