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Defensive end Payton Turner hopes to link healthy second season to abbreviated rookie year for New Orleans Saints

"I think we've all got something to prove, especially prove to myself that I am who I think I am"


Literally, Payton Turner had a rookie season but in reality, it wasn't much of one.

The defensive end from Houston, the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick (No. 28 overall) last year, played in just five games, totaling a sack, three quarterback hits and 12 tackles in 143 snaps.

He got hurt in training camp, missed the season opener, played in four straight games, was out for two more, then played his final game of the season on Nov. 7 against Atlanta before heading to injured reserve for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury.

So if the beginning of his second NFL season feels a bit like an extension of his first due to his abbreviated appearance, it's understandable. Turner spent much of the offseason continuing to rehab from shoulder surgery.

"It does a little bit," he said. "It does. Still learning, always learning, I think. It feels like I kind of got a grip on most things as far as scheduling and what the day's going to look like or what practice is going to look like. But in a way, it's kind of like I've only played however many games and so many plays. So, still out there, keep learning."

Those few games and plays provided a minuscule peek at what the Saints are hoping to get from the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder.

His first game was his best (the sack, five tackles, three tackles for loss and a quarterback hit against Carolina) and his last game was efficient (three tackles in just 15 defensive snaps). But two days of training camp, including a bull rush/bum's rush over left tackle Jerald Hawkins on Thursday, have again stoked the optimism around the belief that Turner, if healthy, can be an impact player.

"I know where he's at right now, and I want to see him just get a little bit better every day," Coach Dennis Allen said. "There's some fundamentals, some technique, some effort. It's everything. He's not unlike a lot of young players.

"I don't really try to set a bunch of, like, by this time we want to reach this benchmark and by this time we want to reach this benchmark. I want guys that come in here every day, put their head down and go to work. If you do that, we'll reach our full potential, and that's really all we're trying to do."

For Turner, that began by returning to the field.

"Haven't been on the grass since November," he said. "Feels good just to be out with the guys again, sweating, running around, tagging off. We're putting the pads on soon, so real good.

"I was here for most of the offseason, so just working with the trainers. Come out here and hit the bags whenever I can, and whenever I was in Houston going to work with my old coaches at Houston and try to keep the rust off."

He finally has been able to activate some of what he learned while watching the final nine regular-season games of 2021.

"I feel like there's a lot of learning when that's all you can do, is sit there and soak in information," he said. "So I think I learned a lot from (then-defensive line coach and current co-defensive coordinator) Ryan (Nielsen) and (defensive end) Cam (Jordan), everybody in the D-line room. Just observing what you can't do, you want to do it even more because you can't go do it. Just taking everything in as far as pass rush, technique, run defense, just everything."

The bridge connecting his first rookie season to his "second" is dotted with scarring.

"It was a pain," Turner said. "Physically, mentally, it was a pain. Just trying to get things going, you get things going and then have a little setback, get things going, setback, then boom, surgery. Frustrating for sure, but that's the nature of the game. It just comes with it."

Now comes the part where the rookie intends to make the jump.

"I think we've all got something to prove, especially prove to myself that I am who I think I am," he said. "That's the biggest thing I want to do."

THUMP DAY: Count Allen among those who are eager to see the Saints in their first padded practice, scheduled for Monday. "I'm looking forward to it," Allen said. "That's football. That's the way the game is played. There's a lot to be said about guys running around out here in underwear, but this game's played with pads on. So that's really where guys will start to define themselves a little bit."

CESAR SEASONING: Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said he has seen growth from right guard Cesar Ruiz, who's entering his third season but, for the first time, has been able to experience a full offseason program with the Saints. "Really just noticing him during our OTA period, I think he made a lot of strides in that," Ramczyk said. "There's a lot of things in the run game and the pass, too. But just different things we're working on together that have felt a little bit better."

JAMEIS LOVE: Ramczyk also offered a glowing assessment of quarterback Jameis Winston. "Obviously, we love Jameis around here," he said. "He's a great teammate. He reached out to me a couple of times in the offseason to check in on me, and that's something that I really appreciate, something that's not looked by by me. He's a great leader, he takes good command of the huddle and I think the guys around him all trust him. We all have a ton of faith in him."

BITS AND PIECES: Defensive end Cameron Jordan had a "vet" day; attended practice, no team drills…Defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Pete Werner did conditioning drills on the side and likely will join practice soon…Saints Hall of Famer Jahri Evans (169 games played over 11 seasons, four-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler) is doing a coaching internship with the team in camp.

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