Saints' Jones hopes third try's a charm

METAIRIE, La. -- Few may recall, but New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Marcel Jones did already crack the 53-man roster once.

The 6-foot-7, 320-pounder earned his way onto the Saints' opening week roster as a rookie seventh-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2012. However, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice before he suited up for his first game. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Last year, Jones came back but missed the cut and spent the entire season on the Saints' practice squad, converting from right tackle to right guard in the process.

Now for the third straight summer, Jones is once again planted firmly on the bubble.

"It's gut-wrenching [to get cut]," Jones said of his experience last year. "But at the same time it's humbling, and you want to get right back out there."

Jones said he believes he's improved greatly heading into his third NFL season. He said his size and strength have always been assets when he's able to get his hands on people. But he's worked hard to improve his quickness, both physically and mentally -- which he said is even more important at guard, where things move a little faster.

More importantly, Jones got a great opportunity to show that improvement while starting right guard Jahri Evans was sidelined by a lower back issue for about two weeks, including the first two preseason games.

Evans will likely be back in the starting lineup tonight at the Indianapolis Colts. But Jones will relieve him at some point and keep trying to show that he deserves to be a more permanent backup option.

"It's been very valuable," Jones said of his extended audition with the first-stringers. "It was an opportunity for me to go out there and show what I can do and show that I can compete at this level, and not only compete but be productive. And I just went out there and played as hard as I could and just let everything else handle [itself]."

Saints coach Sean Payton indeed said he has seen growth and improvement from Jones this year.

"He's someone that I would say has steadily worked on his deficiencies and gotten better and better," Payton said. "He's worked on his power, and he's smart."

The Saints will typically keep at least eight offensive linemen on the 53-man roster and at least seven linemen active on game days.

Third-year pro Bryce Harris seems like a safe bet to remain on the roster as the top backup at both offensive tackle spots. And the loser of the starting center battle between Jonathan Goodwin and Tim Lelito should also make the roster.

If that's all true, then Jones might be fighting for one last spot with friend and former practice-squadder Senio Kelemete, who has also seen extensive playing time in place of left guard Ben Grubbs this summer because of injuries.

"You know, Senio's a good friend and we hang out a lot. But to be honest, I'm not looking that far ahead," Jones said. "I'm gonna be happy for him, and I know for a fact hes going to be happy for me. We just have to play best we can and leave the tough decisions to the coaches."

Jones also stands out among all the other players on the Saints' practice field because of his impressively large Afro, which make him look closer to 6-9. He laughed when asked who would win the backup guard job if it came down to best hair, since Kelemete, who is of Samoan descent, also stands out due to his long, flowing locks.

"I don't know man, he's kinda got the [Troy] Polamalu," Jones said. But I've got the 'fro, and you can't beat the 'fro. I would give it to me."