Willie Snead trying to force his way onto Saints' roster

Receiver Willie Snead is having a great preseason and making a strong case for making the Saints' roster. Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports

NEW ORLEANS -- Willie Snead said he got his most encouraging feedback yet from New Orleans Saints receivers coach John Morton late in the first half of Sunday’s preseason game: “You’re not playing for the rest of the half.”

“That was a good sign,” Snead said. “That’s what people are telling me.”

Translation: Snead had shown enough -- on this day, at least -- by catching four passes for 56 yards against the Houston Texans and drawing a pass interference penalty on another deep route.

That doesn’t mean Snead has locked up a roster spot. Not by a long shot. Coach Sean Payton didn’t give Snead the same type of rave review that he gave rookie running back Marcus Murphy after Sunday’s game. Instead, Payton remained non-committal about Snead and the handful of other receivers battling for backup jobs.

But Snead has definitely made a strong case for himself after beginning the summer off the radar screen. Sunday’s game was his first extensive opportunity to work with the starting offense, and he made the most of it.

“I had to go out there and prove myself,” Snead said. “It felt great. I just feel like the coaches are starting to trust me now by giving me more reps here and there with the first- and second-string teams. I just have to make sure that I make the most of every opportunity I get.”

Snead is one of those classic, confounding breakout stars of the preseason.

I can’t figure out exactly where the second-year undrafted receiver fits into New Orleans’ offense. But I can’t see how they can let him go after he keeps delivering at every turn.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder is tied for the team lead with eight catches in the preseason and ranks second on the team with 117 receiving yards. He’s been equally impressive in practices, catching nearly everything thrown his way. Most of his work has come with the backup units, but not all of it. Drew Brees has locked in on him a few times in practice, as well.

But the downside for Snead is that Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston and Brandon Coleman appear to be New Orleans’ top three receivers right now. And the Saints traditionally like to have a fourth receiver active on game days who is an exceptional blocker -- an area where veterans Joe Morgan, Josh Morgan and currently-injured Nick Toon all might have an advantage on Snead.

Snead also hasn’t stood out yet on special teams, where he’s worked mostly with the third string so far this summer.

But Snead, who was a star quarterback in high school, was a standout receiver at Ball State and who is the son of a longtime high school football head coach, said he has always taken pride in going all-out in areas like blocking and special teams. And he thinks those have been pluses for him this summer, too.

“I’m just trying to get reps and I’m just trying to show that I belong,” Snead said. “If I’m blocking, I’m gonna try to take ‘em out. If they want me in there to run a go ball or third down, make that catch, I can do that to. I feel like I can do everything, and I take pride in doing the little things.”

Snead isn’t about to take anything for granted. He felt good about his chances last year as an undrafted rookie with the Cleveland Browns, too, when he ranked second on their team with eight preseason catches for 124 yards. But he got cut by them -- and later got cut from the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad, too, before landing in New Orleans.

Snead said he had time to dwell on everything he did wrong while he was at home working out. He felt like he wasn’t as consistent as he needed to be, especially in a game he played on the day after his daughter was born. And he called it a learning experience.

“It hurt. It hurt really bad, because I’ve never been cut before, just growing up playing football since I was 5,” Snead said. “And I feel like that motivated me even more to just be the player I am right now.”