It would be easy to dismiss Saints rookie safety Pierre Warren’s interception in his team’s 22-13 defeat against Baltimore at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday night as cherry-picking a woefully overthrown ball by a backup quarterback.
But that would be unjust to the way Warren tracked the ball the Ravens’ Tyrod Taylor launched from his 35 to New Orleans’ end zone in an attempt to connect with receiver Kamar Aiken. It would be unfair to the manner in which Warren leapt for the ball and snatched it out of the air for a first-quarter Saints touchback.
And it would ignore the fact that Warren afforded himself the chance to intercept Taylor’s pass by making a touchdown-saving tackle two plays earlier, when Ravens running back Fitzgerald Toussaint burst through a hole in the middle of the line of scrimmage from Baltimore’s 20 to its 43. Warren yoked Toussaint at the end of the 23-yard gain, and he was rewarded for it a pair of snaps later.
Not that Warren needed to show all that much Thursday in the fourth and final exhibition of the 2014 preseason for the Saints. He had become entrenched at safety in the second-team defense alongside fifth-round draft pick Vinnie Sunseri ever since three-time Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd was slow to fully return from offseason back surgery.
But nothing is guaranteed for an undrafted player from a Football Championship Subdivision school like Warren is.
“I just felt like, when it’s my play, I just got to make it,” said Warren, who played at Jacksonville State. “You never know in this league.”
And because he did, Warren said he felt better than he otherwise might have about his odds of landing a spot either on the Saints’ 53-man roster — which must be finalized by 3 p.m. Saturday — or on that of any other NFL team reviewing his game footage.
It’s a state of mind he attributes to the comfort he has found in the schematically exotic defense run by coordinator Rob Ryan — in his second year with the Saints — as well as the on-field education he has had under more established safeties like Byrd; Kenny Vaccaro, in his second year; and Rafael Bush, who’s been in New Orleans since 2012.
“They just allow you — the playmakers — to make plays,” Warren said Friday as he waited to be informed whether the 10 tackles (seven solo) and two passes defensed he put on film would be enough to crack the roster with which the Saints would prepare for their Week 1 trip to Atlanta. “They have a lot of great athletes in front of me ... and they teach me some stuff as well, too.”
What is being taught, Warren has learned. Vaccaro recalled how Warren was able to grasp Ryan’s playbook quickly. Warren kept quiet as he did so, but his low-key nature contrasted with the obvious self-assured air he carried himself patrolling the defensive backfield.
“He’s just kind of had confidence ever since he got in here, and I think that’s what leads to making plays,” Vaccaro said. “Rob Ryan always says ... you go get turnovers in this league — you go make them. I think he has that in him.”
Warren hinted at it in drills at the start of camp in West Virginia with pass break-ups, a forced fumble and an interception. He commanded more attention with a near-interception in the 26-24 victory in the preseason opener Aug. 8 at St. Louis.
Then, things quieted down for him as the Saints also gave a significant number of snaps to safety Marcus Ball, the Canadian Football League export. Ball, though, was unavailable for a win at Indianapolis on Aug. 23 and Thursday’s game, presumably due to injury.
Warren capitalized on Ball’s absence by plucking an errant throw which nonetheless could’ve presented him with complications given its tricky trajectory.
“When you watch the tape, he high-points it at the right spot,” coach Sean Payton said. “It’s easy to jump early or jump late, and at the end you’re looking for results, so it’s a good play by him. With Pierre, he’s done a lot of good things.”
It all has Warren within striking distance of one goal — if not the ultimate one.
“I am just looking at it as, ‘I’ve still got more work to do; I’ve got a lot more to accomplish in life,’ ” he remarked about a preseason performance that has cemented his place in countless Saints 53-man roster projections. “And this is not my final goal just to make the ‘53’ — I want to be a great player still.”