Being on the bubble is old hat for Stecker
JACKSON, Miss. -- Don't count Aaron Stecker out just yet.
The versatile veteran running back said he wasn't about to assume his time in a Saints uniform was up when New Orleans traded up in the fourth round of the NFL draft to take Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman.
"It's been like that, like, all my career," Stecker said. "Every year, I think I'm on the bubble and they're trying to get rid of me. So if I'm going to stay around, I've got to make sure I do the best I can so they can't get rid of me."
Stecker came to the Saints in 2004 after spending his first four seasons in Tampa Bay, where he was part of a Super Bowl winning squad in the 2002-03 season.
Before Reggie Bush arrived, Stecker filled the role of the smaller, quicker, more elusive running back who would catch screen passes or run short receiving routes out of the backfield.
In 2005, he had 35 catches for 281 yards to go with 363 yards rushing on 95 carries. He also had 31 kick returns for 672 yards.
Last season, he was used more sparingly in the offense. Playing in 12 games, he ran the ball only four times for 11 yards all season. He saw more action in the passing game, with 19 catches for 190 yards, and in the kicking game, with 10 kickoff returns for 216 yards.
Barring injuries to either Bush or McAllister, Stecker likely would see limited time in the field this season as well, especially if Pittman shows promise. But stecker appears to be in excellent shape, and believes his versatility and playoff experience make him valuable to a team that is no longer rebuilding, but rather trying to make it to the Super Bowl.
"I can do a bunch of things. I can run the ball, I can play third down, I can go out on special teams and make tackles and I can return the ball," Stecker said. "I've done it in the past. Whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to go out there and do the best that I can do."
^BETTER HALF:@ A year ago, backup quarterback Jamie Martin was excused from the opening practices of training camp because his wife, Kelly, had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.
His wife ended up moving with him to New Orleans and underwent treatment there. So far, it has been a success.
"It was tough last year at this time, but she's gone through treatments and it's cancer-free and everything's great," Martin said.
Martin, 37, and his wife have three children, so the diagnosis and ensuing treatment were obvious distractions for a quarterback trying to learn a new offense with a new coach.
"It was a big shock. She's 36 years old, and then to have news like that pop up," Martin recalled. "But she was strong and got through it and got through the treatments. She was great. I can't imagine me doing as good a job as she did in that situation."
Thanks to starter Drew Brees staying healthy all season, Martin wasn't called on much last season, other than to be the holder on all point-after and field goal attempts.
His only action behind center came in the final regular season game, a contest which had no playoff implications and which the Saints lost while playing reserve for most of the game.
His 2006 passing line was 16-for-24 for 208 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Martin has been in the NFL since 1993, joining the Rams when they were still in Los Angeles.
He was always a backup, but his perseverance paid off in 2005, when he was pressed into service for the injury-plagued St. Louis Rams. He played in eight games and started five, completing 124 of 177 passes for 1,277 yards and five TDs. He had a 4-1 record as a starter.
This season, rookie Tyler Palko out of Pittsburgh and former Oregon quarterback Jason Fife are competing with Martin to back up Brees.
"I know there's competition at every spot, every year," Martin said. "I'm just going to have to, year in and year out, do what I can do and trust what I can do and have confidence in myself and not worry about those other things."
^CROWD PLEASERS:@ Brees and coach Sean Payton often talk about how well their philosophies mesh when in comes to game planning and play-calling during the game.
Saturday afternoon, they appeared to be like-minded in community relations, too.
Nearly 2,000 fans attended a hot afternoon practice held in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, many gathering behind a fence along the sidelines, seeking autographs, when coaches sounded the final horn.
While many players obliged for a few minutes, Brees and Payton kept signing for more than a half-hour, missing the team bus back to the Millsaps College campus a few blocks away. They had to be taken back on golf carts driven by Saints chief spokesman Greg Bensel and marketing director Ian Tigchelaar.
Attendance for the morning and afternoon practices combined was estimated at a little more than 3,700.
The Saints ran a number of seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 plays during the afternoon practice, the part observers seem to enjoy most. Although defenders generally don't tackle ball carriers in such sessions, long runs by Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush enlivened the crowd. Brees also hit receiver David Patten with a long, pinpoint accurate pass, his third such catch in the last three practices.
Devery Henderson also made an acrobatic catch along the sidelines.
^INJURIES:@ Tight end Eric Johnson, who missed Friday afternoon's practice with a migraine, returned to the field for both of Saturday's sessions. Remaining out were defensive tackle Brian Young (foot), rookie cornerback Usama Young (quad) and Jon Hamm (quad).
All three spent most of the day riding stationary bicycles, although Usama Young ran a few wind sprints along the sidelines.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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