A tall, lanky wide receiver wearing a No. 12 jersey and a visored helmet was on the field for the New Orleans Saints’ mandatory minicamp Tuesday, prompting a double take from anybody used to seeing franchise legend Marques Colston on the Metairie practice fields for more than a decade.
A familiar face was under that helmet. Just not the one most Saints fans are used to seeing in the No. 12.
Robert Meachem, the former first-round pick who spent six of his seven seasons in the NFL with the Saints, was back at 5800 Airline Drive to try out for a chance to return with a full contract.
“They just gave me No. 12,” said Meachem, who wore the No. 17 currently being worn by Kyle Prater during his time with the Saints. “And I told them that felt weird, because when I was a rookie, (Colston) was way ahead of me. I sent him a text message saying, ‘They gave me your number; I’ll make you proud.’ ”
Meachem, who last played for the Saints in 2014, spent last season working out for teams without much luck.
Always a big-bodied receiver, his weight had risen to as much as 232 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. When he tried out, the weight became a problem, and Meachem said he believes it might have cost him a chance elsewhere.
“I was overweight,” he said. “When I got back here and went back to my training and got my weight back down, that’s what helped me.”
Meachem always planned to get back into football. Despite the year he spent out of the NFL, he hasn’t allowed the spectre of retirement to take hold yet.
“That doesn’t ever cross your mind until it actually happens,” he said. “Your brain doesn’t want to retire unless it’s that time.”
Meachem cut his weight back down to 218 — only a few pounds off his NFL scouting combine weight in 2007 — and earned himself a tryout with his old team.
His chance nearly didn’t materialize. Meachem injured his quadricep the first time he worked out for the Saints, and the team decided to take another look once he had healed. Two weeks ago, Meachem tried out again, and he posted a time of 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
New Orleans thought the 31-year-old looked good enough to take a closer look. The Saints have revamped their receiving corps since Meachem was last with the team in 2014; New Orleans now has a young nucleus that includes Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman and second-round pick Michael Thomas.
None of those receivers will be older than 24 this season. If Meachem earns a contract, he would provide a veteran presence in an up-and-coming room.
“We worked him out a couple of weeks ago, and we wanted to see how he does here in this three-day period,” coach Sean Payton said.
Meachem, whose first stint in New Orleans was marked by his ability as a deep threat, earned playing time in his second stint — he spent the 2012 season in San Diego — for his prowess as a blocker, a key in Payton’s offense.
But if Meachem is going to make this tryout count, he’s not going to rely on blocking to earn him a contract.
“Catch the ball and make plays,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and be a wide blocker. I’m a wide receiver. You have to block in order to get your running backs open, and that helps you get open down the field.”
Whatever number he’s wearing this week, Meachem has one goal — as simple as those of any of the other 12 players trying out for New Orleans this week.
“Show them I’ve still got it,” he said. “That I’ve still got something left in the tank.”