Saints rookies report for camp
The New Orleans Saints’ seven draft picks and 12 rookie free agents reported to the team’s training headquarters Saturday for the first day of a three-day rookie camp.
It was the first chance for Saints head coach Sean Payton and his staff to run the new players through practices.
Payton has closed practices to the public. However, the rookies who perform to the coaches’ satisfaction this weekend will return in early June for minicamp with veteran players.
Among those trying to prove they belong are free-agent rookie Walter Thomas, whose college career consists of little more than two junior college games. The defensive lineman is 6-foot-4 and 374 pounds, but trouble with grades cost him his spot at Oklahoma State and trouble with the law cut short his stint at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Another free agent hoping to make his mark is quarterback Tyler Palko out of Pittsburgh. He was a three-year starter for the Panthers, ranking third all-time at Pitt with 8,343 yards. Only Alex Van Pelt and Dan Marino have thrown for more yards at Pitt. Palko’s 66 touchdown passes ranked second all-time for the Panthers, behind Marino’s 79.
The rookie camp also marked the Saints debut of first-round draft choice Robert Meachem. Meachem was a top receiver at Tennessee, where last season he made 71 catches for a school-record 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Saints chose him with the 27th overall pick in hopes he can fill the void created by the departure of Joe Horn.
Meachem — a tall, fast, big-play receiver, will likely compete with veteran free agent acquisition David Patten and fourth-year pro Terrance Copper for the third starting job at receiver behind Marques Colston and Devery Henderson.
That job became available after Horn declined to take a pay cut and signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
The camp also marks the on field debut of the rest of the Saints draft class — Kent State cornerback Usama Young, Akron offensive lineman Andy Alleman, Towson offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, Wingate cornerback David Jones and Tennessee linebacker Marvin Mitchell
In addition to Thomas and Palko, other free agents signed by the Saints and expected to be on the field this weekend include:
—Peter Dyakowski, a 6-5, 310-pound offensive tackle who started for LSU last season.
—Rhema McKnight, a 6-2, 211-pound receiver from Notre Dame.
He had 170 receptions for 2,277 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career for the Fighting Irish. He was the seventh player in Notre Dame history to surpass 2,000 yards receiving.
—Pierre Thomas, an Illinois running back whose 2,392 career yards were seventh most in school history. He also was a top kick returner for the Illini and named the team’s most valuable player the past two seasons.
—Joe Porter, a Rutgers University cornerback credited with 93 tackles, 11 passes defended, seven forced fumbles, five interceptions and 4 1/2 tackles for losses during his four-year career.
—Jake Kuresa, a 6-4, 330-pound guard from Brigham Young who started 47 of 48 games. During his senior season, he blocked for a unit that averaged 465.5 yards per game.
—Wade Koehl, a 6-2, 230-pound linebacker who was a four-year starter at Houston. He was credited with 331 career tackles, 34 tackles for losses and eight sacks during his career with the Cougars.
—Keith Greer, a 6-1, 248-pound fullback out of Idaho who was mostly used as a blocker but sometimes also caught passes coming out of the backfield.
—Jon Hamm, a 6-7, 272-pound defensive end from Clark Atlanta, a Division II program. He was credited with 36 tackles, three sacks and a pair of blocked kicks last season.
—Pat MacDonald, a 6-3, 270-pound long snapper from the University of Alberta in Canada.
—Brett Bergstrom, a kicker from Eastern Washington for the past two years. Last season, Bergstrom converted 15 of 18 field goals, including three from beyond 50 yards, and hit 21 of 22 extra-point attempts. He also recorded 23 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Saturday’s practice was closed to the media, and players and coaches were not available for comment.