Griffin taking advantage of Brees' absence

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- With Drew Brees sidelined by an oblique strain, the New Orleans Saints are getting even more of a chance to evaluate second-year pro Ryan Griffin as a potential backup.

Right now, the battle between Griffin and veteran Luke McCown is still too close to call. But if Griffin can prove that he's trustworthy enough to be the No. 2 guy, you've got to think his long-term potential gives him a tie-breaker advantage.

So far, Griffin has taken advantage of his cameo appearances with the first-string offense. He looked great in Saturday's scrimmage while rotating with McCown. Griffin quickly exploited the opportunity to throw at targets like tight end Jimmy Graham and rookie receiver Brandin Cooks.

As cornerback Keenan Lewis couldn't help but admit, "He definitely whipped us."

And Griffin again looked good while taking the majority of snaps with the first-string offense in Monday's practice (while McCown was limited for an undisclosed reason). Griffin's highlight came on a beautiful touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson in red zone drills, though he also showed some mobility by escaping for a nice gain around the corner.

"I'm trying to (take advantage of the first-team snaps), definitely. Every rep I can get, especially getting in there live with the ones and twos is great. I'm just learning as fast as I can, and just trying to improve," said Griffin, who downplayed the buzz he generated from Saturday's scrimmage.

"Well it never looks as good on film and it never looks as bad," Griffin said. "There's a lot of plays I feel like I could've had better ball placement. There's definitely room for improvement."

Griffin, who joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane last year, did admit that he feels more confident and comfortable in Year 2, though.

"Coming in as a rookie you don't really know what to expect, and so you kind of come in wide-eyed and you have no idea," said Griffin, who also has the benefit of working with his former college position coach, Mike Neu, who is the new Saints' QB coach. "This year I kind of had a general idea of how practice was going and what the tempo was like and how players practice. Just receiving that experience and having a year under my belt really helped. I'm just trying to improve on that and keep moving forward."

I asked Saints coach Sean Payton if the backup quarterback job would be strictly based on which player is more prepared to play in Week 1, or if Griffin's potential for growth could play a factor. Payton didn't specifically answer but said the Saints will absolutely go by what they see on the practice field, rather than rely on past history.

"One thing we have always tried to do here is regardless to how a player has been drafted, whether he signed as a free agent, whether he is 35 or 25, we are going to try to play the best players, keep the best players," Payton said. "We've kept free agents and cut draft picks, and when that happens it empowers your locker room. The same thing would apply with that competition.

"We are going to get a lot of work with those guys, and both of them are handling the reps well. They are both smart. They are both quick studies. Luke certainly is more experienced, and so it is kind of an ongoing process, but it's still real early."