Player on the rise: Marques Colston?

METAIRIE, La. -- One of the most encouraging things I've seen or heard yet from New Orleans Saints camp this summer came from a guy I admit I wasn't really even paying much attention to -- Marques Colston.

The veteran receiver is such a mainstay in the Saints offense that I've been taking him for granted while focusing most of my attention on newcomers and guys competing for expanded roles.

However, it struck me when Colston talked about how good he's feeling on Wednesday after fighting through a nagging foot injury the last two years -- especially since the soft-spoken Colston is never prone to hyperbole.

"Completely different," Colston said when asked about the foot. "I feel really good. It's really not an issue. I've been able to get out here with really no restrictions and just run around and feel good."

The only restrictions that will be put on Colston in training camp are the kind of courtesy restrictions that players earn when they reach his veteran status. Colston, who turned 31 years old last week, has racked up franchise records of 607 catches, 8,337 receiving yards and 63 touchdowns during his first eight seasons.

Coach Sean Payton has said that he'll give Colston routine days off in training camp to keep him fresh.

"With as much mileage as I have in eight years going on nine, I'd definitely look forward to that," Colston said with a laugh.

Colston is coming off of a "down" season by his own lofty standards. He caught 75 passes for 943 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games while battling foot, knee and back injuries at different times. But he finished strong, capped by 11 catches, 144 yards and a touchdown during the Saints' playoff loss at Seattle.

Although he has definitely become more of a secondary option behind tight end Jimmy Graham in recent years, there's really no reason why Colston can't get back close to his standard, 1,100-yard, eight-touchdown type of season again this year.

"We spread the ball around quite a bit so I can't really think, besides maybe the year Jimmy had, with everybody else, you're just spreading the ball around and you're trying to keep everyone involved," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "Marques has as big a contribution now as he ever has. Even if he's not getting the ball, he's a threat so teams have to game plan for him and therefor that opens up opportunities for others even if he's getting the ball. ...

"He can play everything. He can play outside, he can play inside, he's extremely intelligent, he's a big physical target that even when technically covered, he's not really covered. There's always a place where I can throw Marques Colston the ball where most players can't get it just because he's 6-5 and 220 pounds.

"There's a way a route is drawn up on the blackboard, and then there's a way you actually execute it on the field depending on the type of coverage and the technique and what you're seeing. We know all those things because we've been doing it together for eight years and it's come up many times in practice and during games, so there's just a huge trust and confidence factor between the two of us."

Colston also had some interesting things to say in this column by The Advocate's Ramon Antonio Vargas about how he knows his long-term future isn't guaranteed in this business -- as he's seen with the departure of long-time teammates like Lance Moore and Devery Henderson in recent years.

Colston is due to make $5.6 million in salary and bonuses this year, $7 million in 2015 and $7.8 million in 2016.