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Friends vie for playing time at DE with Saints

Saints-Open End

METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Competition between old college friends will help decide who replaces Charles Grant as the starting left defensive end for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Bobby McCray and Alex Brown were teammates for three years at Florida. They spend a lot of time together now, going out for steak dinners downtown or relaxing at one of their homes in the New Orleans area and reminiscing about their days as Gators.

He's my dude,'' Brown said of McCray.He knows my family. I know his family. So he's a good friend of mine, but we understand that it's competition. You've got to compete and we believe that we'll bring the best out of each other and it will make us better.''

During minicamp this past weekend and at an additional offseason practice on Monday, the pair appeared to be the top two candidates to complete a starting defensive end tandem that already includes Will Smith.

For now, McCray is getting the most work with the first team, just as he did throughout the playoffs following Grant's torn triceps injury.

Grant was released in March, before Brown signed a two-year, free-agent contract with New Orleans.

Brown started all 16 games for Chicago last season and was a key member of the Bears defense that shut down the Saints' league-leading offense and quarterback Drew Brees back in the 2006-07 NFC championship game.

McCray would rather not lose the job he held in the playoffs to Brown, but figures both of them will have a role regardless, perhaps with the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Brown playing more against the run. McCray, who is 6-foot-6 and one of the quickest defensive linemen on the team, often played in passing situations during his first two seasons with the Saints.

We're not fighting over it. This is an opportunity for both of us to make plays on a great defense,'' McCray said.I'm pretty confident about it, but at the same time, I'm not worried about it. Alex is a great player and he's a great addition to the team. At the end it will be (the coaches') ultimate decision to figure out what they want to do, but me and him will be playing.''

After signing Brown, the Saints also brought in seven-year veteran defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, who played the past two seasons with Tampa Bay and can also play tackle. Wilkerson has yet to practice fully, limited mostly to individual drills while he rehabilitates a left knee injury.

I don't really worry about going out for a starting job,'' Wilkerson said.If I can come in here and help this team win games and get a lot better on defense, then I've done my job. Going out for the starting job is going to take care of itself.''

The Saints also still have reserve defensive end Jeff Charleston, who has been with the club since 2008.

I think we've got a really good defense end corps,'' Wilkerson said.You've got a lot of experience and you can really hone in on your techniques. We're working hard. There's no animosity. Everybody's just going out there and having fun playing football.''

While Saints coach Sean Payton refers to Smith as a ``three-down'' player who thrives in both running and passing situations, he said the Saints will rotate players regularly at the other end spot.

All those guys are going to play,'' Payton said.We try to rotate a lot of guys in. There are a lot of different packages. It's not as clear as 10 years ago where you just said, 'Hey, this player is our left end.' There are too many packages that we're playing. The versatility of these players in what they can do, we'll look closely at.''

Brown said Grant's release played a role in his decision to come to New Orleans, but he also wanted to play for a winner and liked what he heard about the organization when he consulted McCray.

It's good to have somebody on the inside that can actually tell you exactly how it is,'' Brown said.He did that for me.''

Notes: Brown said a major adjustment in moving from Chicago to New Orleans has been dealing with the large cockroaches, also called palmetto bugs, which inevitably get into homes in the deep South. I've had the exterminator people by three times already,'' said Brown, who grew up in Florida but had gotten used to life without palmetto bugs during eight years up north.They've got to get out. I'll put 1,000 bug things around the house, but they got to go. ... That'll be an off-the-field task.''

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