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Payton expects some tough decisions on receiving corps

The Donte’ Stallworth trade made Saints coach Sean Payton’s job easier in one respect — he’ll have one less receiver to cut after Thursday night’s final preseason game in Kansas City.

“There’s going to be tough decisions, I think, at receiver,” Payton said following Tuesday’s practice.

Top receiver Joe Horn, whose job has never been in question throughout training camp, will sit out the final exhibition with a bruised back. Michael Lewis still has yet to play this preseason as he works through knee soreness related to arthroscopic surgery in June. Bethel Johnson won’t play after spraining his knee against Indianapolis on Saturday night.

And still there will be seven receivers dressed for the game against the Chiefs. Payton said this week he would likely keep only five receivers in all — certainly no more than six.

The good news for the seven receivers in the lineup is that they all should get in for a number of plays throughout the game.

“There are some guys that have done some good things in this camp and we’ll have a chance to see them,” Payton said.

With Stallworth’s departure for Philadelphia, it appears that Devery Henderson, 6-foot-4 rookie Marques Colston and Jamal Jones, an undrafted free agent trying out for his third team, are competing for the second through fourth receiving spots.

Colston, drafted in the seventh round out of Division I-AA Hofstra, was taken as one of those players who has the physical attributes of an NFL receiver but whose ability to become an elite player was in question.

Not anymore. He leads all Saints receivers this preseason with seven catches for 77 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown Saturday night.

“Marques Colston has been a nice surprise,” Payton said. “He’s come in and done a good job. He’s still young and has got a lot to learn.”

Colston said he understands the upcoming preseason finale could be a big game for him, but he’s trying not to think about it.

“I’ve just got to go out and continue to do the things I’ve been doing and I think I’ll be fine,” Colston said.

“When you get in trouble is when you try to put unnecessary pressure on yourself and that’s the thing I don’t want to do.”

Jones has seven catches for 72 yards, and like Colston, has looked strong in practice throughout training camp. He also has proven himself competent on kickoff and punt returns.

Jones played briefly with Green Bay in 2005 before being released in October.

He had not had any contact with an NFL team between then and the time the Saints invited him to training camp.

He nearly gave up on football and began to think about graduate school. Now he’s very close to making the Saints final 53-player roster.

“I feel good right now. Preseason isn’t over though, so I want to have a good showing on Thursday,” Jones said. “I’ve still got some work to do to make it to the final cuts.”

Henderson was a second-round draft pick in 2004. And while he has shown a troubling inconsistency holding on to catchable passes, he often has worked with the first team.

Also in the mix are: former Kansas City receiver Chris Horn, rookie Mike Hass, second-year receiver Chase Lyman and Lance Moore, who is coming off a season in NFL Europe.

“I’m going to want to get a chance to get Chase in there, and make sure Lance Moore gets some work,” Payton said.

Lyman was a star at California but was plagued by injuries there, then spent his rookie season with the Saints on injured reserve.

Moore, who has the only other touchdown catches for the Saints this preseason, spent parts of last season with the Saints and was allocated to Berlin in Europe this past spring.

“It’s the last preseason game. Everyone wants to go out, make plays, make the coaches notice you on film,” said Moore, who had 22-yard touchdown catch in the preseason opener. “I’m just going to go out there and do what I’ve been doing the whole camp.”

Hass also has been impressive with his ability to get open and make difficult catches.

That was his forte at Oregon State, where he won the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college.

Chris Horn, meanwhile, has solid NFL experience, having played 28 games in the past two seasons with Kansas City.

He has 33 career catches for 365 yards and a touchdown.