- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- Joe Morgan has obviously helped his case to make the New Orleans Saints' roster by once again displaying his dynamic deep-threat ability (three catches for 108 yards last Friday night).
But it’s Morgan’s more underrated strong suit that gives him the best chance of being active on game days – his blocking.
Blocking ability will be a huge deciding factor in the intriguing three-way battle between Morgan, Robert Meachem and Nick Toon for the Saints No. 4 receiving job. And in my mind, that gives both Morgan and Meachem a big advantage because they’ve proven to be excellent blockers in the past.
Typically, the Saints keep only four receivers active on game days. And in past years, they’ve featured a specific receiver in their heavy sets (with one receiver, two tight ends, a fullback and running back). Out of that formation, the receiver can either block or run deep routes on play-action “shot” plays.
Meachem has thrived in that role for years. But Morgan took it over that in 2012 when Meachem left for the San Diego Chargers.
Then when Morgan suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp last year, the Saints wasted little time re-signing Meachem after he got released by the Chargers. And they inserted him right back into that role (ahead of Toon).
This is really the first summer where both Morgan and Meachem are competing against each other for that same role, and it’s still too close to call.
“I don’t know. I think we’re both great blockers,” the 6-foot-1, 184-pound Morgan said when asked who’s the best blocker. “He’s a little bit bigger than I am [6-2, 215], so he can probably bock some of the bigger guys better than I would. But I’m still not gonna say he’s a better blocker than me. And I won’t put myself above him. We both work hard, and we love doing it.”
Morgan’s big-play ability during that 2012 season is obviously what put him on the map. He caught 10 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns (a whopping 37.9-yard average).
But Morgan said he thinks it was his blocking ability that “got me on the field first, before anything else.”
“I actually pride myself in blocking, because throughout my career, like when I was in high school we had two running backs that had 2,500 yards, we didn’t throw the ball much at all. Then when I got to college, we ran the ball probably 75, 80 percent of the time,” Morgan said. “So where I’ve come from, in order to get on the field, you had to be a blocker.
“And here, even though we throw the ball a lot, it was what got me on the field first of all. I was in our 22, 22-Z packages. And I made the most out of that opportunity and [it] opened the door for more opportunities.”
I’m certainly not ruling Toon out of the conversation to crack the Saints’ 53-man roster or to be active on game days. I think the Saints still like his long-term potential enough to keep him around, regardless. And he has been the Saints’ most consistent pass-catcher of the threesome throughout training camp.
But Toon has shown more inconsistency than the other two as a blocker, and I think he’ll need to prove he can be an asset in that role if he wants to crack the lineup.
Coach Sean Payton didn’t specifically agree with the idea that the No. 4 receiver job will come down to which receiver is the best blocker. But he said blocking in general has been a huge point of emphasis among the receivers.
“No. 1, I think we need to be better as a unit overall in blocking ... if we’re going to run the ball more effectively and more efficiently,” said Payton, who also pointed out that undrafted rookie receiver Brandon Coleman had some nice blocks in Friday night’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. “For receivers in there, it’s part of the job description. ... It’s equally important as running, stretching the defense or running the correct route.”