The Saints are still figuring out how to deploy C.J. Spiller.
Spiller took just six snaps against the Titans on Sunday, the fewest snaps he’s taken in any game this season despite the absence of Khiry Robinson, the backup who will miss the rest of the season after breaking his leg against New York.
In those six plays, Spiller was targeted twice in the passing game, caught one pass for 2 yards and rushed twice for 8 yards. Brought in as a free agent to fill the satellite back role once made famous by Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, Spiller has instead been used sparingly or in specialized roles.
“I don’t control when I go in,” Spiller said. I try to stay tuned in to the game so whenever I’m called upon, I’m ready to go. Obviously, you want to play more. You’re a competitor, you want to be out there, but you can’t play with 12 people on the field.”
Spiller, averages 15.5 snaps per game and just 5.75 touches per game, is on pace for the lightest workload of his career.
And with Robinson out of action, feature back Mark Ingram saw a season-high 67 snaps.
Saints coach Sean Payton said the Titans’ pass rush played a role in keeping Spiller off the field.
“Yesterday, as Mark is going, sometimes the front we see dictates what kind of run or what kind of passes. It’s a heavy blitz team, and Mark’s typically been our protecting back,” Payton said. “Specifically, in that second half, there was quite a bit of pressure.”
Spiller has not complained about his role yet.
Five seasons in a Buffalo timeshare taught Spiller how to handle a lack of work.
“If it was my first rodeo, then it would be frustrating, but I’ve dealt with it my whole career, so it’s not new to me,” Spiller said. “It is what it is. The most disappointing thing is that we lost the game. Obviously, you want to go out there and play more, but I was more ticked off that we lost.”
Marcus Murphy has been almost everything the Saints hoped when they took the rookie return man with their seventh-round pick in May.
Only one thing remains.
Murphy needs to protect the ball better. For the second straight game, Murphy fumbled a punt return, only this time Willie Snead wasn’t there to pick it up and set up a game-winning field goal.
Murphy has fumbled three times this season, losing only one.
“You should always be cautious. That’s one thing in this league that I’m learning as I go, everybody’s good. You always have to be on your ‘A’ game, you always have to be on top of the details, so that’s one thing. You have to protect the ball in this league or you won’t have a job, so I’m going to come out and get this fixed.”
Murphy averages 25.0 yards per kickoff return and 9.8 yards per punt return, and he already has one punt return for a touchdown this season.
But the rookie needs to correct his fumbling problem soon.
“When you’re that man who has got the ball in your hand, you are carrying the hopes of all 53,” Payton said. “I didn’t like where the ball was at (on Murphy’s fumble). That has to get corrected, or someone else will do it.”
Murphy was on Missouri’s campus less than a year ago, a senior Tiger playing a key role in the school’s second straight Southeastern Conference East championship.
But he’s a Saint now, a rookie return man trying to establish himself in the NFL, and he hadn’t paid close attention to what’s going on in Columbia, Missouri, this fall, at least up until this weekend.
Murphy was surprised to see the news that the Missouri football team had decided to boycott any football activities until the school’s president, Tim Wolfe, resigned in the face of a determined protest against racial inequality. Wolfe resigned Monday.
“I really don’t know a lot about what’s going on, but I am a fellow athlete that supports my school, and the football team was making a big statement this weekend, so I would be 99 percent in their corner,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who is black, said he never experienced something like the racially charged incidents that have driven the recent round of protests.
“I didn’t personally experience any of that,” Murphy said. “I had a great time at the University of Missouri. The fans, the student body, they were all supportive of the football team and the athletes, so for something like this to happen, it’s kind of a shock. I really don’t know. Hopefully they get to the bottom of it and get everything settled up.”