Opening night for Coleman, other rookies

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:15
AM ET
Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman has been the clear choice for the New Orleans Saints' "Most Improved" player from organized team activities to training camp.

And since the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder was already among the fan favorites in this year’s undrafted rookie class, Coleman will be one of the most compelling reasons to watch the second half of tonight’s preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Coleman
AP Photo/Chris TilleyRookie receiver Brandon Coleman on his preseason play: "It's my job to get the coaches to notice me."
"Right now, the fans can say all they want. But it’s my job to get the coaches to notice me," Coleman said when asked about the attention he has received from fans so far.

It’s easy for Coleman to stay humble after he admittedly struggled during OTAs in minicamp, dropping too many passes and showing some hesitancy in his route-running.

Over the past two weeks, however, the former Rutgers standout has made several nice catches while playing at a faster speed.

"Just the tempo of the game and just how to play at the pace," Coleman said when asked where he has made the biggest strides. "Just how to be a pro on and off the field. I took that, went home with it for three weeks and then came back and tried to just incorporate that into this camp."

Coleman was the most highly touted of the Saints' undrafted rookies for two reasons. One, he’s a massive target, which will make him a unique offensive weapon if he can realize his potential. Secondy, he was highly rated by many scouting analysts heading into the draft for that reason.

Obviously NFL teams didn’t feel the same way, though, after Coleman showed a dip in production between his sophomore and junior seasons (before he opted to leave school early). Saints coach Sean Payton has said there were also concerns about the knee injury Coleman suffered last spring (torn meniscus) that seemed to have a lingering effect on him.

When asked if the knee injury was affecting him during OTAs, Coleman said, "You could say that or you could look at the film and make your opinion about it. But I’m just gonna keep working at it and keep working to strengthen it so it won’t be a problem on the field."

The Saints' receiver position is awfully crowded right now, with more experienced guys Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan and Andy Tanner all fighting for the fourth and fifth receiver jobs. So I don’t expect Coleman or fellow rookie Seantavius Jones to be able to leapfrog all those guys and crack the actual rotation this season.

However, it is possible that the Saints could keep Coleman on the active 53-man roster as a weekly inactive in a sort of "redshirt" capacity. That is something they have done in the past with talented young playmakers. But to get there, Coleman will have to keep earning that "Most Improved" title throughout the preseason.

Obviously Coleman won’t be the only rookie worth watching tonight since so many of them should get a ton of work.

All eyes will be on first-round pick Brandin Cooks, a receiver who has been a highlight reel waiting to happen throughout training camp.

Fellow draft picks like cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, linebackers Khairi Fortt and Ronald Powell, and safety Vinnie Sunseri have started to pick things up and make more plays in recent days.

Much like Coleman, those rookies have talked about being able to play at a faster speed now that they’re not thinking as much on the field.

"It’s a lot of growth," Powell said. "Whenever you enter this league, there’s gonna be a lot of things that you don’t know. And I’m learning every day about the little things, getting more comfortable."

Then Powell quickly added the refrain we hear daily from every young player we talk to: "The biggest thing for me right now as a rookie is special teams."

Coleman and Sunseri made similar comments this week. It proves that they have all been listening to Payton, who keeps stressing that they just need to earn their way onto a bus on game days, and the special teams bus is their best bet.

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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