Rookie Saints special-teamer Justin Hardee was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after blocking a punt and taking it back for a touchdown early in the first quarter against Tampa Bay on Sunday. 

Hardee, who was signed to the practice squad at the start of the season and promoted for the Carolina game, has become a core special-teamer.

The rookie has five tackles, the blocked punt and he's downed a few punts inside the 10-yard line. 

"He brings some juice and some energy," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We saw him with Houston during the preseason, practicing with them, and fortunately, we were able to put him on our roster."

Hardee, a wide receiver at Illinois, is practicing with the defensive backs, but his chief role for the Saints is on special teams. 

And he's making plays at unexpected times.

"He's one of those guys that comes to work and gives you great effort," Payton said. "A play like that the other day was significant, because it wasn't a designed block; it was actually more of a return. It's one guy really working his technique, and it's a huge play in a game like that."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.