A line directly can be drawn from today to the half-year to seven months last year that he spent in Delray Beach, Fla., connecting with his 6-year-old son Preston, Jr., time created when the new coaches of his old team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, didn’t see in the Parker of 2012 what the previous staff had seen in the Parker of 2011.
From 40 receptions for 554 yards and three touchdowns, and 20 kickoff returns for 439 yards, and 23 punt returns for 210 yards in 16 games in 2011, to two games played, not a single reception and cut in 2012, Parker’s fall with the Buccaneers was as swift as has been his rise with New Orleans.
A pair of two-yard touchdown receptions in the preseason opener against Kansas City, en route to four catches for 43 yards in the 17-13 win, alerted the public to what he’d been doing in relative anonymity during training camp.
“I’ve been through a lot of stuff, learned a lot, taken everything and put it in my book bag,” he said. “When I landed here, I just used everything in my book bag, all the notes, as an experience.
“I was a free agent so it wasn’t that big a shock to me (to be released by Tampa Bay). I know how the NFL works. It’s like 2½ (years) career expectancy, so when it hit me I was like, ‘This must be what they’re talking about.’ It was a little shock, but it wasn’t that big of a shock because how this business is. There are a lot of people before me who were productive in other places, on other teams, and they were gone the next year.
“I don’t know what it was. I had to just go home and keep working out, spent time with my son. That was the most time I got to spend with my son since college, and I took advantage of that – I could see him and take him to school and teach him words, teach him math.
“(But) it was kind of hard to keep my head up. Music kept me. I started listening to people who went through things – rappers like Tupac, Jay-Z, J. Cole. Those are the guys that kept me up. I took all the stuff that they were saying and I put that in my mind, to keep grinding, keep grinding. The music, my son and just knowing I could play.”
Parker has given his teammates, and Saints fans, a fair exhibition of exactly what he can do. His highlight catch was a 33-yard reception from
But while all have seen flashes of his ability, they fully might not comprehend his passion.
Unemployment triggered a perspective that Parker said he may have lacked until he was released. It’s a perspective that Coach Sean Payton has taken note of.
“He’s physical, and we feel like he is a guy who has shown that he can play in the kicking game,” Payton said. “I just think he seemed to be ready to play. Friday night I thought he blocked very well and I think guys like him understand the significance of being able to help when it comes to the kick units, coverage or return game.
“He’s very eager and willing. He’s been in this league and he understands how difficult it is to make a roster. He’s hungry for a position.”
Said Parker: “I definitely get it. I get the business. I know what it is coming in early, just loving your job. That’s one thing I probably lacked before, loving my job. I didn’t love it as much as I do now. But when I went home it gave me a bigger heart for the game and for the opportunity.
“Just to have on Nike stuff, just to have on cleats – some people have to wear cleats for two straight years, three straight years in high school. Here I am, we can just get cleats. Just the small stuff – just to feel the breeze, the sun is up, we’re just out there working, working for a good cause.”
Whether the work results in a roster spot remains to be seen but so far, Parker certainly hasn’t hurt his cause.
A year ago in preseason, he fumbled two punts in a game for the Bucs, losing one and recovering the other. Not long after that his career was interrupted by his release. But only a few weeks later, during the 2012 season, he said the Saints inquired about him. That inquiry led to today’s opportunity.
“My agent called me and he was like, ‘It must be a good day for you,’ ” Parker said. “He said, ‘The Saints want you to come in for a workout.’ It was tears of joy.
“I kept it in, I didn’t really let people know what was going on, and I just came up and worked out. When I saw the facilities and how it was, it just felt like it was home.”
Parker signed with the Saints in the offseason and now the opportunity is present. He understands that it’s up to him to seize it. For sure, he won’t take it for granted.
“You’ve got to prove it every day, every game,” he said.