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Blake Gillikin leaving little doubt he's capable of being New Orleans Saints punter

'At the end of the day, I've got to show up to training camp this year and perform'

The New Orleans Saints take the field for Day 3 of Training Camp presented by SeatGeek at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
The New Orleans Saints take the field for Day 3 of Training Camp presented by SeatGeek at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

There hasn't been much doubt in training camp why the New Orleans Saints found a way to keep Blake Gillikin last year even though they had Thomas Morstead, the most accomplished punter in franchise history, on the roster.

The 23-year-old can boom them.

Hang time and distance appear not to be a problem, and the impression he made last year as an undrafted rookie working alongside Morstead, before Gillikin was placed on injured reserve, hasn't waned early in camp as he endeavors to replace Morstead, who was released this offseason.

"Really excited about (possibly being the new punter)," Gillikin said. "Last year, being with (Morstead) the entire year was very valuable for me.

"But this year it's me focusing on myself, and trying to be the best version of what I can be on the field and not really worrying about too much of what he did in the past, because that's where you really get into trouble, when you start trying to make comparisons and stuff like that. So, just being myself, being the punter that I know I can be and hopefully having a successful preseason and season."

That's a sound approach, because Morstead left behind a vast legacy. In 12 seasons after being a fifth-round pick in 2009, and in addition to executing the "Ambush" onside kick to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV, he averaged 46.5 yards on 692 punts, and was a five-time NFC Special Teams Player of the Week who was a team captain and as reliable as any player on the roster.

But Gillikin, who averaged 43 yards per punt at Penn State and had 53 downed inside the 20, is confident in his abilities.

"If you can consistently put it in the right spot, so your coverage team knows where it's going to be – great hang time, great distance – and combine all those three elements, that's what makes you a good punter at the end of the day," he said.

"I think it comes down to preparation. Any position, you talk about a consistent approach – visualization exercises, how you warm up and stuff like that gives me confidence that any time I come out, in any situation, it's going to kind of be the same result. That's what I strive for."

That's what Coach Sean Payton is looking for, and has seen so far from Gillikin. The Saints have two punters in camp, Gillikin and Nolan Cooney, but Gillikin's strength and consistency have been evident.

"It was pretty sharp," Payton said of Gillikin's performance Saturday, the first day of camp that Gillikin punted on the outdoor practice field. "(Friday), we had some big punts (from Cooney) but it was kind of like a home run or a strikeout. And that's a young player. It's good to have a live leg, and we got to see glimpses of that from (Gillikin) a year ago. I thought that period was good. It was pretty impressive."

"It's obviously great to be with an organization like this," Gillikin said. "Coach Payton runs a great organization and just being around those guys all last year was very valuable for me. But at the end of the day, I've got to show up to training camp this year and perform. And that's what I feel like I've done so far and hope to continue to do."

That also means honing his skills as a holder for kicker Wil Lutz.

"I've worked with Wil a lot, got reps last year in camp, (and) worked with him a bunch of times this offseason during minicamp, stuff like that," he said. "So we're really comfortable together.

"It's been great getting his feedback on what I can do better, and vice versa. So I'm really comfortable right now with him, with (long snapper) Zach Wood as well. It couldn't be any better right now."

Best, perhaps, is the feel for Gillikin when he hits a punt pure.

"I mean, obviously it feels good," he said. "It comes down to doing it every single time. Consistency.

"You can hit one big punt out of five and that's not going to get the job done. It needs to be three, four times – possibly five times – out of five. I feel like I had two really good days so far. Obviously, seeing the product outside and not being able to see it (in the indoor facility) is a little bit different, but hopefully we're outside (Tuesday) and I can do it again."

The New Orleans Saints take the field for Day 4 of Training Camp presented by SeatGeek at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

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