NEW ORLEANS â€“ I have a timely message from former New Orleans Saintsâ€™ special teams ace Steve Gleason on the eve of Friday nightâ€™s exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers at the Superdome.
It is solely intended for those Saints who likely will have to play their way on to the 2010 Black and Gold via special teams.
They include but are not restricted to (in numerical order): S Chip Vaughn (21), CB Leigh Torrence (24), S Pierson Prioleau (31), CB Reggie Jones (35), S Chris Reis (39), RB DeShawn Wynn (43), LB K.C. Asiodu (49), LB Marvin Mitchell (50), LB Anthony Waters (59), C Nick Leckey (60), DE Junior Galette (67), WR Montez Billings (89), DL DeMario Pressley (90), DT Al Woods (94), LB Harry Coleman (95) and DE Jeff Charleston (97).
Gentlemen, listen up. Take it from someone who carved a niche and made a name for himself in the NFL on special teams, someone whose name is forever linked to the infamous â€œhomecoming gameâ€™â€™ of 9-25-06 in the Superdome against the Atlanta Falcons.
Gleason blocked a punt in the opening quarter of that game that resulted in a touchdown and eventually led to a dramatic 23-3 victory in the Saints' initialÂ gameÂ played in New Orleans following the devastation ofÂ Hurricane Katrina.
Yes, Steve Gleason (2000-2007) has been there, done that.
â€œMy take on it is if somebody on the â€˜bubbleâ€™ is going to make this team, it will be someone who is consistently executing his assignments on special teams throughout the game,â€™â€™ Gleason said.
Those type players have been few and far between this preseason, especially on the kick- and punt-coverage units which have had their problems with tackling and containment.
â€œI donâ€™t think a guy is going to make the team by having one or two amazing plays on special teams,'' Gleason continued. "For instance, some kid runs down the field and gets a tackle on the 15-yard line, great. But, the next time he goes the wrong way around his blocker and leaves the seam open and allows a 40-yard return.''
â€œThe most important thing, especially for this team,'' Gleason said, "is a special teamsâ€™ unit that consistently knows its assignments and is accountable for its actions. By that, I mean they are where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, all-in, full-go and totally committed to their mission. That comes first above all else. You canâ€™t play with reckless abandon. You canâ€™t play 100 mph if you donâ€™t know where youâ€™re supposed to be and what youâ€™re supposed to be doing.''
So, if a player does all those things on special teams, will he make the roster of the defending Super Bowl champions?
â€œI donâ€™t think a player is going to make this team just because of special teams, because the rest of the squad is so good,'' Gleason summarized. "Youâ€™d better be a GOOD special teamsâ€™ player. Coach Payton has got enough depth on his offense that I would assume he would be willing to sacrifice a little bit of depth to have an elite special teamsâ€™ player.â€™â€™
On Tuesday, Payton sacrificed a once elite but perhaps descendingÂ player from his 80-man roster, releasing two-time reigning special teams captain Troy Evans.
Truth be known, it was not Evansâ€™ play on special teams that made him expendable. At age 32, Evans could no longer hang with the â€œfaster and youngerâ€™â€™ playersÂ at linebacker, several of whom will have to pick up the slack on special teamsâ€™ in his absence.
Where the window of opportunity has closed for Evans in New Orleans, it has remained open for others who are currently trying to make the 53-man roster as a backup and special teamsâ€™ player.
And the quicker some recognize that opportunity, the better. Because time is running out for a number of players who only have Friday night against the Chargers and next Thursday night at the Tennessee Titans to state their case to Payton and Special Teams Coordinator Greg McMahon.
Those players would be wise to take their cue from the diminutive Gleason, a gritty 5-11, 212-pound dynamo who quickly recognized that his best chance to make it in the NFL would be on special teams.
Gleason, now 33,Â cashed in on hisÂ opportunity.
â€œI would say I amÂ evidence that there is room in the NFL for guys like me to create a long-term career, guys who are not high-profile players in terms of talent or in terms of physical stature,'' Gleason said.
â€œIf you look around the NFL, every team has one or two guys who probably may never be a starter or produce as a starter. But the reason a coach is going to keep them around is ultimately because of what they can do for the team right now on special teams.
â€œAnyone trying to make the Saints' roster this year, probably at the tail end of the roster, is in that position.â€™â€™
Auditions to playÂ a supporting role on Saints' special teamsÂ resume Friday night. Players are asked to bring theirÂ "A'' game and check their egos at the door.
GAME NOTES: QB Drew Brees and most of the starters areÂ expected to play through the first half and possibly into the third quarter, depending on the number of snaps and flow of the game. QB Patrick Ramsey is scheduled to follow Brees in the rotation and see extended time. QB Chase Daniel is not expected to play. ... Look for veteran RB Ladell Betts, RB DeShawn Wynn and LB K.C. Odiosu to see their first action with the Black and Gold. ... RT Jon Stinchcomb will play after missing the Houston game with a "dinged'' right shoulder. ... From an injury standpoint, CB Tracy Porter (knee),Â FB Heath Evans (knee), FS Darren Sharper (knee), LB Clint Ingram (knee), TE Jimmy Graham (ankle) and LB Stanley Arnoux (ankle) are not expected to play. ... CB Randall Gay is expected to start for Porter, who essentially is resting a sore knee. Evans also is being held out as a precaution. ... Sharper and Ingram remain on Active-PUP. Whether they come off Active-PUP and return to practice Monday with the intention of playing at the Tennessee TitansÂ on Thursday nightÂ remains uncertain. As to when Sharper will return, one team official told me: "That is the $64 million question?''
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