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John DeShazier: Landon Turner has big opportunity with Saints

Rookie free agent will compete for a spot at guard

The smile on Landon Turner's face last week was a knowing one, the corners of his mouth upturned not due to a smug confidence, but because he has a full understanding of the situation in which he now finds himself.

Some opportunities created for free agent rookies appear to be more equal than others and Turner, a big man – 6 feet 4, 325 pounds – has a big one squarely staring back at him when he looks at the New Orleans Saints' roster.

The Saints weren't covert about their need to add an offensive lineman – specifically, a guard – this offseason. It was a desire that went unfilled in free agency and the NFL Draft.

Perhaps, though, Turner is one of the men who can occupy the vacancy that partially was created when right guard Jahri Evans, the second-most decorated offensive lineman in franchise history, was released this offseason.

Turner was a four-year starter at guard for North Carolina, with 42 starts in 52 games. He opened all 14 games at right guard in 2015 and was named first-team All-American. And when the Saints presented him an offer to join the team as an undrafted rookie, and explained to him the possibilities, it made Turner's choice an easy one.

Little wonder he was all smiles during the team's rookie minicamp.

"This one became the one because I knew they needed help and I thought I could offer the help that they needed," he said. "That was what was important. I made a quick decision and found a team, found a home for the time being.

"I was really excited, just ecstatic to have a team and have the opportunity to chase my dream. I'm really looking forward to what I can make for myself here and just learn as much as I can every day, work as hard as I can every day.

"I'm just here to work and I'm going to make the opportunity for myself, the way that I can just by working, showing up, listening, knowing I've got a lot to learn coming from a completely different system at North Carolina, so I'm learning the pro system."

Turner, with his resume, was a fortunate pick-up by the Saints. They weren't his only suitors, but the fact that they didn't sign a guard in free agency and didn't draft one made the franchise a good target for him, and him a good target for the franchise.

"We had a good grade on him, we had a draftable grade," General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "So to get him as a college free agent, and not have to use a draft pick, is good for us. He's a good player, he was a good college player. We saw some things athletically and there's nothing in this camp that would change our mind."

Possibly, joining the Saints is to Turner's benefit even more than he knows.

The franchise has shown a willingness to give undrafted free agents a more than fair look and many have earned roster spots, dating to running back Pierre Thomas in 2007 and continuing through defensive lineman Bobby Richardson in 2015.

"I think we do have some history that we can cite, but you still have to work hard," Loomis said. "When you're talking to the players and you're talking to the agents, you're working hard to describe the opportunity that you have, your vision for the player. I think a lot of teams do a good job of signing college free agents and we didn't get every guy that we went after. We got beat on a few guys.

"But overall, I think we've done a good job. I think our scouts do a real good job of identifying these guys, of building relationships with the players during the course of their college season and so when we call, it's not a call that's just a cold-turkey call. It's a call with some history."

The history with Turner may lead to his future with the Saints.

"It was disappointing for me to not get drafted, but that's just part of the business," Turner said. "It's a motivating factor but now that I'm here, that's kind of in the past. It's water under the bridge at this point. I've got a new mind-set and I'm just showing up every day."

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