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John DeShazier: Hakeem Nicks ready for opportunity with Saints

Veteran receiver kept texting Coach Payton: 'Let's hunt'

Photos from New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on July 29, 2016

White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Hakeem Nicks' return to health and proven ability kept him relevant to the New Orleans Saints and fresh in their mind after Hicks worked out for the team in March.

But just in case it didn't, Nicks further took matters into his own hands.

"He wouldn't stop texting me," Saints Coach Sean Payton said.

No, literally, Nicks would not stop.

"You know how on text messages, you can see the little 'R' that means 'read'?" Nicks said.

"I was texting him ever since I left from that last visit, in March. He probably got a text from me every other week from then."

The message?

"Let's hunt, Coach. Let's hunt. I sent him some training videos. Let's hunt."

Nicks' hunt for a roster spot with the Saints began Friday, when the team signed the veteran to bolster its receiver corp. He participated, in a limited capacity, in New Orleans' second training camp practice at The Greenbrier.

"We've worked him out a few times," Payton said. "He's an experienced receiver, he's in good shape and he was on a short list if we had a number, and we did. He's got strong hands in traffic and we were real familiar with him just because on two different occasions, we had him in for workouts."

What the Saints believe they saw was more along the lines of the Hicks who was productive with the Giants, with consecutive seasons of 79 catches for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns, in 2010 and '11, rather than the Nicks who has been slowed by injury the last two seasons, when he has combined to catch 45 passes for 459 yards and four touchdowns.

Last year, in just six games, he caught seven passes for 54 yards and didn't score.

"I've had a fair share of injuries in my career," Nicks said. "That's what happened to me last year. I kind of kept it quiet but in Tennessee's training camp, I injured my knee. That's when I got released and signed back with the Giants midseason.

"But I rehabbed all offseason, from January until now rehabbing and training. I put a lot of work into it, the opportunity came and I'm ready for it."

In seven NFL seasons, Nicks has caught 356 passes for 5,081 yards and 31 touchdowns.

By contrast, the Saints' three leading returning receivers from last season – Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman – have four combined seasons (two by Cooks) and have caught 236 passes for 3,126 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Nicks becomes the veteran receiver in the room.

"I'm only 28," he said, laughing. "I ain't that old. But I've got a lot to bring to the table, my skill set brings a lot to the table."

Said Payton: "From a leadership standpoint, there's one element. From an experience standpoint, guys like Cooks and Snead, those guys are smart players. But from an experience standpoint, Nicks is someone who's played in some big moments and there's a personality he has that obviously can be infectious and help the room."

Nicks, a member of the Giants team that won Super Bowl XLVI with quarterback Eli Manning, a New Orleans native, said that precisely is one of the reasons he believes he's a good fit with the Saints.

"Definitely bring them a leadership role, that veteran presence," he said. "Because I remember when I was a younger guy, we had veteran presence. You kind of look to that – you might not say anything, but you kind of look to that to see how to conduct yourself throughout the building. Tight game situations, knowing how to fight, that just comes out of you when you're a veteran and have a lot of games under your belt."

Plus, there's the added bonus of playing with Drew Brees.

"Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks," Nicks said. "I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to play with Eli Manning, win a Super Bowl, play with Andrew Luck (in Indianapolis), blessed enough to get another opportunity with a great Super Bowl quarterback. I look forward to building that rapport with him and being whatever the team needs me to be."

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