Saints rookies set to take part in first practices

by Walter Pierce

The New Orleans Saints' five draft picks can only hope that the elation they felt when they were drafted less than two weeks ago lasts through this weekend.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - The New Orleans Saints' five draft picks can only hope that the elation they felt when they were drafted less than two weeks ago lasts through this weekend.

The club's 13 undrafted rookies who signed as free agents, and others invited for tryouts, aim to hold Sean Payton and his staff to their word - that every player will have the same chance to make the team.

The Saints designated Thursday as reporting day for rookie camp, which will feature five practices from Friday through Sunday. The players participating will be limited to draft picks, undrafted rookies who signed as free agents and other young pros invited for tryouts.

"Once you get here, you aren't in a different locker room. You're a part of our team, competing to make the team," Payton said. "We have cut draft picks and kept free agents in that same year. We are looking for the best guys. So hopefully that helps us. I think it does."

The Saints' 2013 draft class was headlined by first-round choice Kenny Vaccaro, a safety out of Texas. He'll take the practice field against a familiar college foe, former Oklahoma receiver Kenny Stills, who was taken by New Orleans in the fifth round.

New Orleans had no second-round choice, the last of the sanctions the club had to endure because of the NFL's bounty findings more than 14 months ago. But the club traded one of its most successful former undrafted free agents, running back Chris Ivory, to obtain add a second pick in the third round.

New Orleans used its original third-round pick on 6-foot-5, 306-pound offensive tackle Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then used its additional pick in the round on Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins.

After selecting Stills, the Saints - who had no picks in the fourth and seventh rounds - closed out their draft class by taking a chance on Rufus Johnson, a defensive end out of Division II Tarleton State in Texas. He'll line up as an outside linebacker in New Orleans' 3-4 defense.

"You are always hopeful that this is one of those classes that you can look back on and look at as a building block of what you are doing and what you are trying to do," Payton said.

The practices are closed to the public and only one practice on Saturday morning will be open to media.

Vaccaro said he is hoping to showcase the versatility for which the Saints drafted him. Vaccaro can play both safety spots, and in college also played nickel cornerback, helped on special teams and even lined up at linebacker sporadically.

"I've played everything in college, so honestly, I'm comfortable," Vaccaro said. "That's what I can bring to the team. I'm comfortable in any position they put me in."

Johnson, meanwhile, hopes to make the Saints look smart - again - for drafting players out of Division II. Back in 2006, Payton's first season as a head coach, New Orleans drafted guard Jahri Evans out of Division II Bloomsburg. He has started since his very first game and is now an All-Pro.

"I know a lot of people really haven't heard about me," Johnson said. "But having this opportunity, I really think I have a chance to showcase what I really can do at the top level."

Among the undrafted free agents are quarterback Ryan Griffin, who Saints personnel know well not only because he played at Tulane, but also because his coach last season, Curtis Johnson, was the Saints' receivers coach from 2006 to 2011.

"When I figured out that I wasn't going to get drafted I was set on the Saints," Griffin said. "We've practiced at the facilities and played at the Superdome while I was at Tulane, so that part really isn't new to me. Obviously it's a different jersey and different team, but the same playbook and setting which helps the whole process."

The other undrafted players at Saints rookie camp will include tight ends Keavon Milton of Louisiana-Monroe and Josh Hill of Idaho State; linebackers Eric Martin of Nebraska, Kevin Reddick of North Carolina, Rayford Shipman of Central Florida and Chase Thomas of Stanford; defensive end Glenn Foster of Illinois; running back Shawne Alston of West Virginia; cornerbacks Ryan Lacy of Utah and Rod Sweeting of Georgia Tech; center Elliot Mealer of Michigan; and guard Tim Lelito of Grand Valley State.

The players coming in for tryouts include Brent Leonard, who was Louisiana-Monroe's leading wide receiver last season.