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Despite 1,000-yard season as a rookie, New Orleans receiver Chris Olave thinks there is plenty of room for improvement

'Just try to play through contact and allow myself to get yards after the catch'

After a grueling season that included 15 games played, a concussion, a hamstring injury and probably a handful of other aches and pains that never were disclosed, Chris Olave wasn't talking about the need to decompress, heal and reset.

Instead, as the New Orleans Saints' rookie receiver headed into the offseason after the Saints posted a 7-10 record and failed to reach the playoffs, he already seemed to have a plan in place that will help him eclipse the standard that he set in his first season. And his first-year offering was one of the most impressive in franchise history.

Olave led the team in receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,042), joining Marques Colston and Michael Thomas as the only rookies in franchise history to top 1,000 receiving yards. Colston had 1,038 in 2006, and Thomas totaled 1,137 in '16.

"I know there's a lot of things I can work on," said Olave, who also had four touchdowns. "The stats were there, but I know I left a lot of yards on the field and I know I can improve a lot in Year 2. So I'm going to do that this offseason.

"Definitely got to get a little stronger, I know that's kind of a weak part of my game. Try to gain a couple pounds of muscle, just try to play through contact and allow myself to get yards after the catch. I feel like that's the biggest things I can improve on."

Specifically, in his season-ending media availability, Coach Dennis Allen noted the Saints' need for a receiver who possesses the ability to make tough, contested catches. The two players New Orleans likely was expecting to provide that element last season, Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry, played in three (Thomas) and nine (Landry) games, respectively.

Olave, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2022 draft, assumed the mantle of No. 1 receiver for New Orleans early because he was most well-equipped to do so. But at 6 feet 1, 188 pounds, Olave feels there's more he can add to the package.

He was targeted 13 times in the second and third games of the season (he caught 14 passes in the 26 targets, for 227 yards), and eight times in his 15 games, he was targeted at least seven times.

"I feel I can do that," Olave said of being the primary target. "I feel like I will do that. Having to step into that receiver 1 role immediately, in Week 3 with our two best receivers going down, it was a tough transition but I had to do it. There wasn't any going back. It definitely was a learning experience, and a great rookie year, but I feel I can improve a lot."

Olave entered the league with elite route-running ability, so much so that teammates labeled him a "veteran" before he'd set foot on the field for a regular-season game. Then, and now, Olave credited his college experience at Ohio State for helping transform him into what he has become.

"I feel it was kind of easy for me, coming from Ohio State," he said. "They kind of teach you that and develop you, to become an elite NFL player. Having that competition at Ohio State prepared me a lot for the NFL and kind of transitioned smooth into the NFL."

Still, Olave said, he was an information-seeking student in his first season. And what he learned will carry into his first offseason, where the thirst for improvement already has begun.

"I learned a lot, especially with veteran quarterbacks Jameis (Winston) and Andy (Dalton)," he said. "They taught me a lot.

"I feel like the coaches believe in me, and they believe in what I can do and my talent. There's a lot of room to improve. I can't wait to get to that point. I have a lot of goals in my career, and I definitely want to tap into that in Year 2."

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