Chris Manhertz never sat down on Sundays and dreamed about playing football.
When he first arrived in New Orleans during training camp following a short stint with the Buffalo Bills, the former basketball player out of Canisius College admitted that he never even really watched the sport or even played the Madden video games much.
Everything was new to him back in August. Reading defenses? Forget it. Understanding blocking schemes and his role within those schemes? If he had any understanding of those concepts when he first arrived here, it was thin.
But after spending a season with the Saints, Manhertz no longer sees himself as a basketball player masquerading as a football player. This is the sport he plays and after spending the season on an NFL practice squad, he’s beginning to grasp the finer nuances of the game.
“It’s a process, especially since you’ve never done it before,” Manhertz said. “I think it started clicking for me at the end of the season. The game is slowing down, I’m actually understanding what’s going on, reading the coverages and reading the defense. Just knowing the whole offense. It’s great.”
It’s impossible to know what kind of progress Manhertz made this season since the Saints keep their practices closed. Near the end of the season, coach Sean Payton praised the tight end and noted that he’s done a good job of picking things up.
It appears Payton wasn’t just offering lip service. New Orleans shuffled tight ends on and off the roster throughout the season, both on the active roster and practice squad, yet Manhertz survived every move.
He then signed a reserve/future contract with the Saints after the season, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to come back and compete for a roster spot during the offseason.
“A lot of guys come and go,” the 6-foot-6 Manhertz said. “For me to stay the course and still be here throughout the course of the season, I take a lot from that.”
The biggest thing for him now is to continue picking up the nuances of the game so he can compete for a roster spot during the offseason program and training camp. Manhertz says it’s still a process, but he’s not shy about using the resources available to him.
During the open portion of the locker room, he could often be seen chatting up members from various position groups about different aspects of the game. That might mean asking an offensive lineman about a blocking technique, a receiver about how to attack a coverage or a quarterback about how to run a route.
“I’m the kind that asks a lot of questions,” Manhertz said. “Those guys didn’t hesitate with helping me out and showing me the ropes.”
He continued: “Understanding the game of football it was kind of challenging at first as well as trying to learn the playbook. I pretty much have a pretty good understanding of both now and have tons of room for improvement. I’m excited about that.”
During the season, Manhertz split his time between trying to learn the New Orleans offense as well as the things the team New Orleans was playing likes to run. Serving on the scout team, his chief responsibility throughout the season was to help the defense prepare for the upcoming opponent.
This might sound like an arduous task for someone trying to learn the nuances of the sport and conquer his first playbook, but Manhertz said it was actually beneficial to him.
“It gave me a ton of reps to just get a feel for a game even thought I wasn’t running our offense,” Manhertz said. “Just getting the live reps is very good for me.”
It remains to be seen if Manhertz will make the leap necessary to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster next season, but he was doing something right to stick around this long.
The odds were stacked against him when he first arrived and it probably also helps that he has the right attitude when it comes to the grittier aspects of the game. Some former basketball players have been less than enthusiastic about putting their hand in the dirt and blocking a defensive end or linebacker.
Manhertz embraces it.
“I think blocking is all attitude and want to and I think I have those attributes to be a good blocker,” Manhertz said. “Understanding the scheme and knowing the assignments is a different story, but I think most of it just comes down to want to.”
Manhertz will continue to conquer the mental aspects. But that “want to” can’t be taught, and the former basketball player seems to have plenty of it. That could help him make this move to football a permanent one.