Fight for it: Saints practice returning kicks with boxing gloves

The New Orleans Saints introduced an interesting wrinkle to Sunday’s practice, with their return men fielding kicks while wearing boxing gloves.

“It really forces them to put their body in the correct position to catch a ball,” explained coach Sean Payton, who said they did it once in the spring as well. “So it’s a way of taking their hands away, keeping their elbows together and really locating the ball with their feet, getting set.”

The Saints’ return jobs are wide open this year. Receiver Brandin Cooks and running back C.J. Spiller should be involved, but they won’t do it full-time since they’re so valuable to the offense.

Seventh-round draft pick Marcus Murphy was specifically drafted because of his return skills, and he made a strong first impression on Payton in Thursday’s preseason opener at Baltimore. Payton singled out Murphy first when rattling off some players who had strong performances in that game.

Second-year receiver Jalen Saunders took over as the Saints’ top return man late last year, but he’s been dealing with an unspecified injury for most of camp. He needs to get back quickly to try and defend his job against Murphy and others.