Former Saints receiver Lance Moore’s compliment for new quarterback somehow backfires

Lance Moore

It surely seemed like all former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore was trying to do was compliment his new quarterback, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.

But New Orleans fans didn’t take it that way when Moore told ESPN on Tuesday that Roethlisberger had an “a lot stronger arm” than quarterback Drew Brees, from whom the receiver caught passes for eight seasons, one of which ended in a Super Bowl victory.

Numerous Saints fans decried Moore’s remark on social media, calling the receiver ungrateful and reminding him New Orleans would meet Pittsburgh in November.

The outcry prompted Moore to log onto Twitter on Wednesday afternoon and say, “Everybody down south is mad now? Never said I disliked Drew or am not thankful for my time (with) him. Wouldn’t be where I am (without) him. Chill out.”

The comments Moore made that unwittingly infuriated his old team’s supporters followed his participation in players-only passing drills at Steelers’ headquarters. Discussing his adjustment to a new quarterback, Moore in part told ESPN, “I would say that Ben has a little bit stronger of an arm (than Brees), maybe a lot stronger arm. Just from the last couple of days with him here, that’s something that kind of jumps out at me.”

Moore’s response to the subsequent uproar in New Orleans is consistent with what he’s previously said about moving from the Saints to the Steelers. In an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio in March, Moore expressed the love for the time he had in New Orleans and said he “wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

However, he also said it didn’t much bother him to go from one quarterback who was a Super Bowl MVP (Brees, at the end of 2009) to another who had a hand in a pair of Lombardi trophies (Roethlisberger, at the conclusion of 2005 and 2008).

“They’re both … championship quarterbacks,” said Moore, who caught a key two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, New Orleans’ lone NFL title. “That’s the thing I’m most excited about: To go from one Super Bowl MVP to another Super Bowl-winning quarterback and have the opportunity to win again.”

The 5-foot-9 Moore joined the Saints in 2005 and went on to catch the fourth-most passes (346), fifth-most touchdowns (38) and sixth-most yards (4,281) in franchise history. New Orleans acquired Brees in 2006.

As the beginning of the free agency signing period on March 11 neared, Moore was due $3.8 million in salary and bonuses for 2014, and his being cut would clear $2.5 million in cap space.

There wasn’t a whole lot of cap space at the time, and it also hurt his cause that Stills — a rookie last year who’s owed about $543,600 in salary and bonuses for 2014 — had 641 yards and five touchdowns on 32 catches in the regular season while Moore had 457 yards and two TDs on 37 grabs.

The Saints ultimately released Moore on March 7, and he signed a two-year deal with the Steelers later that month.

Unofficial guide to third-day draft prospects, possible undrafted free agents Saints have visited with, worked out

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, and general manager Mickey Loomis are seen during NFL football pro day, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, left, and general manager Mickey Loomis are seen during NFL football pro day, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

With the May 8-10 draft a little more than a week away, below is an unofficial guide to players who the Saints have either hosted for visits or worked out and who could be taken either in the third day (rounds four to seven) of the event or in the undrafted free agency period shortly thereafter.

On Tuesday, The Advocate’s Black and Gold Blog published a similar guide for first- and second-day draft prospects.

The Saints have been unsurprisingly tight-lipped about which prospects they covet and at what portions of the draft they believe they can get them. But this gives the public a slight hint about which players the Saints might think stand out from the rest.

More pre-draft coverage — including requisite mock drafts from The Advocate’s writers — will follow in the coming days.

—————————————————

+Name, Pos., School (Projected round) (* = confirmed by The Advocate or player himself on social media or in interview; ** = media report)

+Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming (3-4)**

-The 5-foot-9, 193-pound Herron is speedy, having clocked 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Indianapolis. He had 72 catches for 932 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games his final year at Wyoming, showing impressive straight-line speed as well as vision to set up blocks, CBSSports.com wrote in their draft prospect profile of him.

He also displayed toughness while taking big hits attacking the middle of the field and catching bubble screens; but, like any NFL hopeful, he isn’t without his perceived flaws.

CBS Sports said Herron’s height was not ideal for an outside receiver. The site questioned the level of competition he faced throughout most of his career; his ability to run routes since most of his big plays were reportedly made on verticals, drags across the middle and quick screens; and his track record on special teams, because he only returned three kickoffs for 39 yards and did not field any punts.

+Bryan Stork, C, Florida State (5-7)**

-The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Stork was Florida State’s starting center in 2012 and 2013. He helped the Seminoles win the BCS championship last year, and in the process he earned the Rimington Trophy as the best player at his position in the nation.

NFL.com’s draft profile of Stork criticized the player for having short arms and stiff hips, and it said he greatly benefitted from playing next to two talented guards. For the record, that’s exactly what he’d have in New Orleans if he ended up here — Saints guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans have both been to multiple Pro Bowls.

+Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma (5-7)*

-The 5-foot-11, 177-pound Colvin was initially tabbed to be taken in the first three rounds of the draft after recording 55 tackles (44 solo), three pass breakups, one interception, five takedowns behind the line of scrimmage and one quarterback sack in 11 games and 10 starts in 2013. But then he tore an anterior cruciate ligament during a Senior Bowl practice in January in Mobile, Ala., and was recast as a mid- to late-rounder.

At the scouting combine in February, he reportedly said he had been told he could be ready in time for preseason training camps.

+Kevin Pamphile, tackle, Purdue (6)**

The 6-foot-4 1/2, 311-pound Pamphile was Purdue’s starting left for his senior campaign in 2013. A former basketballer who played only one year of prep football, Pamphile sat out his first year at Purdue before becoming a defensive lineman in 2010.

He missed most of that year hurt and switched to offensive tackle in 2011, appearing in four games as a backup. Despite his minimal experience, Pamphile started nine games at left tackle in 2012 and manned the position again as a redshirt senior in 2013; Purdue was 6-7 and 1-11 in those seasons, respectively.

Pamphile commanded the attention of NFL personnel with campus pro day workout numbers mirroring those of combine standouts at his position: 4.92 and 4.94 seconds in the 40-yard dash; a 32-inch vertical leap; a 9-foot broad jump; and 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press, according to the National Football Post’s Aaron Wilson. He also reportedly displayed his basketball-rooted athleticism and fluidity in drills.

Texas A&M's Nate Askew (No. 9), quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 2) and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., (No. 4) celebrate on the field at the end of the team's 48-3 win over Southern Methodist in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Texas A&M’s Nate Askew (No. 9), quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 2) and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., (No. 4) celebrate on the field at the end of the team’s 48-3 win over Southern Methodist in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

+Nate Askew, LB, Texas A&M (6-7)*

-The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Askew played two seasons at wide receiver for the Aggies before switching to linebacker last year. He had 33 total tackles (22 solo) and was second on his team with two interceptions in 12 regular-season games as a senior. He added a third interception and five tackles (three solo) in a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Duke to help Texas A&M reach a 9-4 record.

He returned one of those picks for a TD and drew sixth- to seventh-round projections from NFL.com. He’s quick, having been timed at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a workout, according to CBS Sports.

He posted 18 reps in the 225-pound bench press and had a broad jump of 10 feet, 6 inches.

+Josh Walker, offensive lineman, Middle Tennessee State (7th or undrafted)**

The 6-foot-5, 323-pound Walker earned All-Conference USA honors and has been praised for his durability, having never missed a game. He reportedly had a good positional workout at his school’s pro day to improve his draft stock.

+Chase Dixon, TE, Central Arkansas (undrafted)*

Chase Dixon

Chase Dixon

-The 6-foot-4, 238-pound Dixon played 32 games for Central Arkansas from 2010 to 2013, catching 33 passes for 379 yards and 10 touchdowns for his career at a school that competes in the Southland Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

He hauled in 22 of those grabs, 262 of those yards and six of those TDs last season. But he broke his leg in October and played in only six games for the campaign. He had scored once in each outing, causing at least one local paper to speculate that he was en-route to an All-America selection.

Dixon earned second-team, all-conference honors at the end of the year.

+Timothy Flanders, RB, Sam Houston State (undrafted)**

-Dimunitive at 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds, Flanders is the all-time leading rusher in the history of the Southland Conference, which is in the FCS. The former All-American had 5,664 ground yards and 66 touchdowns from 2010 to 2013 after transferring to Sam Houston State from Kansas State, where he red-shirted his freshman year.

At the combine, Flanders said he met with New Orleans running backs coach Dan Roushar and grew up in Oklahoma as a Saints fan.

+Demetri Goodson, CB, Baylor (undrafted)*

A former basketball player at Gonzaga before transferring, the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Goodson had 13 pass breakups and three interceptions in 11 games and 10 starts in 2013. He led his team in interceptions and picked off a pass from Central Florida’s Blake Bortles (a first-round draft prospect this year) in Baylor’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl defeat in January.

Goodson, whose brother Mike is a Jets running back, missed the first two games of last year with a right arm bone bruise. The previous year, he fractured his right forearm in two spots and missed the 2012 season, creating questions about his durability, NFL.com’s draft profile of him says.

+Miscellaneous

Tulane Green Wave wide receiver Ryan Grant (3) reaches for a pass against North Texas during the second quarter Saturday, October 6, 2013, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD)

Tulane Green Wave wide receiver Ryan Grant (3) reaches for a pass against North Texas during the second quarter Saturday, October 6, 2013, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD)

Tulane’s pro day was at the Saints’ indoor training facility in Metairie. Tulane’s draft-eligible prospects include wide receiver Ryan Grant (fifth-round grades) and kicker Cairo Santos (who could be available in the seventh round or in undrafted free agency). The Green Wave’s head coach is Curtis Johnson, a former assistant to Saints coach Sean Payton.

–The Saints went to LSU’s pro day in full force. Among the mid- to late-round prospects LSU has to offer are defensive tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson, defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, safety Craig Loston, running back Alfred Blue, fullback J.C. Copeland and guard Trai Turner.

–At Louisiana Tech’s pro day, Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive line coach Bill Johnson got a close look at defensive end IK Enemkpali (6-foot-1, 261 pounds), who pundits think will be available in undrafted free agency.

Alvin Scioneaux

Alvin Scioneaux

–Among the players invited to the Saints’ workout for local draft-eligible prospects was Wofford linebacker Alvin Scioneaux. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound East St. John alum earned all-conference honors throughout his career at Wofford College (FCS), mostly attacking off the edge. Tulane cornerbacks Jordan Sullen and Derrick Strozier got invites, too.

–The Saints privately worked out Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the process. It was believed he’d be taken as early as the second round, but it’s thought his injury will drop him down draft boards.

–Missouri wide receiver L’Damian Washington, a Shreveport native who could be taken in the seventh round or undrafted free agency, was reportedly spotted out at dinner with the Saints after his pro day in March. His linear speed has supposedly impressed during drills.

–NFL.com previously reported the Saints were among a dozen teams interested in quarterback Aaron Murray out of Georgia. Murray tore an ACL in late November but has merited fourth-round grades.

–Murray and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (who won three BCS titles on the Crimson Tide between 2010 and 2013) recently told ESPN they both admire the Saints. Murray said he’d gladly back up franchise quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans. McCarron said he personally knows Payton and spoke with him at Alabama’s pro day; and he also mentioned meeting Brees at the Super Bowl earlier this year.

Like McCarron, Murray said he didn’t visit New Orleans but interacted with Saints coaches during offseason events they’ve attended.

(H/T Canal Street Chronicles on Jordan Sullen, Derrick Strozier and L’Damian Washington items)

Unofficial guide to first- and second-day draft prospects Saints have visited with, worked out

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, left, speaks with Saints Head Coach Sean Payton during LSU's annual Pro Day on Wednesday, April 8, at the LSU Indoor Practice Facility in Baton Rouge.

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON — New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, left, speaks with Saints Head Coach Sean Payton during LSU’s annual Pro Day on Wednesday, April 8, at the LSU Indoor Practice Facility in Baton Rouge.

With the May 8-10 draft a little more than a week away, below is an unofficial guide to players who the Saints have either hosted for visits or worked out and who could be taken in the first two days (or first three rounds) of the event.

The Saints have been unsurprisingly tight-lipped about which prospects they covet and at what portions of the draft they believe they can get them. But this gives the public a slight hint about which players the Saints might think stand out from the rest.

On Wednesday, the Black and Gold Blog will publish an unofficial guide to players the Saints have either hosted for visits or worked out and who are expected to be available on the third day of the draft or in undrafted free agency.

More pre-draft coverage — including requisite mock drafts from The Advocate’s writers — will follow that.

—————————————————-

+Name, Pos., School (Projected round) (* = confirmed by The Advocate or player himself on social media or in interview; ** = media report)

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert (4) intercepts a pass intended for Stanford tight end Coby Fleener (82) during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert (4) intercepts a pass intended for Stanford tight end Coby Fleener (82) during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

+Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (1)*

-The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert posted the fastest 40-yard dash (4.37 seconds) and put up some of the most reps on the 225-pound bench press (20) among cornerbacks who participated in those events at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February. He was a Second-Team All-American and First-Team All-Big 12 selection as a senior in 2013, when Oklahoma State went 10-3 and appeared in the Cotton Bowl. He was tied for third in the country with seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

According to NFL.com, Gilbert is a top 15 pick in the draft. The Saints will pick 27th if they keep the first-round selection they have.

Calvin Pryor

Calvin Pryor

+Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville (1)*

-The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Pryor attracted round one projections after amassing 69 tackles (5.5 behind the line of scrimmage), three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2013, good enough to land him on the All-American Athletic Conference’s First Team, according to CBSSports.com’s draft profile of him.

He anticipates plays well and has explosive closing speed, but he might be “almost too physical in an era in which heavy hitters often draw penalty flags,” CBSSports.com said in its evaluation of Pryor, who the site compared to the Giants’ Antrel Rolle.

+Marqise Lee, WR, Southern California (1)*

-The 6-foot, 192-pound Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in the nation. His quarterback was Matt Barkley.

But his numbers were significantly less impressive his junior year with the Trojans: 57 grabs, 791 yards and four scores during a campaign in which coach Lane Kiffin was fired after five games.

Lee blamed his drop in production on leg injuries that kept him out of three games. “I didn’t have my full on season from that end,” he had said to the program Pro Football Talk Live.

He has also mentioned the battle for starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2013 campaign between Cody Kessler (who won) and Max Wittek (the backup) as a negative factor.

+Dee Ford, pass rusher, Auburn (1-2)**

-The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ford became a starter at defensive end for Auburn in 2012, but it was in 2013 that he established himself as a star for the Tigers. He posted 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year, 8.5 of which were quarterback sacks, in the process bagging First-Team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and coaches.

Pundits expect Ford would play outside linebacker in the pros.

The Saints have good pass rushers in defensive end Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks in 2013 and a Pro Bowl appearance) and outside linebacker Junior Galette (12 sacks last year). Other solid defensive linemen on the roster are Glenn Foster and Akiem Hicks.

New Orleans’ pass-rushing depth should be helped with the expected return of outside linebacker Victor Butler, who missed the 2013 season with a knee injury.

However, 2014 is the last season in Butler’s two-year deal. Another outside linebacker, Parys Haralson, is also only under contract through 2014.

+Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois (1-2)**

-The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Ward proved to be a sound hitter in 2013, leading his team in tackles with 92 (62 of which were solo). He also showed he was a ball hawk, picking off seven passes and breaking up 10 throws en route to a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist nod.

Some have said his height is less than ideal.

The Saints have recently invested heavily in the position of safety. Jairus Byrd in March was signed to a free-agent contract worth up to $54 million ($28 million of which is guaranteed) over six years. The Saints chose safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first-round of the 2013 draft, and this offseason they signed restricted free-agent safety Rafael Bush to a two-year deal with a maximum value of about $4.5 million.

+Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (1-2)*

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound Roby dazzled at the combine by clocking a 40-yard dash of 4.39 seconds, one of the fastest among players at his position group. He had 70 tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions in 11 starts in 2013, scoring touchdowns off a blocked punt and a 63-yard pickoff return before missing Ohio State’s defeat to Clemson in the Orange Bowl with a knee bone bruise.

Roby will be surrounded with questions about his character wherever he’s selected. He was arrested in July 2013 after a fight outside a bar in Bloomington, Ind., in a case that was ultimately dismissed but resulted in his suspension for Ohio State’s season opener. Then, on Tuesday, he pleaded guilty in Columbus, Ohio, to physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol after an arrest several days earlier.

The court gave him a jail sentence of about six months but suspended it on the condition that he take a three-day driver intervention program, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Demarcus Lawrence

Demarcus Lawrence

+Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State (1-2)*

-The 6-foot-3, 251-pound Lawrence has drawn late first- to second-round draft projections after leading the Mountain West conference with 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2013. He is relatively quick for a defensive end, having clocked a 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and another one of 4.69 seconds in another workout, per CBSSports.com.

+Marcus Martin, C, Southern California (2-3)**

Marcus Martin

Marcus Martin

-The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Martin played two seasons at guard and one at center for USC prior to declaring for the draft. He suffered ankle and knee injuries in the Trojans’ regular season finale and missed their victory in the Las Vegas Bowl, but he’s since posted 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

He’s also run the 40-yard dash (5.22 seconds) and a 4.93-second shuttle run in another workout, per CBSSports.com.
CBSSports.com’s draft analysts believe Martin can develop into a player that’s comparable to Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack.

Brian de la Puente had started at center for the Saints from 2011 to 2013 but left for the Chicago Bears in free agency. The first-string center on the Saints at the moment is Tim Lelito, who started two games in 2013 as a rookie at guard in place of an injured Jahri Evans. The Saints have said he would be given the chance to win the starting job at that position in camp but would have competition either from an NFL free agent or player coming out of college.

+Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska (2-3)*

-The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jean-Baptiste has second- to third-round projections after tying for the most interceptions on the Cornhuskers with four and leading his team in pass breakups with 12. The Second-Team All-Big Ten selection had the best vertical jump (41.5 inches) at this year’s combine and has drawn comparisons to the Patriots’ Brandon Browner.

+Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood (2-3)*

Pierre Desir

Pierre Desir

-The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Desir spent two seasons each at Washburn (2009-10) and Lindenwood (2012-13), both schools that compete in NCAA Division II’s Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. By the time his career was over, he was the MIAA’s all-time leader in passes broken up with 52 and was No. 2 in career interceptions with 25.

He won an award recognizing him as the best small-school defensive player in the country last year. He then logged the combine’s best broad jump (11 feet, 1 inch), cementing him as a dominant small-school player who many believe has what it takes to contribute and succeed in the NFL.

Miscellaneous:

–The Saints made plans to have dinner with LSU receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry after their on-campus pro days earlier in April. Beckham is a consensus first-round pick, and Landry could go anywhere between the early second and fourth rounds.

–At LSU’s Pro Day, other first- to third-round prospects the Saints got a close look at were defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

–The Saints reportedly attended Towson University’s Pro Day in Maryland and got a close peek at the school’s highest profile draft prospect, running back Terrance West. The 5-foot-9, 225-pound West set Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) records for rushing yards (2,509) and rushing touchdowns (41) to help Towson reach the national title game last year, and he could be taken in the third round.

–Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive line coach Bill Johnson reportedly attended Louisiana Tech’s Pro Day to watch defensive tackle Justin Ellis, a third-round prospect, work out.

Lofton’s thirst for Falcons revenge won’t be quenched, despite sweet Saints digs

New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (50) runs on the field before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

New Orleans Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (50) runs on the field before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

In the course of spending his first four years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, Curtis Lofton got to work alongside future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for three of them.

Lofton said he began eating, exercising and resting adequately while playing with Gonzalez from 2009 to 2011, and he considered the 14-time Pro Bowler who retired from the Falcons following last season a mentor.

But the Falcons ultimately opted against re-signing Lofton, and he joined the NFC South rival Saints in free agency in 2012.

Heading into his third season with the Saints and seventh as a pro this year, Lofton has drawn two conclusions: He never again wants to play for a defensive coordinator who’s not Rob Ryan, and he forever wants to beat Atlanta to make them regret letting him depart, his fondness for Gonzalez notwithstanding.

“You never get over the team that let you go,” Lofton, in part, said while speaking with SiriusXM NFL Radio with co-hosts Howard David and James Lofton (no relation). “I always want to beat them. I never want to lose to them.”

Despite the strong sentiments, Curtis Lofton made it clear during his interview that his feelings for Atlanta don’t stem from a place of dissatisfaction in New Orleans — far from it.

With Curtis Lofton as one of his inside linebackers, Ryan in 2013 took over a Saints defense that finished the 2012 season as the worst in NFL history and led it to a No. 4 ranking. No defense since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger had placed so highly the year after being at the bottom of the league, and the turnaround helped the Saints reach the divisional round of the playoffs.

“Rob’s just different — he has a strange way of keeping everybody involved,” Lofton said to the hosts. “It’s fun, it’s vibrant, and we just love Rob.”

He had equally high praise for his teammates, being asked specifically about Kenny Vaccaro — a first-round draft pick in 2013 — as well as Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey, both of whom arrived in New Orleans via free agency this offseason.

Vaccaro lined up in numerous positions last year. He covered slot receivers. He patrolled the deep part of the defensive backfield. He manned the area linebackers usually do, and he sometimes crept up to the line of scrimmage to blitz, landing among team leaders with 79 combine tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble before fracturing his ankle at Carolina in Week 16 and sitting out the rest of the season.

“He … just had a savvy to him,” Lofton said about Vaccaro. “We asked him to do a lot. I’ve never seen a rookie take on as much as he took on from the standpoint of playing safety, coming down and being in the slot. ‘Oh, we need you to be there in the box and be physical.’

“He’s a versatile player; and man, … I’m just glad he’s on my team.”

Lofton said what most excited him about the Saints’ acquisition of Byrd was his track-record of creating turnovers. Byrd’s 22 interceptions are the most among safeties since he entered the NFL in 2009. He has 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries on top of that, offering useful qualities to a defense whose 19 takeaways were the fourth-fewest in the NFL last year.

“He’s a ball player,” Lofton remarked. “And that’s what we love — people that can play ball regardless of measurements and whatever.”

About the addition of Bailey, Lofton said it impressed him that the 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback was attending the Saints’ voluntary offseason workouts that began Monday.

“For a guy like that, who’s had a lot of years in the league, to still come to (offseason workouts) and want to get better and push himself says a lot about him,” Lofton said. “I take note of that. I want to be that guy.”

Nonetheless, he won’t excuse the Falcons’ decision to not renew his playing deal because of his pleasant employment situation.

Ever since the first time he opposed Atlanta in 2012, “I wanted to showcase and make them pay for not giving me the contract that I deserved. … And I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.”

New Orleans is 3-1 against Atlanta since picking up Lofton. The Saints are scheduled to visit the Falcons this upcoming season on Sept. 7 and host them on Dec. 21.

Including the playoffs, he’s started all 34 games he’s played for New Orleans; and the 117 stops — or tackles resulting in failed offensive plays — he’s recorded are the most on the team, according to the website Pro Football Focus.

Quotable:

“He makes us better (when we practice against him). … You don’t face too many tight ends or wide receivers that possess the playmaking abilities he has. I sure hope we sign him soon.”

–Lofton, on Saints All-Pro Jimmy Graham, whom the linebacker doesn’t believe should be classified as either a tight end or a wide receiver but as simply “a playmaker.”

Last season, the final one on his rookie contract from 2010, Graham led the Saints in receiving yards with 1,215 and the NFL in touchdown grabs with 16. He spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, but the team handed him a one-year, $7.05 million franchise tag classifying him as a tight end, the position at which he was drafted and has been to two Pro Bowls.

A franchise tag for a wide receiver is worth about $5 million more, and it’s thought he might file a grievance through the players association to be classified as a wideout, given the massive boost in pay that could potentially bring, depending on the decision of a third party.

Graham, though, might not even play under the tag if he and the Saints can agree on a long-term deal before a July 15 deadline.

Saints will see what kind of team they are in 2014 road games, Brees says

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) cheers on his team before a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) cheers on his team before a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Penn. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Thursday said he hadn’t completely vetted his team’s 2014 schedule, which was released less than a day earlier.

Yet Brees glanced at it long enough for the Week 1 opener at Atlanta as well as three prime-time games at Dallas, at Carolina and at Chicago to jump out at him as contests where the Saints are “going to see what kind of team we are,” he said during an interview with ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd.

“We know it’s starting off with a bang,” said Brees, referring to the fact that three of the Saints’ first four games in 2014 will be on the road. “We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves … having to go on the road and win some tough games.”

And so discussions about whether or not the Saints are afflicted by any “road woes” can recommence.

One of the most exhaustively chronicled storylines during the 2013 season was how the Saints, after winning their first two away games, dropped five of the next six as visitors before making the playoffs as a wildcard.

They silenced detractors — at least temporarily — by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia in frigid temperatures, thus claiming the first true road playoff victory in Saints history in conditions many doubted New Orleans could handle. But then they were eliminated in rainy, windy weather at Seattle, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

Expect the Saints’ road doldrums — perceived or real — to be a dominant storyline early in the 2014 campaign. They’ll visit Atlanta, Cleveland and Dallas between Weeks 1 and 4; and they’ll travel for a fourth time to Detroit in Week 7 after the bye.

Though none of those teams managed to win more than half of their games in 2013, Brees in his conversation with Cowherd singled out Atlanta and Dallas as especially challenging.

He alluded to the fact that nine of the last 12 games between the Saints and the NFC South rival Falcons have been decided by eight points or fewer. He didn’t mention that he’s 13-3 against the Falcons — and 6-2 in Atlanta — since becoming a Saint in 2006.

He instead said the Falcons have had “a ton of success within (the) division here over the last (few) years,” after winning the NFC South twice and making the playoffs four times since coach Mike Smith took over in 2008.

To contrast, since 2008, the Saints have won the Super Bowl once, clinched the NFC South twice and made the playoffs four times.

As for Dallas, he noted that it was a road game on Sunday Night Football.

While Brees also acknowledged that it’d be difficult to visit Carolina, the reigning NFC South champions, on short rest for a Week 9 Thursday Night Football match-up, he was thankful the one game before that and the two after are at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints will face all four of their 2014 opponents who made the postseason last year from Weeks 8 to 11. Aside from playing Carolina, they’ll host Green Bay (the reigning NFC North champions) in Week 8; San Francisco (a 12-4 wildcard team) in Week 10; and Cincinnati (the reigning AFC North champions) in Week 11.

The Saints were undefeated at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in both 2011 and 2013, the two most recent seasons that coach Sean Payton was on the sidelines. Payton was suspended for the 2012 season in the wake of the bounty scandal, and New Orleans went 4-4 at home that year.

“That middle season stretch where you’re playing a lot of games at home, that’s good,” said Brees, whose team will play two of its five prime-time games at the Superdome. “Hopefully, you’re hitting your stride by then.”

That’d certainly help for when the Saints travel to the third road prime-time game Brees cited while speaking with Cowherd: at Chicago on the Dec. 15 edition of Monday Night Football.

The Saints are 1-3 at Chicago since 2006, counting that year’s NFC Championship Game, which they lost in January. The two others losses were in the month of December of 2007 and 2008.

“It’s one after the other,” Brees said about the tests his team will have to navigate in 2014 as the Saints chase the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

Texas A&M’s Nate Askew offers self up to Saints fans as name to watch late in draft, undrafted free agency

Texas A&M's Nate Askew (No. 9), quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 2) and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., (No. 4) celebrate on the field at the end of the team's 48-3 win over Southern Methodist in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Texas A&M’s Nate Askew (No. 9), quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 2) and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., (No. 4) celebrate on the field at the end of the team’s 48-3 win over Southern Methodist in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/John F. Rhodes)

Texas A&M linebacker Nate Askew has offered himself up as someone Saints fans may want to keep an eye on as the late rounds of the 2014 draft and undrafted free agency approach.

Askew on Wednesday told the radio station ESPN 980 in Washington D.C. that the Saints were among several teams he had visited ahead of the May 8-10 draft. However, he also said he had spoken with Washington, Denver and New England; worked out for Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas; and visited Carolina, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

“It’s been real busy,” Askew said to his hosts, Rick “Doc” Walker and Brian Mitchell. “It’s a great process. I’ve just been enjoying it.”

The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Askew drew sixth- to seventh-round projections from NFL.com, and CBSSports.com doesn’t expect he’ll be selected. He’s quick, having been timed at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash at a workout, according to CBS Sports.

He posted 18 reps in the 225-pound bench press and had a broad jump of 10 feet, 6 inches.

Furthermore, Askew’s story is the non-traditional one commonly found in the Saints’ late draft picks or undrafted signings ever since coach Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006.

After spending his freshman season in 2010 on special teams, Askew spent his sophomore and junior campaigns as a wide receiver. He caught nine passes for 95 yards and a touchdown over those two years, the first of which was under former coach Mike Sherman and the second of which was under Kevin Sumlin.

Askew only had three catches for 10 yards in his first year with Sumlin, who implemented a spread offense with quarterback Johnny Manziel at the helm. Sherman had run a pro-style offense, Askew said.

“It just took me a while to get adjusted,” he said. “By that time, I really didn’t play junior year.”

Heading into 2013, Texas A&M lacked depth at the linebacker position, and the Aggies approached Askew about switching to that spot. He initially loathed the idea and strongly considered transferring, he said.

Askew then spoke with Von Miller and Sean Porter, both NFL linebackers and former Aggies. He said Miller — a 2012 All-Pro for Denver — and Porter, a fourth-round draft pick for Cincinnati last year, told him, “You can make some money at linebacker.”

So Askew agreed to become a linebacker.

He had 33 total tackles (22 solo) and was second on his team with two interceptions in 12 regular-season games as a senior. He added a third interception and five tackles (three solo) in a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Duke to help Texas A&M reach a 9-4 record.

He returned one of those picks for a TD, securing the rare distinction of having scored on both offense and defense.

Askew proclaimed to be “the fastest linebacker in the draft” during his conversation with Walker and Mitchell.

Asked if he could “unload on anybody,” he replied, “Oh, definitely. I’m not shying away from (any) contact.”

*

(H/T Twitter user @SaintBrian9)

Assuming nothing, Saints O.L. Tim Lelito nonetheless has spent much time practicing snapping

New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

During an offseason in which his team’s three-year starter at center left town, second-year Saints offensive lineman Tim Lelito invested time in acclimating himself with a skill he otherwise may not have concentrated on as much.

“I did a lot of snapping,” Lelito said Wednesday to local reporters during an appearance at Airline Park Academy in Metairie. “I got real comfortable with that.”

Such is life for a player whose superiors have repeatedly said will compete for a job vacated by Brian de la Puente, who was the first-string center in New Orleans from 2011 through 2013 and joined the Chicago Bears in free agency earlier in April.

It was clear from Lelito’s statements that he was giving himself the best shot possible to succeed de la Puente. Aside from keeping in shape and boning up on snapping, he’s immersed himself in the Saints’ playbook to learn what each member of the offensive line is supposed to be doing at any given moment.

“Last year, I had to know the plays, but this year I have to know the ins and outs of every play,” Lelito said. “I have to know what everyone’s doing on the line so we’re all together.

“If I say we’re going here, that’s where we’re going, so it’s kind of on me. I have to pay a little more attention.”

Nonetheless, the Saints have been upfront about their intention to bring in someone to compete with the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Lelito when New Orleans’ training camp begins in July.

They reportedly visited with free-agent center Jonathan Goodwin, who was with the Saints from 2006-10, played three seasons for San Francisco and is back on the open market. He was a Pro Bowler the year the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

The Saints have also been linked to a couple of centers who will be available in the upcoming May 8-10 draft.

Lelito on Tuesday insisted those matters don’t concern him. “Whatever I can do to help the team get better this year is what I’m going to do,” whether that’s as a starting center, a reserve at that position or a backup to guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, he said.

No matter what his future holds, Lelito accumulated experience as a rookie in 2013 that should benefit him greatly.

After making the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of NCAA Division II Grand Valley State at the end of a preseason in which he memorably recovered a goal-line fumble for a touchdown, Lelito filled in at right guard for two games that four-time All-Pro Evans sat out due to injuries.

In the first, against Arizona in Week 3, he surrendered three quarterback sacks to three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. In the second, at Atlanta in Week 12, he gave up a play that ended in lost yardage and was called for a holding penalty, but he improved noticeably.

What made the performance against the Falcons even more remarkable was that days earlier he had attended the funeral of the grandmother who raised him in his youth in Michigan.

New Orleans won both games on the way to a run to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

“It’s less surprising every time you go out (and start),” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said Tuesday in response to a question about how beneficial it was for Lelito to step in for Evans. “Things start to slow down.”

Lelito agreed.

“It’s definitely different … going from a D-II college and coming into the NFL,” he remarked. “That was a huge step, so every day you’ve just got to keep working, keep learning … from the … veterans.”

Saints tackle Terron Armstead: Junior Galette is hands down best NFL player I’ve played

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) talks to reporters during their NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) talks to reporters during their NFL football training camp in Metairie, La., Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Two of Saints left tackle Terron Armstead’s four starts last year were against the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses, or Seattle and Carolina, respectively. He also got to see Cameron Jordan, New Orleans’ Pro Bowl defensive end, up close every day in practice.

Yet, asked Monday night to name the best NFL player he played against as a rookie in 2013, Armstead said it was Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette — “hands down.”

Galette has the “most unorthodox style you would ever see,” Armstead told SiriusXM NFL Radio hosts Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt during an interview. “He’s not the typical 6-3, 6-4, 270-pound (pass rusher). He’s very nimble, very agile, his change of direction is incredible.

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette (93) emerges from the smoke for the start of a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. (Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON)

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette (93) emerges from the smoke for the start of a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. (Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON)

“I believe this guy will — he had kind of a breakout season last year, but I think (he will take) even another step.”

If Armstead’s prediction for 2014 is true, it may be more difficult to deny the 6-foot-2, 258-pound Galette his first career Pro Bowl and should boost New Orleans’ chances of reaching the postseason for the sixth time since coach Sean Payton was hired in 2006. Some felt Galette merited a selection to the most recent edition of the NFL’s all-star game after racking up 12 quarterback sacks, which was second on the Saints to Jordan (12.5) and sixth overall in the league.

Though Armstead’s plaudits to Galette were notable, they weren’t the sole focus of the young tackle’s discussion with Marvez and Brandt. Armstead spoke frankly about how he feels he grew with “each game, each snap really” after he was tabbed to replace Charles Brown, who was benched in the middle of a Week 15 defeat at St. Louis and is now with the New York Giants.

Armstead struggled in the first half of a Week 16 setback at Carolina, in which the Saints essentially lost the NFC South title to the Panthers. But he then settled in well as New Orleans beat Tampa Bay in Week 17, upended Philadelphia in the first game of the playoffs and was eliminated at Seattle in the divisional round of the postseason.

“It’s a different rhythm than being at practice, scout team and all that stuff,” said Armstead, who had been a backup since the Saints picked him out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the third round of the 2013 draft. “If you’re not a starter, you’ll get zero reps with the No. 1 offense so you’ll be out of rhythm. But getting those snaps — like, each snap I felt I got better; I got more comfortable; I feel like it’s going to make it even better this year.”

Armstead also spoke about how he hurt a hand in the first quarter of the playoff game at Philadelphia, which culminated in the first true away postseason victory in Saints history. He welcomed the offseason by undergoing a minor surgery on the hand and needed “a few months” to rehabilitate.

Afterwards, he went to Florida to train with some Saints teammates and other NFL peers. He was back in New Orleans on Monday for the first day of voluntary offseason conditioning workouts, where he said Saints quarterback Drew Brees preached the message, “Let’s make this push for a (Super Bowl) ring.”

“That’d be the ultimate accomplishment,” said Armstead, who was 18 when Brees and the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV at the end of the 2009 campaign.

Additionally, Armstead said it was difficult to see “great friend” Brian de la Puente — the Saints’ starting center since 2011 — depart to Chicago in free agency. But he expressed confidence in the Saints’ front office however it chooses to replace de la Puente.

Second-year Saints offensive lineman Tim Lelito was de la Puente’s understudy. ESPN recently reported that New Orleans has visited with free-agent center Jonathan Goodwin, a one-time Pro Bowler who was with the Saints from 2006-10, left for San Francisco for three seasons and is back on the open market.

The Saints have also reportedly hosted a couple of centers who will be available in the upcoming May 8-10 draft.

“I’m pretty sure the administration knows exactly what they’re doing,” Armstead said. “I’m pretty sure they will bring in someone veteran. If not, Tim Lelito … is already in the building (and) is very, very good, so I’m pretty sure everything will be fine.”

Finally, before signing off, Armstead talked about how he’s re-launching the youth football program in his hometown of Cahokia, Ill., and hopes someone from there joins him in the NFL soon.

“My hometown is a really big talent pool, actually, so I’m just trying to motivate and encourage those guys to get out and play and chase your dreams,” Armstead said. “I believe this will be a big step (toward) getting more guys into the eyes of scouts to go to college and make an NFL push.”

Saints visitor Pierre Desir feels arduous collegiate journey has prepared him for NFL life

Glancing over the names of the several defensive backs who visited the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, one jumped out at me more than the others: Lindenwood University corner Pierre Desir.

Pierre Desir

Pierre Desir

Desir was the only player out of that group who did not attend a Division I school. Yet at least one site that ranks draft prospects, CBSSports.com, projected him to be picked in the third round, earlier than two other bigger-school cornerbacks the Saints brought in.

I asked Desir via Twitter whether I could interview him but didn’t hear back. I also asked his agent, who suggested he’d prefer it if Desir spoke with me following the May 8-10 draft.

Nonetheless, I was curious about how a player who talent evaluators believe is fit for the NFL arrived from a place like Lindenwood, which is in St. Charles, Mo. And Desir, I learned, recently told the story to a podcast published on the site RamsAddiction.com.

Desir — who was born in Haiti but grew up in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters, Mo. — couldn’t academically qualify to a Division I school after finishing up at Francis Howell Central High School. Having stood out as a defensive back and kick returner, he accepted a scholarship to Washburn University in Topeka, Kan.

He redshirted one season and played two years at Washburn, which was enough time to pick off the third-most passes in school history (12). He was all-conference twice and an All-American once.

However, he was also raising two daughters with the woman who’s now his wife. “It was very difficult to balance school, football and taking care of two kids” without help from family, Desir told Rams Addiction.

So the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Desir gave up his scholarship and transferred to Lindenwood, which is about eight miles away from his hometown and — like Washburn — is in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).

“It had nothing to do with the team,” Desir said to his hosts on the podcast. “I decided to move closer to home where I could get some assistance.”

After walking on to the team and sitting out 2011, he intercepted 13 passes and broke up 30 in two seasons with Lindenwood. He earned All-American and first-team All-MIAA honors in both 2012 and 2013, and last year he won an award recognizing him as the best small-school defensive player in the country.

Desir led the MIAA in passes defended per game in 2013 despite the fact that teams threw away from him the vast majority of the time. He is the MIAA’s all-time leader in passes broken up with 52 and is No. 2 in career interceptions with 25.

But Desir wasn’t running on much sleep when he did any of that. He said he paid his way through school at Lindenwood by working “all types of odd jobs” when he wasn’t in class, studying or playing football.

“For me, my days started at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Desir said on the podcast. “They ended between 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night.”

He said he cleaned up shell casings at shooting ranges. He cleaned up the sides of highways. He painted. He picked up trash, restored houses — or cleaned them.

“There was no sleep,” said Desir, who was invited to the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl alongside prospects from larger schools. “My days were all scheduled down to a T.

“I didn’t have any extra time to go out with my friends. I had to do homework when I had time — whether it was an hour, hour-and-a-half, I had to do that, because I knew I had to get up six hours later to get to work.”

The routine was exhausting, but it delivered its rewards. Desir was on the MIAA Academic Honor Roll in 2012 and 2013, and he said he’s more than prepared to mentally thrive with whichever team might draft him.

“Because of what I went through and having to go through that hectic schedule, I was able to learn how to handle the stress and pressures that came with everything and figured out what worked and what didn’t work,” said Desir, who’s hoping to become Lindenwood’s first-ever NFL draft pick. “So I think it’d be an easy transition with going into the NFL with meetings, games and all that.”