Willie Snead sees ways he can make great improvement following breakout season _lowres

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) carries against Tennessee Titans cornerback Perrish Cox (29) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman) ORG XMIT: LAGH1

Willie Snead sees missed opportunities.

He doesn’t look back at his first season on a 53-man roster in amazement that he came out of nowhere and finished the season with 983 receiving yards. He looks back and sees how it could have been better.

When watching film of last season, Snead saw a player who was raw in some ways. He wasn’t reading defenses and adjusting as well as he could have. He’d watch himself make a play or run a route and realize that he could have made a bigger play or gotten open if he saw the field better.

“It was (a process last season),” Snead said earlier this week at McDonogh 32, where the Saints were taking part in a Play 60 event. “Just seeing the bigger picture and the whole field at the same time and being able to see the coverage. Just watching a whole bunch of film I see big things I could have got 1,000 yards a lot faster last year. Paying attention to details and working on those corrections is going to be a big part of this year.”

Snead could rest on last season. He played starter snaps and positioned himself as one of the key members of the offense. He could stay the same player and remain a very effective player for this team.

But that isn’t good enough for him. Snead spent some time this offseason earning his degree from Ball State, a promise he made his mother before entering the NFL and working on his craft.

He went out to San Diego and worked with Drew Brees and his trainer. He went back home several times and got training sessions in with his father, Willie Snead III, who is a football coach.

When Snead returned to New Orleans, he immersed himself in film and started making corrections on the things he could have done better last season.

All of those things should lead to improvement. Working out with Brees, however, signifies something else to Snead. It shows how far he’s come since last year.

“Drew’s the kind of guy where I built a relationship with him over the past year,” Snead said. “Last year around this time, I didn’t think I could have a conversation with him without earning some trust from him, so to speak. This year around this time I feel like I’ve built a relationship with him. He trusts me.”

Snead is firmly within Brees’ cabinet of receivers. He and Brandin Cooks sit atop the depth chart entering camp, and tight end Coby Fleener replaces Ben Watson, who finished with 109 targets. But the Saints are likely hoping second-round pick Michael Thomas takes on a bigger role than the one filled by Marques Colston last season.

Colston was targeted 67 times over 13 games, which isn’t a bad amount, but he only caught 45 passes for 520 yards. New Orleans would be glad to see Thomas exceed that amount.

And while they’ll fill different roles in the offense, it’s fair to note that Cooks was targeted 70 times for 550 yards over 10 games in 2014. The Saints aren’t afraid of getting rookies involved in the passing game. Thomas will have a chance to establish himself.

So, in some ways, it would make sense if the other receivers see competition at the position, where Brandon Coleman will also be challenging from snaps.

Snead said he isn’t sweating it.

“I can’t really think about the competition,” Snead said. “We needed a receiver to replace Colston because he was a big part of our offense last season. We needed somebody to come in and help us.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to control what I can control. I’m going to still keep working hard just like I did last year. Hopefully, I get the same passes, maybe more. We’ll see what happens.”

Snead’s here now. He isn’t flying under the radar anymore. There are no more surprises. He’s a player who is being counted on now.

Is there pressure? Do things feel different?

“I’m just having fun,” Snead said. “I’m just really excited for this year because I know that the things I did last year I can do a lot better. I’m just excited to do something special from this team and learn from my teammates.”

Why should he feel pressure? If Snead found ways to build upon last season and improve, all that’s left to do is pick up where he left off.