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John DeShazier: Kenny Stills has made a mark in rookie season

Posted Jan 3, 2014

Receiver led NFL with 20-yard average per catch

From the outset there was reason to believe Kenny Stills would make a mark, that the rookie receiver was an advanced learner, that his skills would make room for him in a New Orleans Saints offense that was full of veteran producers.

The initial read wasn’t wrong. In fact, it was proved to be spot on.

Stills led the NFL with a 20-yard average per catch (32 receptions for 641 yards), with five touchdowns and scoring catches of 76, 69, 52, 42 and 34 yards, and a non-scoring grab of 67 yards.

Entering Saturday’s NFC wild-card game against Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field, Stills hopes to have a similar impact for the Saints (11-5) against the Eagles defense.

“Looking back at it, my goals were to first make the team, and then contribute in any way that I could,” he said. “I didn’t make too many real goals, so I definitely think I did a good job of achieving what I wanted to do, just making sure I take advantage of every ball that came my way.

“I felt that for the most part, looking back at the regular season, I caught everything that I could and I took advantage of most of my opportunities.”

Even though it was likely that Stills would work his way into the receiver rotation, he took advantage of the extra repetitions with the No. 1 offense provided by injuries.

First, Marques Colston, the franchise career leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, couldn’t practice in training camp while he continued to recover from a foot injury.

Then, Joseph Morgan, who was expected to be the No. 3 receiver and who caught 10 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns last season, tore his ACL in training camp to leave a void for that role.

For Stills, the chance to move up the depth chart and to play significant snaps increased because of his ability to quickly process the playbook, and because Saints coaches continued to ascribe to the “go by what we see” mantra.

“From the beginning I really didn’t know,” Stills said. “But to be able to (step in and produce) was something I’m obviously real excited about. When I got here I just wanted to be able to make some type of impact on this team, whether it was in the locker room or on the field or wherever it was. I’m just happy that I’ve been able to contribute and help this team win and get to the playoffs.

“I didn’t know too much history of the team and the rookies playing, but I knew that if I came in here and I took care of business every day, they’d give me a shot and a chance to play. And I felt like just the way the cards played and I got my chance to go out there and play, I felt like I had prepared well enough to make everyone feel comfortable and leave me out there and let me play.”

Likely, everyone is even more comfortable now, after a regular season in which Stills combined with quarterback Drew Brees to produce the three longest plays from scrimmage this season.

His 76-yard touchdown catch against Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale was the Saints’ longest play from scrimmage since Morgan caught an 80-yard touchdown pass last season, on Sept. 30, 2012, against Green Bay.

The next challenge is to make a mark in Saturday’s playoff game.

“It’s very similar to the regular season for me,” Stills said. “My outlook on this game is just being able to make sure that I take advantage of my opportunities and if the ball comes my way, or if I need to make a critical block, make sure I’m doing my job and on top of all my assignments.”

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