WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Marques Colston is in a strange position.
He just turned 31 a little more than three weeks ago, which qualifies him as a young man in all other walks of life, but here, standing on the podium aside one of the practice fields at The Greenbrier, he is peppered with questions about how he’s entering the final phase of his career.
He isn’t sure how to feel about it. He isn’t quite ready to be viewed as an old man, but that’s exactly what he has become, and he is constantly reminded that things are no longer as they once were in the recent past.
“It doesn’t feel like Year 9 for me,” Colston said. “I look around the room and I’m the oldest guy by far. It’s just a unique situation and I don’t have Lance (Moore) anymore. I don’t have Devery (Henderson) anymore. I still got (Robert Meachem), but it’s just a different situation.”
It’s an adjustment. Everything these days is an adjustment, and he’s doing his best to embrace all of the new things that are being thrown at him.
As the senior member of the wide receiver room, Colston has found that he’s now become the de facto leader of the group, which means there are times the younger players come to him for advice. And he has had plenty of opportunity to watch those players play the last few days since the team is making an effort to limit his snaps in training camp.
It’s weird. It’s uncomfortable. It’s different.
“It’s kind of a funny position to be in for me,” Colston said. “These young guys have come in and absorbed the offense pretty well. They’re always looking to get better, so they ask a lot of questions, and I’m glad to answer them. I’m just really enjoying watching these guys work.”
Colston, who is naturally reserved, hasn’t been aggressively pursuing a leadership role. Instead, he’s sat back and let those seeking his wisdom come to him, which is fine with the coaching staff.
“I think guys can lead in different ways,” coach Sean Payton said. “We don’t want their personalities to change. He’s someone who has always been fairly quiet. He does a lot of his talking on the field.”
Kneeling on the sideline, Colston is provided a constant reminder of his football mortality while younger players like Joseph Morgan and Brandin Cooks run the routes he’s run since 2006 to become the most decorated receiver in franchise history.
He knows that he’s nearing the end. Most of his good days are now behind him, but he isn’t ready to start planning his retirement tour. He has enough left to be effective next season, and perhaps a few more beyond that.
“It’d rather look at that at the end of the season,” Colston said. “There’s an end for everyone in sight. I’m enjoying my days and practices here. Just trying to get better. When it’s time to hang it up, I’m sure I’ll know and everyone else will know. But it’s surely not that time yet. It’s time to grind.”
Colston is ready for the grind. He feels healthy entering camp and is ready to improve upon his 2013 numbers, a season in which he battled a foot injury and posted 943 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2008.
Entering the offseason, Colston wasn’t worried about not about reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in 2014. His only focus was to get healthy. He believed that if he took care of that, everything else would fall into place.
He also made some tweaks and changes he made this offseason to help improve his game, but was unwilling to get into the particulars.
“One of the reasons you can play long in this league is you figure out what works,” Colston said. “I am definitely not the same 22-year-old guy that came here in 2006. My game has definitely changed, little subtleties that have changed, but I just have to continue to get it done.”
And that’s all the Saints are looking for — for Colston to keep getting the job done next season.
Any decisions beyond that will have to wait. Colston could play one more year, or he could hang around for a few more. He isn’t sure what the future holds.
What he does know, however, is that he will not be looking to hang around until he is 45, which is what the 35-year-old Drew Brees recently stated he would like do.
“I don’t think I’ll be on the field (when I’m 45),” Colston said. “ I’ll still be a fan though. I’ll still be watching.”