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Deonte Harris' plan working to the benefit of New Orleans Saints

All-Pro punt returner aims to add to role as receiver

Deonte Harty' plan was simple:


It didn't matter what position the 5-foot-6, 170-pounder was asked to play. The undrafted rookie from Assumption College would've done just about anything the New Orleans Saints asked him to do to make the team last year.

"My dream was to play in the NFL, whether it be a receiver, running back, kick returner, punt returner, whatever it was," Harris said. "I just want to be able to play for a long time."

If he keeps stacking up years like his first one, that won't be a problem.

Harris was first-team All-Pro as a punt returner last year, when he returned 36 punts for 338 yards and a touchdown. He also returned 24 kickoffs for 644 yards, and led the NFL in punt returns, combined returns and punt return yards. He was named Pro Bowl returner for the NFC.

"We've got a great special team coaching staff," Harris said. "And the players, we buy in, we believe that it's a big part of the game. And that's a reason why we win a lot of games here. Everybody bought in to what the coaches are preaching and, you know, we just want to go with it and have fun."

Now, the Saints are attempting to see if there's more where last year came from – specifically, at receiver for Harris.

He caught six passes for 24 yards as a rookie (and also rushed for 31 yards on four carries), but the Saints believe he can add another dimension to the offense with his speed, and the coaches are working toward that end.

"I think all of us, we enjoy the part where it works in a game," Coach Sean Payton said, laughing, about creating ways to get Harris the ball. "Look, it's our job, and it is fun. But you're trying to come up with different ways that fit what we're doing and then when it comes to fruition on a Sunday, yeah. I think any time, as a teacher, you see one of your students do well, that's why you do it.

"He's got a skill set that obviously gets us excited and we can build on it."

Harris is doing his part to make sure the plan comes to fruition. Clearly, he has his special teams role down pat, so now the quest is to see if, and how much, he can contribute as a receiver.

"This offseason, I tried to work on it as much as I can," he said. "Special teams is kind of what I focused on last year, because I knew that would be my role coming in. But, I got to train and I worked with a lot of guys to try to get better at the receiver position."

The work encompassed the basics, Harris said – catching, blocking and making guys miss. But that oversimplifies the complexities of what the Saints are asking him to do, and what he has learned about the position. Coaches say Harris always is eager and willing to add more responsibility to his plate.

"I've been playing this game my whole life," he said. "The more they give me, the better. I just want to go out just try to help the team win games."

He did that last year on special teams. This season, the Saints will find out if he can help as a receiver. Harris believes he can and so far, everything else has gone according to plan.

PEAT IN PADS: Left guard Andrus Peat was with his teammates (full pads, indoor facility at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center) in a limited capacity Monday. It was the first time in training camp that the Pro Bowler was in pads. "It's good to have him back," Payton said. "He had a thumb (injury) that he was dealing with. Like anything, when a player comes back we'll be mindful of the reps they're getting those first few days. But he obviously is an important part of what we want to do with our offensive line."

TWO-MINUTE: On a pair of two-minute drives near the end of practice – offense trailed by six and needed a touchdown – the defense came up big. On the first drive, after quarterback Drew Brees drove the offense down to the 7-yard line, the defense forced three consecutive incompletions, the last as time expired. On the next, cornerback Justin Hardee Sr. intercepted a tipped pass for a turnover.

TIMELY RETURN: Running back Ty Montgomery returned to practice after missing Saturday's workout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It was a welcome re-appearance. With Alvin Kamara missing his third consecutive practice, and Dwayne Washington placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, New Orleans' available running backs were Montgomery, Latavius Murray and Tony Jones Jr.

BELIEVE IT: Much training camp hype can be filed under grain-of-salt hype. But…what has been said and written about cornerback Patrick Robinson is true: P-Rob has been outstanding in camp. Two plays in a one-on-one drill against receivers were consistent with what he has done in camp. On the first, sticky coverage forced an errant throw and incompletion. On the second, one-on-one in the red zone, he broke up a pass. (And that's not to mention his near-interception of a quick screen pass attempt during a team drill.) Robinson has looked the part so far.

Photos from New Orleans Saints training camp practice on Monday, August 31, 2020.

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