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John DeShazier: Kenny Stills making his mark in his rookie season with Saints

Posted Oct 30, 2013

Receiver from Oklahoma has come up big in several games

It’s not as if Kenny Stills pulled a stealth move. No, subterfuge didn’t enter the equation.
Pretty much from the time the rookie receiver joined the New Orleans Saints until now, he has let his talent and intelligence carve out a space for him, and they’ve made him impossible to overlook.

In training camp he was working with the No. 2 offense when most rookies might’ve been dizzy from the amount of information they needed to learn. Then, when No. 3 receiver Joseph Morgan went down for the season with a torn ACL, Stills smoothly eased into that slot.

When Marques Colston couldn’t practice in camp as he continued his rehabilitation from a foot injury, and Lance Moore had to sit for three games while nursing a hand injury, Stills capably filled in for each because unlike most rookies, he sponged enough information and repetitions to enable him to play every receiver position.

The results have been more and more spectacular.

He big-played Atlanta in the season opener with two catches for 86 yards. He stunned New England with a beautiful 34-yard touchdown catch from Drew Brees on third-and-20 in the fourth quarter, his first NFL score, to give the Saints a lead with 3:29 left.

And he torched the Bills for 129 yards and two touchdowns on three catches, with scores from 69 and 42 yards, the latter on third-and-20.

Those shows only reinforced the notion that Stills, who has emerged as a big-play threat for New Orleans this season (13 receptions for 327 yards, an average of 25.2 yards per catch, and three scores), has been looked at as being an asset since he stepped on the field.

Still, it’s nice to see some of the potential being realized.

“He’s got crazy potential,” Moore said.

And now, he has the full confidence of his teammates and coaches, who have witnessed Stills not be devoured by the opportunity.

top 10 Saints-Bills

“He’s very mature, beyond his years,” Brees said. “He has lived up to the challenge. Wherever we put him, whatever we’ve asked of him, he’s lived up to the challenge.”

That speaks volumes, considering the complexities of a Saints offense that Brees has mastered since 2006. And it compliments Stills that he has been able to hold his own on the field and in a meeting room that includes receivers like Moore and Colston, who both have played with Brees since the quarterback signed as a free agent.

“I just feel like the room that we have, (and) the guys that I’m surrounded by, have held me to high expectations and I never really expected less than everybody else in the room,” Stills said. “With them expecting me to grow up fast, that’s what I’m doing.”

His production at Oklahoma suggested he might be a quick study, even though Stills left after his junior season.

In three years he played flanker and split end, and caught 204 passes for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Saints drafted him in the fifth round (No. 144 overall) and though his bio touts his ability as a deep threat, Stills said he’s one of several such weapons for the Saints.

“I definitely think that Lance, Colston, (Nick) Toon, Meach (Robert Meachem) can all spread the field as well,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky to have the opportunity to be out there and make those plays.”

Credit aside, Stills has teamed to account for the Saints’ longest play from scrimmage this season (the 69-yard touchdown) and he set a team rookie receiving average record (43 yards per catch) against the Bills.

And the best byproduct is that he has gained Brees’ trust. The 42-yard score against Buffalo wasn’t a pass where Stills was wide open; rather, it was closer to an even-ball situation, where he had to make a play.

“It’s been great to be out there and have the opportunity, and be able to make the plays for Drew, and him have trust in me,” Stills said.

It’s trust that has been earned through performance, performance that turned heads from the beginning of Stills’ still young career.

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