METAIRIE, La. -- Based on the pattern that's been emerging so far this summer, rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste will probably come up with at least one highlight play during the New Orleans Saints' minicamp opener today.
Although the Saints' second-round draft pick will almost certainly require some time to develop at the NFL level, Jean-Baptiste is 2-for-2 when it comes to making impact plays during the organized team activities that have been open to the media so far.
Two weeks ago, the big, 6-foot-3, 218-pounder forced a fumble by stripping the ball away from receiver Andy Tanner. But I was even more impressed last week by how Jean-Baptiste ran down the field with one of the fastest receivers on the roster, Charles Hawkins, to prevent Drew Brees from connecting on a deep ball.
Jean-Baptiste's strength is supposed to be his size and length and his ability to match up with bigger receivers in press coverage. But he held his own on that play against a smaller speedster.
"He's done that numerous times during OTAs and rookie minicamp," Saints defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff said. "That's one thing that's impressive about Stan. You look at his size, and then you look at him defending the vertical ball and most smaller guys, you say, 'Wow, he can stay over the top?' Yes he can.
"Now we've just gotta get him to the point where he turns into the receiver at the top of the route and takes the ball away."
Jean-Baptiste smiled when asked if that play showed off one of his underrated strengths.
"Yeah, it probably is," Jean-Baptiste said. "A lot of people probably don't think I can run with short, quick receivers. But I think that's probably one of my strong points."
Obviously it's still way too early to project where Jean-Baptiste might fit in the rotation among a deep group of candidates at cornerback. For now, he's been working behind veteran Keenan Lewis, Champ Bailey, Patrick Robinson and Corey White for the most part. And other young players with experience from last year like Rod Sweeting, Trevin Wade and Terrence Frederick are also jockeying for position.
But it's certainly a good sign that Jean-Baptiste is showing both confidence and competence in the early going.
When asked if he still feels like a rookie trying to catch up or if he feels like he's already in the mix, Jean-Baptiste admitted he's "still a rookie trying to catch up."
But he said he doesn't plan on letting any labels that were attached to him when he was drafted like "raw" or "developmental" affect the way he does his job.
"Nah, it really don't bug me at all. I'm still gonna go out there and play no matter if I'm raw or not. I think I can compete at any level, and just my time will come to showcase it," said Jean-Baptiste, who began his college career as a receiver and bounced around to three places post-high school before ultimately becoming a standout cornerback at Nebraska.
McGriff also preferred a different term over raw or developmental.
"Well, I think the term inexperienced at this level is probably better fitting," McGriff said. "You see the movement skills. He still has to continue to develop the muscles for that position. But the more experience Stan gets, the better he'll get."
McGriff said there have been several occasions already where Jean-Baptiste's past experience as a receiver has helped him identify some things his opponents are trying to do in practice.
"I'll tell you what, you're talking about a big guy that has really good feet for his size. He's very conscientious, he's real into it in the classroom in terms of learning his plays, he's a fast learner. And he's really developing nice on the field," McGriff said. "One of the best things about Stan is that he listens to the veteran players. He's got such a great personality, he gravitates to everybody, you can see from Keenan Lewis to Champ Bailey. And all of ‘em are telling him he has all the tools, the particular size and movement skills, that he can be dynamic in this league.
"I'm excited to have him, and I'm excited by his progress."