WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — When it comes to the New Orleans Saints’ potential sleeper candidates at wide receiver, Brandon Coleman tends to draw most of the attention.
Coleman is a player Sean Payton has compared to Marques Colston time and time again.
His height is hard to ignore. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Coleman is a receiver in a small forward’s body — a frame that instantly conjures up daydreams of jump balls in the end zone and first down throws placed high above the searching hands of most defensive backs.
Coleman’s height is such an obvious asset that it can be easy to miss the most important part of his development this season. In training camp, the former undrafted free agent from Rutgers has been a devastating presence largely because of his ability to get wide open over the middle; he either beats linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage or finding a hole in the zone.
“In this offense, you’ve got to understand defenses, understand your leverage in the routes and be on the same page with the quarterbacks,” Coleman said. “It’s definitely a ‘feel’ thing.”
Feel is important, but Coleman has spent a season working hard to fit his game to the Saints’ offense.
The New Orleans scheme allows for plenty of variation on crossing routes and short slants into the middle — routes that depend on the way the defense is playing and where Drew Brees wants to throw the ball.
Figuring out how to see what Brees sees might be the most important path to playing time. In film sessions with the quarterbacks, Coleman pays attention to what Brees wants out of those first-down-producing grabs over the middle.
“Whatever he wants,” Coleman said. “That’s just where it comes from — film study and reps on the field, because if you don’t do (what he needs), and you go back, talk about it, the next time you go at it, it’ll be just the way you want it to be.”
Coleman, who has arguably been the breakout offensive player of training camp, saw little time with the starters in the Saints’ preseason opener against the Ravens — a surprise to most who have observed camp.
New Orleans expects that to change soon.
“I talked with him afterwards. I think you’ll see him. He is healthy, and there was no specific rhyme or reason,” Payton said. “Obviously, there are a lot of guys at that position, but he has been playing too well, and we feel like you’ll see him get a lot of work this week with the ones. You’ll see in the game Saturday with the ones.”
Coleman seems like the front-runner to join Colston and Cooks as the No. 3 receiver for Brees, the product of a long year laboring to join the lineup.
“It’s been a development process,” Coleman said. “I spent most of the year on the practice squad developing and learning the system as well, and I think this time around — the summer, OTAs, minicamp and training camp — it’s time to take that next step forward.”
So far, the early returns have been good.