WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Every year, an undrafted free agent comes out of nowhere to make the Saints’ 53-man roster.
Bobby Richardson is already forcing his way into the mix.
Four days into training camp, Richardson, a defensive tackle from Indiana, has arguably been better than any Saints rookie other than impressive middle linebacker Stephone Anthony.
“Bobby had a couple good snaps today, and that’s encouraging,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “(He’s) obviously competing for a spot, and a niche.”
Richardson, at 6-foot-3, 286 pounds, has the first step of a defensive end, impressive lateral quickness and attacks relentlessly.
Richardson opened Sunday’s practice by torching Tim Lelito, the projected starter at left guard, with an inside move in one-on-one pass rush competition, batted down a pass during 11-on-11 work and ripped through a double team for a “sack” of backup quarterback Ryan Griffin.
The rookie has shown so much promise so far — Richardson also sacked Drew Brees on the opening day — that he’s been rotating in with the starters from day one.
“He has great explosion, uses his hands,” veteran Saints tackle Kevin Williams said. “I keep whispering to him, giving little tidbits here and there. We’re going to see him do some good things.”
Williams, a five-time All-Pro who plays with incredible quickness, has taken the talented Richardson under his wing.
So far, one of Richardson’s strengths has also been his biggest weakness. As relentless as he is, Richardson can sometimes be reckless and play out of his gap or rush lane.
“You’ve got to play the game, but you’ve got to be able to recognize and read your keys and read your hats, read the guy in front of you and know what you’re getting,” Williams said.
Hightower settling in
Tim Hightower’s last haricut wasn’t just a haircut. It was a cathartic process that signaled much more.
Dreadlocks no longer hang down his back, out of his helmet. Instead, he’s sporting a closer crop that, to him, signifies a new beginning.
“I didn’t want to be associated with who I was before,” Hightower said. “I don’t want to be the same person, football player. The same father, husband. I don’t want to be the same man.”
Hightower, signed by the Saints this offseason, is trying to put a chapter of his life behind him by making it back onto an NFL roster. The last several years of his life have been filled with false starts following 2011 surgery to repair an ACL. The somewhat routine process lingered for years as doctors struggled to identify an infection in his knee that halted the healing process.
Saturday’s practice was the first time he experienced a hit on a football filed since suffering the initial injury, and it didn’t take long for him to end up on the reciving end of a David Hawthorne hit on Sunday. Hightower was able to absorb them and keep on going.
The biggest thing for him right now, he said, is to adjust to his body and figure out the things he can and can’t do the last time he was on a football field.
“You may have to spend a little more time warming up, or you may have to spend a little more time cooling down,” Hightower said. “You may have to be more technique sound. My body is different.”
Long snapper Justin Drescher, who is on the non-football injury list, observed Sunday’s walk through. He had not practiced or been spotted at any practice before Sunday’s walkthrough. Chris Highland was signed before camp to work as the long snapper.
Five observations from the practice field:
1 Seantavius Jones was yanked off the field at one point after lining up in the wrong spot. The wide receiver spent last year on the practice squad and is trying to make the team.
2 Safety Kenny Vaccaro recorded a tackle for a loss, sacked QB Drew Brees, and then lit up wide receiver Josh Morgan on the sideline. Letting Vaccaro off the chain to roam the box should help the defense.
3 First-round pick offensive tackle Andrus Peat has been shaky in pass-rush drills and allowed a sack on Sunday. He has some technique issues to clean up.
4 Delvin Breaux earned first-team reps as the slot cornerback. P.J. Williams, Kyle Wilson and Damian Swann are also in competition for that role.
5 Brees was sharp, going 8-for-9 in team drills. The only incompletion was a pass broken up by Breaux.