Saints defensive end Glenn Foster said Thursday afternoon his new-and-still-improving run-stopping abilities should make him an every-down reserve for the Saints defense.
Teammate John Jenkins, a defensive tackle, said he feels healthy after pectoral surgery during the offeseason, a procedure which kept him sidelined through the final week of training camp in West Virginia.
Through the first three games of the season, neither second-year player has earned many opportunities for the Saints (1-2), who face Dallas (2-1) and the NFL’s top rusher in DeMarco Murray on Sunday.
Still, Foster and Jenkins are hopeful more snaps are ahead.
“I’m ready. My body feels ready, but I’m just waiting for my number to be called,” said Jenkins, who played 21 of 75 snaps during a Week 2 loss at Cleveland. He was inactive during losses at Atlanta (Week 1) and Sunday’s win against Minnesota.
“I have to be patient and think about more than just playing right now, but my longevity.”
Both players are in much different positions than they were last season.
Then, Foster became one of the latest undrafted free agents to earn a roster spot with the Saints, finishing 2013 with three sacks and seven tackles. He excelled as a third-down pass-rusher.
“But when it was a run...,” Foster said, “I had to work on my technique. It’s gotten a lot better. I’m reacting much faster, the game is slowing down around me.”
The Saints need Foster, as well as Tyrunn Walker, another reserve defensive end, to play well enough to limit the workload of fourth-year defensive end Cameron Jordan, who played 1,030 defensive snaps during last season’s Pro Bowl campaign (including two playoff games).
This season, Jordan is averaging 60.3 snaps a game, on pace to reach 1,086 snaps through 18 games.
“He’s going through the same transition Junior Galette went through when he got here,” Jordan said of his sacking partner, who in 2010 arrived in town as a pass rusher and has become a more complete player at outside linebacker.
Jenkins, one of the franchise’s two draft picks in the third round, filled in for starter Brodrick Bunkley for five games, impressing the coaching staff with his mixture of girth and speed. Jenkins collected 21 tackles during the season and posted his first career sack during the NFC Divisional playoff loss at Seattle.
Then, Jenkins’ injury ruined his offseason. He was expected to challenge Bunkley for the starting job in the middle of the line.
Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson understands Jenkins’ road to recovery. Haralson has endured two torn pectorals during his nine-year NFL career, including last season’s NFC wild card win at Philadelphia.
“He’s working to get back, but it takes time,” Haralson said of Jenkins.
Saints coach Sean Payton labeled the game status of rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste as “week-to-week” although the 2014 second-round pick has yet to be active this season, with no immediate sign of change.
Even as Patrick Robinson faced an in-game demotion during Week 2’s loss at Cleveland, and Brian Dixon earned six defensive snaps against Minnesota, Jean-Baptiste is not expected to be active Sunday at Dallas.
Payton said Jean-Baptiste, selected as a bump-and-run cornerback, is still adjust to playing the position. He played receiver in college before switching to defense.
“It’s relatively new for him being that he converted from a receiver from college,” Payton said. “It’s something that those young guys, and not just at corner, but the same thing applies to (receivers) Nick Toon and Joe Morgan, some of these guys that have been active or inactive, they are working for their snaps with an opportunity to be ready to come up.”
Thursday marked the eight-year anniversary of Steve Gleason’s blocked punt against the Falcons on the night the Superdome reopened following Hurricane Katrina.
This summer, Gleason’s heroics finished third in an ESPN.com poll of most memorable plays in Saints history, behind the “Ambush” onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl XLIV and also in the game, Tracy Porter’s interception return for a touchdown to seal the Super Bowl win over the Colts.
Still, Saints fans and players alike would likely disagree with the web site’s national audience, placing Gleason first.
“It was a special night, an important one,” Payton said.
“And the play prior (to the blocked punt) was a fumble that went out of bounds where I think (Scott) Fujita was close to making a play on the ball and we weren’t able to recover so of course, the punt thing came. But the timing was perfect for him (Gleason). He executed it just right.”
Gleason retired in 2008 after seven NFL seasons. In 2011, he was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal neuro-muscular disease. Shortly after, his family founded Team Gleason to generate public awareness for ALS.
Tight end Benjamin Watson (groin) was limited at Thursday’s practice, one day after sitting out. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (shoulder) was limited for the second time this week. Center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) is likely to miss Sunday’s game, as well as middle linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle/knee) after both missed their second practice of the week. For Dallas, linebacker Rolando McClain highlighted the list of players to not practice.