Since Sean Payton’s arrival in 2006, the New Orleans Saints have proven it doesn’t matter what school you came from or what path you took to land on their roster.
At the same time, it doesn’t matter if the position you’re playing was your primary position in college, or if football wasn’t even your primary sport.
Case in point is tight end, where former University of Miami basketball player Jimmy Graham is the starter, and former Connecticut quarterback Tyler Lorenzen is vying for a roster spot after spending time on the team’s practice squad the past two seasons.
Just as Graham did as a third-round draft pick last spring after only one season of college football, Lorenzen is an intriguing prospect who’s having to learn the position on the fly.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has added 25 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame to help with the transition to the position, which is not nearly complete with only two weeks to go before the season opener.
While he’s battling five-year veteran Tory Humphrey for the third tight end spot behind Graham and backup David Thomas, Lorenzen has caught the eye of Drew Brees.
Brees said he can appreciate the sacrifices the former college quarterback has made to try to make it at the next level.
“Tyler has really accepted the opportunity to play tight end for us,” Brees said at the outset of training camp. “You watch the way he has worked and the way his body has changed this offseason, going from 225 pounds to 250.
“You have to be a big, physical specimen to play tight end in this league because of all the things you are asked to do: run, block, catch, be tough, versatile and consistent,” he said. “I see how hard he’s worked and it’s those guys that deserve to succeed. I’m rooting for him this preseason.”
Lorenzen, however, knows he still faces an uphill battle to make the roster in only his third season at the position.
“I’m really taking it day by day, trying to learn as much as I can and keeping my nose in the playbook,” he said. “When I get a chance to take a repetition, I have to make sure it’s a good one. I have to just go full speed and have a lot of fun while I’m doing it.”
Having a newbie at tight end might be a problem for most teams, especially with a passing offense that’s as complicated as the Saints. But Payton seems to take pride in projects like Graham and Lorenzen.
“I think everyone wants to be a contributor to a team like ours - including myself,” Lorenzen said of the Saints, who have led the NFL in total offense in three of Payton’s first five seasons. “I’m just working every day to make sure I can put myself in a good position if the opportunity arises.
“I have to show the coaches that I’ve grown as a player, and at the same time earn the trust of my teammates and everyone else. I need to make sure I’m ready to go and be prepared when my opportunity comes.”
The mental part of learning a new position at this level isn’t the biggest thing, Lorenzen said. Though the mental aspects are challenging, learning how to block while taking on defensive ends and linebackers is something else.
“The physical aspect is the thing; just getting big enough to play tight end was actually the biggest problem initially,” he said. “Now, it’s understanding how to use the strength I’ve developed in the weight room.
“I have to make sure technique matches everything the coaches are teaching me so I can better myself on the field and put myself in the proper position to make plays.”
After college, Lorenzen was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who started the conversion to receiver in 2009. But he was waived in September and picked up by the Saints, who took him along for the ride to their Super Bowl XLIV win.
After being around for a while, he’s starting to get a feel for the position even though the transition will undoubtedly continue for some time.
“Knowing what to do and exactly how to do it is a lot different, that’s what I’ve learned over the past few years,” Lorenzen said. “I not only know where I need to be but how I need to get there, and how’s the best way to do it.”