Top pick Andrus Peat finally getting his legs underneath him _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- T Andrus Peat (75) gets set for the next play during the Saints morning practice Monday at White Sulphur Springs, WV.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. —Andrus Peat is starting to look more and more like a first-round pick with each passing day.

Peat’s transformation has been simple.

The big tackle from Stanford finally has his legs under him.

“I’m feeling good as my legs are starting to get in shape with time,” Peat said.

Peat, who is carrying roughly 320 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame, said the NFL’s pre-draft circuit of visits and appearances cut into his normal offseason conditioning regimen.

A little sluggish through the first week of camp, Peat often struggled in pass protection early, unable to get into his stance quickly against speed rushers and often off balance.

New Orleans responded by handing Peat as many snaps as he could handle, and in some cases, a few more. Minor injuries to Terron Armstead the first week and Nick Becton last week opened a chance for the Saints to give Peat more snaps on a per-day basis than any other player on the line.

Peat took 51 snaps in the preseason opener, more than any other offensive player. According to Pro Football Focus, Peat held up well, allowing only two quarterback hurries in 32 passing snaps, although the grading organization gave him a negative run grade.

“He did pretty decent, he did pretty well,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He had a couple plays that I’m sure he can clean up, but I thought, overall, it was a good start for him.”

Rookie unleashed

Davis Tull, the fifth-round pick from Chattanooga who’s been forced to sit out all of training camp so far, has returned to practice.

Tull, a pass rusher at Chattanooga who projects as a strong-side linebacker and edge rusher for the Saints, has spent the summer rehabbing after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in March, after the NFL Combine. New Orleans evaluated Tull on Sunday afternoon, and the linebacker participated in the afternoon walk-through, indicating he passed his physical test with flying colors.

“I think there’s a good chance Tull comes off the PUP here this afternoon and we get some work with him,” Payton said. “He’s healthy.”

Fighting chance

New Orleans sometimes asks its punt returners to handle punts in practice while wearing boxing gloves, good for protecting the hand in a fight, but not much good for hauling in a Thomas Morstead skyscraper.

Marcus Murphy, Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks and Josh Morgan each got their chance at the difficult task on Sunday.

Boxing gloves, beyond making the task difficult, help refine the technique.

“It’s a way of taking their hands away, keeping their elbows together and really locating the ball with their feet,” Payton said. “Getting set.”

New face

The Saints cut undrafted long snapper Chris Highland, according to a league source.

Highland, a rookie from Illinois State who was signed at the beginning of camp to fill in for Justin Drescher while the veteran rehabbed an injury, spent two weeks in the Saints camp and handled all the long snaps in the preseason opener against Baltimore.

With Drescher back off of the non-football injury list, the Saints waived Highland and replaced him with a linebacker who has not been announced yet.

Parting shots

Five observations from the practice field:

1. Veteran tight end Alex Smith flashed some downfield receiving skills, hauling in two long gains with leaping catches in tight coverage.

2. Second-year cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste looks much improved after pass breakups against receivers Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon.

3. Toon had an uneven day, dropping a pass in 7-on-7, failing to connect with Drew Brees on a wide-open deep throw and unable to get open over the middle.

4. Undrafted linebacker Henry Coley continues to make plays, particularly in coverage, where he is adept at running with backs and tight ends downfield.

5. Tight end Orson Charles, battling for the No. 3 role, made the play of the day on a diving grab of a Brees throw near the sideline on the first play of 11-on-11 work.

-- Joel A. Erickson