METAIRIE, La. -- The hardest thing about becoming a professional football player so far for Garrett Grayson?
Not getting to play football.
The rookie quarterback has essentially been redshirted by the New Orleans Saints this season as their No. 3 quarterback. He has been active as the top backup for three games, but he did not play in any of them. And he has mostly been relegated to just "mental reps" in practice all season long.
Grayson said Thursday was the first time he took snaps actually running the Saints’ offense in practice all season (as opposed to running the scout team, which he got to do during the weeks when he was the No. 2 quarterback). Grayson said he split the practice reps evenly with veteran backup Matt Flynn on Thursday while starter Drew Brees was sidelined with a foot injury.
"I was actually talking to my girlfriend about it this week. I just miss playing football," Grayson said. "When you’re getting back there and you’re practicing with the guys, that’s fun. But when you’re actually playing the game, I guess that’s something you kind of take for granted.
"Just looking back on my senior year, how much fun I had, that’s just something I miss, the feeling you have of playing the game."
It doesn’t look like Grayson or Flynn will get that chance on Sunday, since Brees insisted he will play through his torn plantar fascia injury. If for some reason Brees cannot play, the Saints have not yet revealed who would replace him. Grayson and Flynn said even they don’t know.
Grayson said he did make a point to let quarterbacks coach Mike Neu know that the team could count on him if they decide to throw him into the fire.
"I just said, 'I don’t want you guys to be shy or nervous about it,'" Grayson said. "'If you expect me to play, I expect myself to be ready. And I’ll treat it like I’ve treated every other game in the past ... and hopefully be successful and help the team."
Grayson, a third-round draft choice from Colorado State, went through some growing pains this summer, admittedly struggling to absorb the playbook and the lengthy play calls.
Four months later, he said it’s, "Leaps and bounds different."
"Back then, I still was trying to grasp the offense," Grayson said. "How big our installs are, it’s hard to grasp in that short of time. So it was good to sit back and watching Drew, how he studies, how he handles everything, that’s obviously helped me a ton. And he doesn’t know that I’m sitting back there and watching everything he does, but obviously very thankful for that."
Both Grayson and Flynn said it was very valuable to fill in for Brees during practice on Thursday and get those hands-on reps.
It was a first for Flynn, too, who just joined the Saints in early November and has been working as the scout-team quarterback ever since.
Both quarterbacks are preparing as if they will start against the Jaguars -- but both are prepared for Brees to start, as well.
"I would never count him out," Flynn said. "But that being said, I have to prepare myself."