WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Consider Saints training camp graduate school for second-round pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Jean-Baptiste is learning the nuances of Rob Ryan’s defense, including the many coverages, adjustments and techniques. Yes, his specialty is bump-and-run coverage, but he must learn — if not master — much more to earn a spot this season on the field.
Coach Sean Payton said Thursday morning he’s looking for daily improvement from rookies like Jean-Baptiste, who played receiver and cornerback at Nebraska.
At The Greenbrier Resort, Jean-Baptiste has not matched the performance splash of first-round pick Brandin Cooks, a speedy and shifty receiver from Oregon State. While Cooks is being christened as the missing piece to what could be a record-breaking season for the Saints offense, Jean-Baptiste is still learning how to operate in space, his movements not as fluid, instincts not as sharp as veteran Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson, who are competing for a starting cornerback job opposite Keenan Lewis.
Still, it’s early.
Roles are defined weekly, not yearly, Payton reminded reporters.
“So with regards to a rookie corner, that might be on special teams,” Payton said. “That might be playing in the dime. But that hasn’t been established yet. We’re trying to get every opportunity to see where these guys can fit.”
Rafael Bush, Robinson, Corey White and Rod Sweeting are also believed to be the favorites to compete for playing time at nickel or dime.
Morgan still working
Early in Thursday morning’s practice, receiver Joseph Morgan struggled to decelerate and stop after sharp turns on the practice field, movements which may be attributed to last season’s ACL knee tear. Morgan missed the entire 2013 season.
Payton, though, attributed Morgan’s movements to his lack of football shape after the layoff.
“We’re seeing somebody that’s healthy,” Payton said. “It’s just a matter of getting back into football shape. Because you’re removed from it as as he has been. He’s moving well. I think you’ll see in the next week or so, you’ll see the speed we were used to seeing when he was playing on a high level.”
In 2012, Morgan, a fourth-year pro, averaged 37.9 yards per catch (10 rec for 379 yards, three touchdowns).
Grubbs out again
Left guard Ben Grubbs missed his third practice with an undisclosed aliment. Payton, who had previously explained Grubbs’ absence as veteran rest, said Grubbs was “working through a few things,” on the injury front. “I think we’re going to see him in the next day or two.”
Meanwhile, receiver Kenny Stills (quad) missed his fifth practice, giving third-year pro Nick Toon another opportunity to fight for a job.
Toon, a former fourth-round pick, is not guaranteed a spot out of training camp. Unless he keeps performing as he has.
“He’s clearly showed himself, and he’s improved,” Payton said. “He’s having a fantastic camp early on.”
Toon has four career catches for 68 yards — all last season.
Spoken like a veteran
Right tackle Zach Strief realizes how good the Saints have it this summer. Consider The Greenbrier the Four Seasons of NFL training camps.
The rookies? They have no clue.
It’s fair to say that if the Saints struggle unexpectedly from this point, next summer’s camp might be at Fort Polk.
“If one of these rookies mess this up, he’s going to have to answer to me,” Strief said.
Payton has some fun
Asked if left tackle Terron Armstead was the reason the Saints running game improved late last season, Payton responded, “I would say he wasn’t part of the problem.”
Then Payton was asked if Armstead, a second-year pro out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, looks like he could be really special at his position, Payton added a playful response: “We’re not ready to put him in Canton yet.”