Don’t count New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton among those who feel that four preseason games is too many.
Payton said the most important thing that NFL teams do this time of year is “find the right 53” players for the roster. And fewer games would rob young players of invaluable opportunities to make an impression.
“I kind of like where we’re at right now with four,” Payton said. “I can think of so many players that made rosters during my time as a coach in Week 3 or 4. I can just think of kick returns and punt returns and blocked punts and a quarterback that comes in ... I just think that four is perfect. That’s me.”
When asked if two games would make things tougher on coaches, Payton said, “It’s not just the coaches.”
“[Say] I’m a free agent out of Illinois and I’m Pierre Thomas and I’ve got two games and not four to make an impression,” Payton said of the longtime Saints running back who cracked the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2007. “And then how are we splitting the reps in these two games? Look, the most important thing we have to do in camp is find the right 53, and I think it becomes more challenging to find the right 53 with two game exposures.”
Payton’s words -- and the Saints’ long history of keeping undrafted free agents on the roster -- must be music to the ears of so many unheralded Saints looking to crack the lineup this summer.
Several of those diamonds in the rough have already begun to shine as the Saints head toward their preseason opener Thursday night at the Baltimore Ravens.
Among them are cornerback Delvin Breaux (Canadian Football League standout), second-year receiver Willie Snead (undrafted) and rookie defensive linemen Bobby Richardson (undrafted) and Tyeler Davison (fifth round).
But there are several others who could continue to state their case in the most important settings -- including young kickers Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker, both of whom are trying to crack their first NFL roster.
“That confidence that we’re searching for, it really doesn’t show itself until they do it in a game,” Payton said when asked about the kickers -- though he stretched his answer into one that fit the entire roster.
“They can think about it, they can feel like they are, think they are, and yet until it’s done, then all of a sudden you get something,” Payton said. “You guys saw the preseason game the other night [Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh], a couple guys flash, and now all of a sudden they feel like they belong. That’s where it’s born.
“I think it has to be shown at some point on the field in the game. I think so, at some point.”