Photos: Saints struggle against the Houston Texans in big preseason prep in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- Saints wide receiver Willie Snead stiff arms Houston Texans safety Lonnie Ballentine and makes a 23-yard -- 18 after the catch -- on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Willie Snead’s performance against the Houston Texans could have been even better.

The receiver took advantage of his opportunity to work higher in the receiver rotation and caught four passes for 56 yards. It was a solid performance for a player who enters the final week of the preseason on the roster bubble. But some yards were left on the field.

On his first target, Snead beat the cornerback in coverage on a comeback route, but quarterback Luke McCown hesitated to make the throw and instead rolled outside the numbers. When he finally let the pass go, it was batted down by a defensive lineman.

Perhaps the best part of Snead’s performance was that he was getting open even when he wasn’t thrown the ball. On a fourth-down play in the red zone when McCown failed to connect with Josh Morgan, Snead ran a quick out route on the other side of the field and was open. McCown either missed him or felt he needed to hurry his throw because of pressure.

It was one of the better performances by a Saints wide receiver this preseason. Three of his four receptions came with first-round pick Kevin Johnson in coverage, including one where Snead slipped out of a tackle and laid a stiff arm on Lonnie Ballentine for a gain 23 yards, 18 of which came after the catch.

Snead also picked up another 25 yards for the offense when he drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback A.J. Bouye.

“I feel like the coaches are starting to trust me now by giving me more reps here and there with the first- and second-string teams,” Snead said, adding that the only thing he feels like he hasn’t accomplished the preseason is scoring a touchdown. “I just have to make sure that I make the most of every opportunity that I get.”

The common thread with most of Snead’s victories is that he won the reps by running precise routes. Very little of his success came due to winning through athleticism. He found soft spots in the zone and did a good job of setting guys up. On the pass interference, Snead gained a step on Bouye with a little inside-out move and forced him to hold.

The question is whether or not Snead did enough to make the team. The answer still isn’t clear.

Coach Sean Payton said last week that Snead is still very much in the mix for a roster spot. He did a lot to help his case Sunday afternoon, but the battle is still very crowded. Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston and Brandon Coleman appear to have locked up the top spots, which leaves Snead fighting with Joe Morgan, Josh Morgan and Nick Toon for what might be two more spots.

Neither Morgan has done much to help their cause. Joe Morgan has history on his side and is clearly someone the team likes. Even if it’s been unspectacular, he’s done what he’s supposed to do in the receiving game this preseason and has chipped in with some key blocks.

Josh Morgan had opportunities to strengthen his campaign against the Texans, but he dropped the ball. On one play, Garrett Grayson delivered a pass up the seam that hit Josh Morgan in the hands, but he allowed a receiver to knock it away. He had another chance to make a catch later in the game but dropped it after taking a hit from Kurtis Drummond.

A holding penalty negated the second play, but the result will still be part of the evaluation, and those two plays could be enough to hurt him in this tight battle.

The wild card is Toon. Even though he’s sidelined with an injury, his familiarity with the coaching staff and the system could be enough to save him. He’s going to have to hope his performance late last season was enough to keep him on the team.

Second-year player Seantavius Jones is also in the mix and could make the team through his contributions on special teams. Though he’s been mostly silent in the passing game, Jones has had some positive moments serving as a gunner on the punt team.

If Snead loses this battle, he can rest knowing he’s giving it his best shot — even if he wasn’t given the opportunity to make a couple more catches.