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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints receivers Nick Toon, Kenny Stills quickly getting up to speed

Posted Aug 24, 2013

Their performance made Steve Breaston, Patrick Crayton expendable

Kenny StillsYou couldn’t blame Kenny Stills and Nick Toon if they’d had a little more bounce in their step this week.

It’s not every day a rookie (Stills) and a player who almost is the equivalent of a rookie (Toon was on injured reserve last season, his rookie year) fend off the competition to, essentially, lay claim to being the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers for an offense as potent as New Orleans’, where those positions are heavily involved in the rotation.

The vote of confidence given to them when the Saints released veterans Steve Breaston and Patrick Crayton after last Friday’s preseason game against Oakland likely was a shot of adrenaline to the talented duo.

But since the party didn’t end there, the celebrating will have to wait. There’s still a ton of work to do, a few hundred lessons to learn, NFL tricks of the trade to be taught. And their education will continue Sunday when the Saints (2-0) take on the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium at 3 p.m. in a game nationally televised by Fox.

Still, there’s no arguing that the pups are fast learners and producers. Toon leads Saints receivers in receiving yards (122, on five receptions) and Stills also has five receptions (for 86 yards), tying the two for second among New Orleans receivers in receptions this preseason.

“I wouldn’t say I’m too comfortable yet,” Stills said. “I still have a long way to go. I’m still very young and the coaches see me that way.

“(I’m) just trying to build that trust with them and with (quarterback) Drew (Brees) and the rest of the guys on the offense, so they know and don’t feel like I’m the young guy out there. They just see me as another receiver out there making plays.”

Ditto for Toon, who also has hauled in a 56-yard pass from Brees, the team’s longest reception.

“My approach was to get on the field and develop a comfort level for being out there, continue to develop a comfort level and chemistry with Drew and the rest of the guys,” he said. “And go out there and showcase my ability.

“(Sunday’s) game is no different. I don’t know how the snaps are going to play out for the rest of the preseason, but just going out there and taking advantage of the reps that I do get.”

The fact is that so far, it’s been impossible to not notice how significantly they’ve taken advantage.

Stills, a fifth-round draft pick this year, ably filled in with the No. 1 offense when Marques Colston was out and Joseph Morgan was lost to injury. And with Colston back and rounding into form, Stills knows enough of the offense and the positions to be able to capably fill in at several receiver slots.

Toon, a fourth-round pick last year, also has cashed in on the extra work.

“Comfort comes with time,” Toon said. “The more time I spend on the field, in practice and, more importantly, in game-time situations, the more comfortable I get.

“I’m much more comfortable than when I came into training camp. It’s continuing to grow and I’m in a good place right now.”

He, and Stills, earned the right to be in their good places. It wasn’t easy seeing Breaston and Crayton go, but they learned that the business side of the NFL is unforgiving.

“For me it’s a lot different, coming from college, where everybody is on the team,” Stills said. “Seeing guys get cut, it’s definitely a lot different. I don’t think you get used to it, even the older guys. It’s tough.”

Said Toon: “Both are good players. They’ve done a lot good things in this league. It’s always unfortunate to see a teammate go, whether they’ve been a teammate for a few days or a few years. But you’ve got to step up when the opportunity arises, go out there and make plays and take advantage of the opportunities you’re given.”

Stills and Toon have done just that. They aren’t celebrating just yet, not when they hope to provide bigger and better reasons to do so.

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