Saints right guard Jahri Evans won’t deny it. After missing out on a fifth straight appearance on the Associated Press first-team All Pro list last year, he “most definitely” is aiming to forge his way back on it in 2014, he said Sunday at the end of a rain-shortened training camp practice at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.
“The better I play, the more accolades I get, the better we’ll be up front,” said Evans, the Saints’ fourth-round draft selection in 2006. “My goal is to be the best player I can be every day.”
That’s something the nine-year veteran couldn’t be in 2013, through no fault of his own. Evans hurt his back, hamstring and groin all in the first half of the campaign. He was sidelined for multiple practices and in Week 3 sat out the first game of his career (at home versus Arizona), ending what was at the time tied for the NFL’s third-longest ironman streak at 114 consecutive regular-season starts (not counting eight in the playoffs).
Evans later sat out a second game in Week 12 at Atlanta. He still earned a fifth-straight Pro Bowl nod and logged another two playoff starts, but he landed on the AP’s second team after making the first squad every year since the season the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV (2009).
Evans on Sunday admitted it was frustrating that his body held him back from playing at the same high level to which he’d grown accustomed. But that in itself bore its own lessons, he said.
“Just recognizing it, understanding it and doing what you had to do to get out there and perform is important, too,” Evans remarked. “With the injuries, (it’s) just getting in the training room, rehabbing it and stuff I’m doing now — maintenance stuff, making sure that everything is good.”
Vote of confidence
Playing in 157 games for nine different teams since 2000, Saints kicker Shayne Graham’s career field-goal average is 85.5 percent — or a number that will make it very hard to take his job away in New Orleans, coach Sean Payton said Sunday.
“There’s competition there, but his efficiency and percentage numbers are very good, and I thought he performed very well for us last year,” Payton added about Graham — who was 6-of-8 over four games in 2013 with the Saints, including two playoff contests, after the release of kicker Garrett Hartley.
Graham’s two misses came in the Saints’ season-ending loss at Seattle in the divisional playoffs, but the weather was woefully rainy and windy.
Despite the coach’s vote of confidence in Graham, 24-year-old challenger Derek Dimke has served up early indications that he won’t go away quietly. For example, in a drill at Sunday’s practice, he was perfect on three attempts from 38 yards out and another from 35.
Graham, for his part, nailed all three of his tries (one from 35 and two from 38).
Speaking to the media Sunday, Graham said he doesn’t see himself as competing against Dimke.
Instead, he’s in a competition with himself.
“Him and I don’t (literally) go head-to-head,” Graham said. “We perform our best; and, really, that is all we can control.”
Veteran wide receiver Robert Meachem did not participate in stretching or drills on Sunday, and Payton said it was because the player experienced tightness in his back. Meachem worked on the stationary bicycle and observed his teammates work.
He played in all but one game for the Saints in 2013, and his sole absence wasn’t because injury.
Ramon Antonio Vargas