Stanley Jean-Baptiste was unaware of the two reporters lurking by his locker.
He got dressed, made a phone call, and worked his way through a conversation, never expecting an interview request. It wasn’t until a member of the New Orleans Saints public relations staff informed him that he finally looked up and happily obliged.
Baptiste wasn’t disturbed by reporters often last season. As packs of people gathered around Kenny Vaccaro or Keenan Lewis’ stalls in that corner of the locker room, Jean-Baptiste was mostly left alone.
That’s just the way his rookie season unfolded. The second-round pick was inactive for most games. Out of sight, out of mind. Now, though, Jean-Baptiste is ready to take the stage.
The mental bumps and bruises and lessons of his first season now absorbed, he believes he’s positioned himself to earn snaps and find a way to contribute during his second season.
“I’m real comfortable now, so we’re going to see how it works out,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I’m just more relaxed. Better understanding of the playbook.”
The understand is the biggest development for Jean-Baptiste. He openly admits he didn’t understand what was going on at times last season — both on the field and his role on them.
He didn’t understand why he wasn’t on the field. and no one ever explained to him that he was going to basically redshirt as a rookie and wait his turn. So, he worked behind the scenes and tried to find ways to get better.
“It was hard. I wanted to play — everybody wants to play — but at the same time. I didn’t know what the coaches were doing, but I understand it,” Jean-Baptiste said. “They got plans for me. I’m just here to be a part of the team and help out any way I can.”
Things feel different now. Jean-Baptiste seems comfortable with his place on the team and with the information he’s being asked to process. There were times last year when he struggled to pick things up.
It helps that the team has trimmed down the playbook and tossed out some of the concepts that did not work last season, but Jean-Baptiste says he feels like he’s better able to absorb information and understand what’s going on. His teammates have noticed the difference and believe he’s playing with more confidence.
“His mentality is totally different,” safety Rafael Bush said. “We like to see that from him, because we know he has a whole lot of talent, and it’s starting to show on the field now.”
He added: “Some guys come along faster than others. Sometimes you have to take your time to develop guys. He’s doing a good job of grasping everything we’re throwing at him, and I see improvement day in and day out.”
Jean-Baptiste spent Thursday’s organized team activity working with the second-team defense, opposite of cornerback Delvin Breaux, who was imported from the Canadian Football League this offseason.
There were some visible areas of improvement from last training camp. He stuck with his receiver, and at one point capably flipped his hips and kept pace with speedy wide receiver Jalen Saunders. It’s a small victory in a singular moment, but it was the kind of thing he would have struggled with last season.
And it will be Jean-Baptiste’s ability to consistently string together those small victories that determine what kind of role he has next season. Nothing will be given to him. The cornerback position one of the deepest on the roster, and he will truly have to impress to avoid spending another season on the sidelines.
If not, guys like Breaux, Brian Dixon, or Terrence Frederick are waiting in the wings, ready to jump him on the depth chart.
But Jean-Baptiste says he’s ready for the fight.
“I’m more comfortable, I’m more confident,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I’m flying around now.”
“This year I think is more in reach,” he added.