White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Defensive back Damian Swann and running back Marcus Murphy were the New Orleans Saints' last two draft picks. Against Baltimore in the preseason opener, they made solid first impressions.
Murphy, New Orleans' seventh-round pick (No. 230 overall), was a special teams standout with 132 yards on five kickoff returns. And he also ran for a 3-yard touchdown that gave the Saints a 27-23 lead with 1:56 left, though that lead eventually surrendered in a 30-27 loss.
And Swann, the second of the Saints' two fifth-round picks (No. 167 overall), produced New Orleans' first turnover of the preseason with a third-quarter interception. Swann added a couple of tackles, but also was penalized twice – for illegal contact and pass interference.
"I thought Murphy returned the ball exceptionally well," Coach Sean Payton said. "Swann had a couple holding calls but nonetheless, made a few good plays in the secondary that were encouraging."
For Murphy, it was the kind of performance he has yielded in past years. At Missouri he was named Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014, when he totaled 1,921 all-purpose yards. That total led the conference and he was the only player in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to score on a kick return, punt return, rush and reception.
He also was a standout running back as a senior (924 yards), but knows his "in" with the Saints likely will come via special teams.
"Just coming into training camp I was preparing to be a returner," Murphy said. "I know that I can do a lot of things out of the backfield in space, but I did a lot of things good in college as a punt returner and kick returner, so I knew that would be a big role for me here.
"First and foremost as a punt returner and kick returner, you have to play smart. So I'm not going to be aggressive when I don't need to. I want to show the coaches that they can trust me and have confidence in me to make the smart judgement. If I need to fair catch it I will, but if I have open space I will return."
He said he was given the green light on all kick returns against the Ravens, in order for coaches to be able to evaluate his performance.
"I think there's a handful of players – he's one of them – that the special teams are going to be extremely important," Payton said. "He didn't get a chance to return many punts, but he showed good courage. I thought his instincts were really good with kick returns."
Swann's instincts may have been just as impressive on his interception of a Matt Schaub pass intended for Jeremy Butler, with 9:33 left in the third quarter.
Swann, who played at Georgia, effectively jumped the out route, beat Butler to the ball and took the turnover.
"Just looking to make a play," he said. "I'm one of those guys that was drafted late, so I've got to earn my spot. Every rep that I get I've got to take advantage of it, and I saw an opportunity and that's what I did.
"It felt great. Being able to go out and compete against Baltimore and play a lot of man coverage, and show what I can do, and I was able to jump a route."
The penalties, Payton and Swann said, are correctable errors. Swann said they were attributable to the adjustment he's making.
"Especially coming out of college – you can harass the receiver all the way down the field until the ball is in the air, so it's kind of different," he said. "I'm working on it every day, getting coached on it every day and it's just got to translate from practice into the games."
Said Payton: "He's real smart. He can play outside but he's someone that can handle the inside."
Murphy, too, appears equipped to handle his duties. He had 504 kickoff return yards and 281 punt return yards as a senior.
"I don't think I have to do something extra," Murphy said. "I just want to come out and play how I know how to play. It's football. Of course it's at the next level, so you have to step your game up, you have to be prepared. But I just want to be able to go out and have fun on the field, just play football the way it needs to be played, play smart football and just have fun and make plays."