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Saints have deep history of finding little-known talent

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Over the years, the New Orleans Saints has found important talent at the tail end of drafts and among undrafted talent like wide receiver Lance Moore (Photo: Parker Waters).Over the years, the New Orleans Saints has found important talent at the tail end of drafts and among undrafted talent like wide receiver Lance Moore (Photo: Parker Waters).

The New Orleans Saints are blue collar, hard working and resilient - just like the fans that support the team.

Since their inception in 1967, the Saints organization has been a haven for the underdog, the late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents that have rewarded the team by blossoming in Black and Gold attire.

The 2012 roster features 11 players that found their way to the final 53, in some cases overcoming tremendous odds.

-Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, undrafted free agent in 2011

-LB Jonathan Casillas, undrafted arrival in 2009.

-QB Chase Daniel, signed as undrafted FA by Redskins in 2009, released in camp before signed by Saints

-DE Junior Galette, undrafted FA in 2010

-PK Garrett Hartley, drafted by Broncos in 2008, cut and signed by Saints in '08

-RB Chris Ivory, undrafted signee by Saints in 2010

-WR Lance Moore, undrafted FA signed by Browns 2005, cut in August camp, signed by Saints '05

-WR Joseph Morgan, undrafted FA in 2011

-WR Pierre Thomas, undrafted FA signed by Saints in 2007

-RB Travaris Cadet, undrafted FA signed by Saints 2012

-DT Tyrun Walker, undrafted FA signed by Saints in 2012

But the history of success looking under rocks, checking every nook and cranny for talent, goes back to 1967.

In their inaugural season, the Saints signed a running back named Randy Schultz out of Northern Iowa. He played with the team throughout the '67 and '68 seasons, rushing for 259 yards and two touchdowns and adding 26 catches for 200 yards. But the efforts of the 210 pound hard-charger helped NFL icon Jim Taylor, who was taken by the Saints from the Packers in the epansion draft, decide that it was time to hang it up.

Another undrafted back, Tony Baker out of Iowa State, played for the Saints 1968-71 and was the team's leading rusher in '70 after placing second in that category in 1969. He finished with over 1,100 yards for New Orleans.

Fullback Jack Holmes wore jersey #45 for five seasons (1978-82) and spent his time blocking for two 1,000 yard rushers, George Rogers and Chuck Muncie. He led the team in receiving in 1981 despite the prescence of more notable targets George Rogers and Wes Chandler. Holmes was the team's second leading rusher in '81.

Jimmie Rogers, an undrafted FA out of Oklahoma, was the Saints' leading rusher in 1980 (played 1980-84) and the leading kickoff returner in 1980 with a 22.7 yard average..

Lynell Hamilton, an undrafted running back out of San Diego State, showed flashes with the Saints in 2008 and 2009 before injuries cut short a promising career.

Elex Price, a defensive tackle from 1973-80, lined up next to Saints Hall of Famer Derland Moore, alongside of Mike Fultz, Elo Grooms and Bob Pollard.

Henry Childs (1974-80) was drafted by Falcons in the fifth round but cut in training camp and immediately signed with Saints. The sure-handed tight end finished with 182 catches for 2,891 yards and 27 scores with a career-high nine touchdown grabs in 1977. He was twice all-NFC and reached the Pro Bowl in 1979.

Safety Bennie Thompson out of Grambling, a Saints Pro Bowl special teamer in 1991, played briefly in Canada before arrival in New Orleans as a dynamo covering kicks and punts.

Running back Wayne Wilson, undrafted out of Sheperd College, played with the Saints from 1979-86. He was the Saints' second leading rusher in 1982-84 before leading the team in rushing in 1985. He also was second in receiving behind Jeff Groth in '82 and second in receiving behind Hoby Brenner in '85. In 1981, Wilson was the leading kick returner for New Orleans and second in that category in '79, '82 and '83.

Rich Mauti, a wide receiver for the Saints from 1977-80 and 1982-83, is third all-time in franchise history in kick returns averaging 22.9 yards per return. He is third in career return yards (2,836) and racked up the third most combined kick and punt return yards with 3,446. Rich wrapped up his career ranked ahead of more-heralded retuners Reggie Bush, Jeff Groth, Mel Gray, John Gilliam and Flea Roberts, but slightly behind Tyrone Hughes and Michael Lewis.

Al Dodd (1969-71), a WR from Northwestern State, may be best known for his kick return against the Lions in 1970 that allowed Tom Dempsey to kick the NFL record 63-yard field goal. The former West Jefferson Buccaneers star led the team in punt returns each year with the Saints and was a outstanding special teamer. He played in the shadow of wideout Danny Abramowicz as the second leading receiver in 1969-70. He finished with 80 catches for 1,382 yards.

Brett Maxie, a safety from 1985-93, teamed with Gene Atkins to form one of the best safety tandems in Saints history.

Steve Gleason (2000-06) was a special teams ace who performed the biggest blocked kick in franchise history.

J.J. McCleskey, 1994-96 out of Tennessee, stuck around as a scrappy cornerback, wideout, kick returner and special team tackler.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar from 2008-11 was a key reserve and part time starter at linebacker as well as outstanding special teams..

Emanuel Zanders, offensive guard from 1974-80, was a Saints team captain with Archie Manning. The Jackson State product was a college teammate of Walter Payton.

Linebacker James Haynes (1984-89), a college teammate of Jerry Rice at Mississippi Valley State, was a special teamer and part time starter backing up the Dome Patrol.

Defensive tackle Willie Whitehead, a free agent signee out of Auburn (1999-06), was a key reserve in defensive line rotation.

Although the players that I have already mentioned were undrafted free agents out of college, one player that sticks out because of the unexpected career he had was 1967 17th round draft pick (420th pick overall) - Danny Abramowicz.

The Xavier product finished fourth in Saints history in receiving with 4,875 yards, with 10 total 100 yard games in his career, four of those coming in 1969. His 309 catches ranks fourth in Saints all-time pecking order for receivers. He recorded 12 grabs in one game against the Steelers in 1967 and finished with 37 career touchdown catches at a respectable 15.8 yards per grab.

Abramowicz was one of the original members of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame along with Archie Manning. He was one of only three players drafted by the Saints in the 17th round that ever made the team, the others being safety Doug Wyatt (1970) and LB Greg Westbrooks (1975). Both spent three seasons in the Black and Gold.

The NFL draft was cut to 12 rounds in 1976, eight rounds in 1993 and their current seven-round setup in 1994.

But the New Orleans Saints have consistently undercovered valuable "spokes in the wheel," a trademark of the team's scouting department.

Pierre Thomas was signed by the team in 2007, despite a bevy of talent already present in the backfield.

"Coming out of college, I was looked at by a few teams," the six year vet explained. An assistant at Illinois knew Saints special team coach Greg McMahon, who coached for the Fightin' Illini for 13 seasons prior to his arrival in the Big Easy.

"Coming here was a big jump for me," said Thomas of the initial professional challenge. New Orleans also already had Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Aaron Stecker and 2007 4th round draft pick Antonio Pittman. "I said that if I had to compete, I might as well compete with the best. Making the team, I showed a lot of these coaches no matter who you are or where you come from, hard work will pay off and if you're dedicated and want to make the team, you will get a lot out of that player."

Thomas is already the franchise's third leading rusher all-time with 2,501 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has added 166 catches for another 1,363 yards and seven scores. He has averaged 4.8 yards per carry, trailing only Archie Manning (5.8 yards per carry) and Hokie Gajan (5.4 yards) in team history.

" My story may have inspired a couple of these young guys who have come to this team undrafted to show that passion to bust your butt to make the team," Pierre added with a big smile.

Another seven-year veteran, wideout Lance Moore, has grown to be a major part of the success of the Saints. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Browns but was released on August 29, 2005 - the day Hurricane Katrina landed on Louisiana shores. His future at that time was very much up in the air.

"I was released by Cleveland and wasn't sure what I was going to do. I got a call saying that the Saints wanted to sign me to the practice squad. I don't know where or when they saw me play," he chuckled, "They weren't at my pro day and I don't know if they were at any (Browns) preseason games. The scouting department did a good job and they always did a good job here giving guys a shot, allowing guys to come in and make a name for themselves. We don't care how you get here. Somebody thought they you had enough talent to be here. Now it is your time to get out and prove it."

The former Toledo standout plays a prominent role these days as a key target for Drew Brees. He has 244 career catches for 2,783 yards and 30 scores, ranking him 5th in the team's all-time receiving department.

Four-year veteran linebacker Jonathan Casillas knows that as an overlooked player you have to seize every opportunity.

"You've got to be ready for everything, take all scout team reps, all practice reps, play Mike (middle) linebacker one day, Will (weakside) another day, just overcome adversity, " said Casillas, who has had more thna his fair share of injuries. "That is what this organization is based upon. Recover from Katrina. Recover from Isaac. That's the kind of guys we bring in here. They have faced some adversity in their life. Coming out of the draft picked later than they anticipated, coming off an injury (in college). We mold together and become a brotherhood."

Andy Tanner has become an underdog/fan favorite. His most recent release, this week marked his 16th from the Saints organization, is just part of the uncertainty of the business. This is his third time assigned to the team's practice squad which is the maximum number that a player can be signed to that group. It appeared that he had a shot at making this year's roster for opening day until an ankle injury in preseason against Jacksonville ended that possibility.

"You don't want to think about how close you came or didn't to making it," he reflected. "(Injury) didn't help, but I think that it's within reach. The more that you can do, the more that they can put you on the field. The better chance that you have at making the roster. Everytime I'm on the field whether the cameras are on or not, the coaches are watching. You've got to make plays and help the team. This team has been good to me."

Junior Galette is a thrd year veteran who made it the hard way. The speed-rushing specialist made his mark at first excelling on special teams. The native of Haiti has shown the most growth from last season to this point in the 2012 season.

The coaches are very high on Galette's vast potential. He felt that he had options with other NFL teams in 2010 but the success of the Black and Gold appealed to him.

"They had just won the Super Bowl, this was the best team in the NFL and I still feel that way. I wanted to go to the best team and see what I've got. I felt like if I can make it here , I can make it anywhere. That was the mindset that stuck with me," said Galette.

The third down rush specialist wants to be known as an every down player. "I still have a chip on my shoulder. I never feel safe or complacent with who I am on this team. My confidence is a lot higher (than it was in 2011). This is a world class operation. Everybody here is family."

Interim head coach Aaron Kromer is in his fifth season with the Saints and his 22nd overall in coaching profession. He understands that this is a unique staff, able to find hidden, underappreciated gems and help develop them into key components to the team's success.

"It's a big key," Kromer summarized regarding the need to unearth talent."If you look at what Mickey Loomis, (Director of college scouting) Rick Reprish, (Director of pro scouting) Ryan Pace, these guys and their scouts out in the field do, they are finding us players each year. You look at (Travaris) Cadet and what he has done in preseason. You didn't hear his name before he started practicing with us in any of the scouting world and this guy came in and has done a wonderful job.

Able to share his thoughts with the media more as the temporary head of the team during Joe Vitt's suspension, Kromer touched on how New Orleans has been able to find many diamonds in the rough.

"There were some people wanting us to trade a seventh round pick to pick up a corner or pick up a safety. And we looked back at the roster and said how many 7th rounders have made this team? You look at a starter and now first time team captain, Zach Strief, is a 7th rounder. A young man, another right tackle from Nebraska, Marcel Jones, has made it as a 7th rounder. Marques Colston, of course, is probably our best seventh rounder ever. You go down the line of free agents and late round draft picks that most (teams) just kind of pick somebody. We have hit on a ton of guys. Not only does that help you athletically, but when you think about a guy that has gotten picked in the seventh round or been a free agent or a practice squad player and has made the team, that guy might have more character or more desire because he was passed over by a lot of people."

The Saints have enough talent and character to contend for another Super Bowl title.

"When you get a collection of those guys together," Kromer noted. "You are going to have a lot of character on the team."

 
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