Saints notebook: Zach Hocker conquers nerves to nail four field goals _lowres

Associated Press photo by Ross D. Franklin -- Saints kicker Zach Hocker kicks a field goal past Arizona's Patrick Peterson, a former LSU star, as Luke McCown holds during the Cardinals' 31-19 win Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The realization of Zach Hocker’s dream also represented one of the Saints’ biggest questions heading into Sunday’s season-opener.

Despite a trend of NFL teams choosing unproven kickers over their veteran counterparts this August, Hocker still hadn’t attempted a kick in a regular-season game.

As happy as he was to win the job, Hocker knows he has to prove himself this season.

Hocker’s off to a good start. The former seventh-round pick was perfect on four field-goal attempts, providing 13 of the Saints’ points in a 31-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The first one was the biggest.

“On that first 37-yard field goal, even — a kick that should be automatic every time — you still have that knot in your stomach that you have to get rid of,” Hocker said. “When I saw it go through, just having a clean hit, great snap, great hold, it was a good feeling. Going into the rest of the kicks, I had a different sense of confidence.”

Hocker looked like a seasoned pro on all four of his kicks, belting through opportunities from 37, 23, 45 and 33 yards. Last week, New Orleans tried out a couple of veteran kickers in case Hocker falters.

And even though he realizes the reality of his business, Hocker is off to a good start.

“I’ve wanted one thing since day one, and that’s just the opportunity to be on the field,” Hocker said. “Now I’m getting that, and I understand it’s my job to keep it.”

Snead snares one

Former free-agent wide receiver Willie Snead wouldn’t go away during Saints’ training camp, earning a roster spot with his dependable hands.

Sunday, he flashed his speed as well.

Snead took a pass from Drew Brees on the first play of the third quarter and turned it into a 63-yard catch and run, setting up the Saints for a 33-yard Hocker field goal.

“I’m happy about it,” Snead said in the Saints’ subdued locker room. “An opportunity came my way, and I made the most of it.”

On the mend

New Orleans opened the season thin in the secondary, particularly at free safety, where Jairus Byrd’s ailing knee had left the Saints with just one free safety.

Then the Saints lost Rafael Bush midway through the second quarter. Bush was trying to make a tackle on a 44-yard catch-and-run by Daniel Fells, but he fell victim to a vicious blindside block from a Cardinals receiver and went down hard.

Bush stayed in for one snap, left the field, and the Saints held him out of the rest of the game with a chest injury.

Veteran Jamarca Sanford took Bush’s place for the rest of the game,

Lagniappe

Brandon Coleman, one of the breakout stars of the Saints’ training camp, scored a touchdown on the first catch of his career, a 12-yard catch-and-run that included a nifty move to keep his balance. ... Quarterback Garrett Grayson, defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls and defensive end Obum Gwacham were inactive in addition to injured starters Jairus Byrd, Dannell Ellerbe, Keenan Lewis and C.J. Spiller. ... Punter Thomas Morstead resumed kickoff duties after the rookie kickers handled them during the preseason. ... Rookie return man Marcus Murphy was largely quiet, returning one punt for two yards and watching every kickoff go out of the end zone. ... Sean Payton handled play-calling duties after hinting offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael might get a chance.