Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Shockey thriving in N.O. as team player

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Shockey
Jeremy Shockey, long reputed to be a troublemaker while with the New York Giants, has seemingly turned over a new leaf in New Orleans.

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you had looked at and listened to New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey in the locker room at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, you wouldn’t have recognized him.

He was certainly unrecognizable  if you already had a preconceived scouting report from his long-ago days with the New York Giants. He was a mouthy brat, so selfish that he chose to disappear rather than join his teammates. You read about in all the tabloids and heard about it on all the talk-radio shows.

“Bad guy all the way around,’’ was the universal scouting report on Shockey.

Well, guess what? All that’s changed. The Shockey I saw after that game and after many other games  this season sure appears to be the exact opposite. He’s courteous, insightful and most all, it seems every sentence involves talk of how the Saints are having a special season and how much he wants to be a part of it.

If ever we were going to see the Shockey of old, this was going to be the time. He had caught just two passes against a horrible Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. In each of the previous two games, he had three receptions. If the man who used to get ripped for caring more about his individual stats was going to truly resurface, this had to be the moment.

And it sure seemed like it was coming when Shockey invited the media to his locker and said, “You guys ready?’’

This was the precise moment when you realized the guy who was made out to be a major-league whiner definitely is not that now. And it makes you wonder if he ever truly was as he was painted in his tumultuous New York days.

The chance to complain about the two catches was there, waiting for a shot into the upper deck. Shockey kept the bat on his shoulder.

“The last two games, sure, I would have liked to be a little bit more of a part of our success,’’ Shockey said.

But from there it didn’t evolve into the train wreck the New York media thrived on. From there, it turned into talk from a team player.

Yes, Jeremy Shockey has turned into a team player. Seriously. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe it’s the fact that this is Drew Brees’ team and you can’t push him around like a young Eli Manning. Or maybe it’s simply that Shockey realizes he could be on his way to the Super Bowl –- a Super Bowl he desperately wants to play in – and is making sure to do and say all the right things.

“It’s a great feeling,’’ Shockey said. “Being 10-0 is something special and we’re having a special season. But I know we can play better.’’

Catch the last part about “we can play better"? That’s not Shockey complaining about a lack of passes being thrown his way -- you’d have no doubt if that was what he wanted to say. That last part was another sign that Shockey is more content in New Orleans. It’s a sign he’s become something else he never was -- a leader.

Seriously.

I then asked Shockey if he’s happier than he’s ever been in his career.  He gave one of those half smiles that you never saw when he was so banged up in his first season in New Orleans -- or just about any time during his days in New York.

“That’s probably true,’’ Shockey said. “Winning is always good.’’

But things like winning and being a leader never were in Shockey’s arsenal in his New York days. When Shockey was injured late in the 2007 and the Giants were on their way to winning a Super Bowl, he chose to keep his distance from the team. He took a public beating for that one and the organization was so concerned about Shockey’s ability to ever be a team player that he was dealt to New Orleans right before the start of the 2008 season.

Shockey feels it’s time to set the record straight on the whole Super Bowl thing.

“There’s the competitive nature in me that would have loved to have been out there,’’ Shockey said. “But I was depressed. I had a broken leg. I couldn’t be out there contributing, so I didn’t think I’d be any help to the team.’’

If Shockey felt like an outcast then, he doesn’t know. He came to the Saints last year and put up respectable numbers, but failed to catch a touchdown pass in a season in which he dealt with several injuries. He seemed to be going down the wrong road again when he wasn’t a regular at team workouts in the offseason.

Then, there was the infamous incident in Vegas, where Shockey was taken from a pool party to the hospital because he was “dehydrated’’. Whatever happened there might have been the best thing to ever happen to Shockey.

He came back to New Orleans, took place in every workout from there on out, fell under the wing of quarterback Drew Brees and nobody’s questioning his work ethic or team spirit at all these days.

Aside from the last three games, he’s been productive and a big part of the offense. He has 39 catches for 461 yards and three touchdowns. He and the Saints seem to understand the last three games were the exception. The Saints need more from Shockey if they’re going to go undefeated.

“You walk out of this game and you ask, “Why did Jeremy Shockey only have two catches today?’’ Brees said. “Well, look at the other guys who ended up making big plays. So one guy maybe who has gotten a lot of action all of the sudden for some reason gets taken out of the game because of their scheme or just because the ball is not coming his way, it opens up opportunities for other people.’’

The current-day Shockey is bright enough to realize that’s true. He’s also patient enough to wait for the days where the ball comes to him frequently because he knows those days are coming.

He’s got a personal goal in mind, but, more than that, it’s a team goal.

“I didn’t get to be a part of that Super Bowl with the New York football Giants and that still bothers me,’’ Shockey said. “But, here, we’ve really got a chance to do something special and I’m doing everything I can to be a part of that. I think I’ve got a chance to finally get to my Super Bowl with this team.’’