Ask Sean Payton and Rob Ryan about rarely used rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and they say virtually the same thing about the Saints’ second-round draft pick from Nebraska:
“When we made that selection, we kind of understood what we were getting from an experience standpoint. He has a lot of the characteristics we value at that position, and I like what I’m seeing from him.” — Payton
“Our guys have a clear vision for him. We drafted him ... to teach him how to play our way, different than it was going to be in college. You can call this a redshirt or whatever, but we’re developing him. So that hasn’t hurt us a bit.” — Ryan
That must be nice to hear, especially when to the outside world you’re on track to be a bust of Shawn Knight proportions (look him up) during a time when the finger-pointing about the reasons for the team’s shocking failure to make the playoffs is in full force — and getting nothing from a second-rounder is on the list.
Except that it seems Jean-Baptiste’s coaches aren’t telling him that — or much of anything else.
“They haven’t explained anything to me,” said Jean-Baptiste, who has been inactive for 11 of 15 games with apparently little hope of playing in Sunday’s finale at Tampa Bay. “It’s killing me not being able to help my team when we’ve been struggling.
“But to tell you the truth, I can’t figure out what’s going on.”
Part of the reason is evident.
From the day the Saints took him with the 58th overall pick, Jean-Baptiste was looked upon as a project: a converted wide receiver (Saints teammate Travaris Cadet was his quarterback at Miami Central High School) who became a full-time starter at Nebraska only as a senior.
Plus, Jean-Baptiste is extraordinarily tall (6-foot-3) for a cornerback and was judged as lacking the quick-twitch capacity needed to cover the faster receivers, making him a projected third-or-fourth round pick before the Saints reached up to get him in the second.
Still, with touted free agent Champ Bailey failing to make it past training camp; Patrick Robinson losing his starting spot after the first two games; and Corey White, Robinson’s replacement, struggling so much he’s been moved to safety after being inactive in the Chicago game; it would seem that Jean-Baptiste would be getting his shot.
Instead, rookie free agent Brian Dixon has been active for all 15 games, with starts against Carolina and Chicago. And Terrence Frederick, signed off the practice squad a month ago, got starts at cornerback in the past two games.
In the four games he has seen action, Jean-Baptiste has been relegated to special teams. He has been on the field for just eight snaps on defense.
Most of his practice time is spent on the scout squad with other third-teamers and practice squad players.
“Those guys have come in here and earned their playing time,” Jean-Baptiste said of Dixon and Frederick. “But it’s frustrating when you’re on the look team and don’t feel like you’re getting the chance to get better with your technique.”
Even with the Saints now without a shot at the playoffs, Payton has said he doesn’t plan to use the backups Sunday.
If that wasn’t tough enough to handle, it’s not easy having to answer questions from the folks back home in Miami or ex-teammates and coaches from Nebraska about why you’re not playing, especially when Ryan insists it has nothing to do with attitude.
Jean-Baptiste has gotten support from his teammates, particularly from Robinson, who has the locker next to his and knows a thing or two about being a high draft pick who didn’t immediately live up to expectations.
“Everybody wants to play, and when you’re not, it can be hard to keep yourself motivated,” Robinson said. “It’s like you’ve probably always been ‘The Man,’ wherever you played before, and now you’re just another guy.
“What I tell J-B is to pay attention in meetings; focus on your job on the scout squad; and more than anything else, keep your head up. He’s a big cornerback with a bright future; and once he gets his technique down, it’s going to happen for him.”
Jean-Baptiste can take solace that the players drafted immediately after him would have filled positions of need for the Saints.
Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, taken by Indianapolis one spot after Jean-Baptiste, has not started for the Colts; and defensive end Kony Ealy, whom Carolina picked next, has only seven tackles.
Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry were two of the next three picks, but the Saints had already tabbed Brandin Cooks in the first round and probably weren’t looking for another receiver in the second.
None of that makes Jean-Baptiste feel much better about his season — or even his future with the Saints.
“I can’t even think about it,” he said. “I’m just going at it day by day. And after the season, I’m going to stay in shape and get my technique better.
“But I really don’t know what the plans are for me. I’m feeling lost right now.”