BALTIMORE — One of the more important traits for a young quarterback to display is poise.
He can have all the arm strength, accuracy and vision, but it means nothing if he can’t stand in a pocket, keep his cool, and deliver a pass while under pressure. Saints rookie quarterback Garrett Grayson — at least during his first appearance against live action — appears to be as cool as they come.
His moment during Thursday night’s 30-27 exhibition loss to the Baltimore Ravens came in the fourth quarter when he hit Willie Snead down the sideline for a 23-yard gain. The throw, on its own, was impressive enough, as it dropped in over a cornerback into Snead’s arms. But the fact that he stood in a collapsing pocket, with a defender closing in both his front and back sides, made it something special.
“The biggest thing is just knowing and being fully comfortable in what we’re doing instead of wondering what this guy or knowing 100 percent what this guy has on the backside,” Grayson said. “Now that we’ve gotten into a rhythm, I feel comfortable and I’m ready to keep on rolling.”
The rest of his performance was equally solid. He made the throws he was supposed to make, displayed a good understanding for when to stand in the pocket and when to bail on a play, such as when he took off up the middle on a bootleg that fell apart. After a shaky start to training camp, Grayson continued to build on the growth he’s displayed during the past week by completing 8 of 12 passes for 87 yards.
There are things to nitpick. One knock on Grayson coming out of Colorado State was that he has a penchant for staring down receivers. That continued to happen Thursday night, which led to one incompletion and another pass being batted down at the line of scrimmage.
It also appeared things were simplified for him. While it’s possible one of his first two reads were always open and it created an optical illusion, it appeared his reads were limited to one side of the field, which allowed him to get rid of the ball quickly.
“They moved the ball, and I felt they made good decisions,” coach Sean Payton said of Grayson and Ryan Griffin. “The first thing that happens with a young quarterback is it’s just happening quicker. The play clock is quicker, on and off, in and out, up and down. It has to pick up quicker. I thought both of those guys handled it pretty well.”
Grayson’s performance throughout the preseason likely isn’t going to have a bearing on this year’s team. He has a lot of ground to cover if he wants to knock off Griffin and Luke McCown as the No. 2 quarterback. But as far as debuts go for a third-string quarterback who is being developed for the future, you couldn’t ask for a much better first step.
Evans’ missteps: It wasn’t the best start for Jahri Evans. After playing through injuries last season, the right guard’s first game as a presumably healthy player wasn’t his strongest performance. He failed to block his man on the first play of the game, which led to a run stuff, was blown back on another for a pressure on McCown. He was then on the hook for another run stuff later in the first half and was whistled for a false start.
Surprise rookie: Much of the hype throughout training camp has been centered on defensive linemen Bobby Richardson and Ashaad Mabry. On Thursday, it was actually Kaleb Eulls who played the best among the rookies.
The undrafted rookie made his best play in the fourth quarter when he fought through a block by left tackle Blaine Clausell and dropped former LSU running back Terrence Magee for a loss of a yard. Eulls later fought through a pair of blockers to stuff Magee coming around the right tackle and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Eulls was the undrafted player that many scouts raved about before the draft. He hasn’t flashed the same way as Richardson or Mabry during camp, but he was the best of the bunch Thursday night.
Broken coverage: It’s difficult to know who was to blame for Matt Schaub’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Michael Campanaro near the end of the first quarter. What we do know is that the coverage broke somehow.
Kenny Phillips and Vinnie Sunseri were the two safeties on the field, with Phillips playing deep and Sunseri playing underneath. Though it’s hard to tell why on the TV copy of the tape, which limits the view, Schaub was able to get Sunseri to bite on something and move down the field. This gave the receiver enough room to get open behind the safeties for an easy reception.
This type of play was far too common last season, and it’s something the Saints need to eliminate — even if it was just the second-team defense.