If Stanley Jean-Baptiste took a step forward this summer, he sabotaged that growth by taking two steps back Thursday night.
The New Orleans Saints' second-year cornerback had a rough night in a 38-10 preseason finale loss to the Green Bay Packers, getting beat on a play that turned into a 77-yard touchdown pass and slipping and falling to allow a 3-yard touchdown pass.
NOLA.com reported that coach Sean Payton was spotted chewing out Jean-Baptiste on the sideline at one point. And Payton certainly didn't offer a ringing endorsement after the game.
"I thought we struggled at corner. And those are second-year guys now. So that was discouraging," said Payton, who was presumably referencing Jean-Baptiste and Brian Dixon, both of whom started and struggled Thursday.
Dixon also got beat on 14-yard touchdown. And he and veteran cornerback Kyle Wilson had a communication breakdown that allowed a wide-open 2-yard touchdown pass when they both went to cover the same guy. It's unclear which Saints cornerback was at fault.
Wilson made perhaps the best play of the game early in the second quarter, when he jumped a route in the red zone to intercept a pass. But he wasn't perfect either, later committing an illegal contact penalty that negated a sack.
All three guys could be in trouble when the Saints cut their roster down to 53 players Friday and Saturday. But their saving grace is New Orleans' need for cornerback depth after starter Keenan Lewis reportedly underwent hip surgery this past week and rookie corner P.J. Williams was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
Fortunately for the Saints, they don't plan on using any of the cornerbacks who struggled Thursday once the regular season begins. Veteran Brandon Browner and promising first-year pro Delvin Breaux are the projected Week 1 starters -- assuming Browner is healed from a lingering injury. And rookie cornerback Damian Swann is the projected nickel back.
But that trio comes with question marks to begin with. And if any of them should go down, the questions will loom even larger.
It's awfully disappointing that Jean-Baptiste isn't further along heading into his second NFL season after the Saints rolled the dice with a second-round draft pick on him last year.
The Saints knew the 6-foot-3, 218-pound former wide receiver was a raw developmental project when they drafted him out of Nebraska. His rookie season amounted to a redshirt year as he got passed up by the undrafted Dixon and former practice squadder Terrence Frederick.
This year, Jean-Baptiste has spent the entire summer with the second-string defense. And he and coaches have talked about how much he's benefited from New Orleans' simplified playbook. But he got passed up by both Breaux and Swann as the consistency hasn't been there -- not even on special teams, where the Saints will need Jean-Baptiste to contribute if he makes the roster.
Jean-Baptiste was flagged for illegal touching after he stepped out of bounds on punt coverage Thursday (nullifying a Saints fumble recovery). It wasn't an egregious penalty, but it was still another misstep.
Maybe Jean-Baptiste will continue to get the chance to take that next step forward this year. But for now, he's definitely on his heels.