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John DeShazier: Nick Toon getting rave reviews this training camp

New Orleans Saints receiver spent his rookie season on IR


Overwhelmingly, the reviews have been positive and virtually have parroted one another.

Nick Toon is different, they say.

Nick Toon is significantly improved, they echo.

Nick Toon is ready to contribute to the New Orleans Saints as a receiver because the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder with the good hands and smooth moves has been a breakout, look-at-me player in training camp, fully recovered from a foot injury that got him placed on injured reserve last year and forced him to miss his entire rookie season.

"Nick's getting better," cornerback Jabari Greer said Wednesday. "He had one move earlier today that really surprised me. He's been getting off the line well, his suddenness in and out of breaks has been good, he's been catching the ball well.

"He's a guy that's humble in character and willing to put his head down and work every day. He really embodies the type of receiver that we bring in, a guy that's going to be where he's supposed to be, that's going to work hard and going to really be team first. I think we're lucky to have Nick. I'm excited to see him play because I'm a big fan of Nick Toon in the locker room."

Being a presence in the locker room is fine, but Toon obviously wants to be one on the field, too. And after a lost rookie season – he appeared in two preseason games and caught two passes for six yards before suffering the foot injury that caused his season to end before it really began – he's champing at the chance to cash in on his opportunity.

He's determined to make a name for himself.

Not that he shrinks from his lineage. Toon, in fact, is extremely proud of his surname and of the father, Al, who made it known throughout the NFL during his playing career (1985-92 with the New York Jets). The three-time Pro Bowler left Wisconsin as the school record holder in receptions (131), receiving yards (2,103) and receiving touchdowns (19).

But Nick clawed past his father in the Wisconsin record books in receptions (171) and receiving yards (2,447) and nearly topped him in touchdown receptions (18) for a team that was decidedly run-oriented.

He made his own name as a Badger; that goal remains intact for the NFL, too.

"That's something that my Dad tried to stress early on in my career," Nick said. "Something that I've tried to do since college is create my own identity. I am a Toon; I'm a branch of the Toon name, but I want to create my own legacy. I'm proud to be a part of that family and be my father's son, but I need to create my own path."

There hasn't been much to not like during training camp. Toon has made several outstanding grabs but, perhaps just as important, he has made the routine ones, too.

No doubt, it helps that he has matured. He's a year older and wiser to the ways of the NFL. Too, though, it's been beneficial that he has had time in New Orleans' offseason program and that now, he's healthy.

"First and foremost, it feels great to get back out here and be healthy," Toon said. "That makes a big difference. (I'm just) coming out to work every day, trying to learn and improve every day."

"I'm just happy to see him healthy," said fellow receiver Lance Moore. "Any time a guy comes in, he's a rookie and he's trying to fight to make the roster and he gets hurt and doesn't get a chance to play, it's tough. Seeing him healthy, out here producing, making plays, that's what you love to see and hopefully he continues to get better."

The man charged with seeing to that is Saints receivers coach Henry Ellard, whose NFL career overlapped that of Toon's father on both sides (Ellard played with the Los Angeles Rams, Redskins and Patriots from 1983-98) and who has been an NFL coach since 2001.

"It's great to get the opportunity to work with a coach that's as decorated as he is, that has as much experience at the same position at the NFL level as he did," Toon said of Ellard. "Coaches that played, they get it, they understand it. He's been a great help to me thus far and will continue to help mold me into the player that I aspire to be."

That player is rounding into form, if his current work is indicative of his arc. Toon already has shown himself capable of garnering attention and accolades for himself through his performance.

If he did it once, there's reason to believe he's capable of doing it twice.

"I think every player hopes to make a huge impact, and that's my goal," he said. "It's something that I continue to work toward. How I fit in and how I'm used, that'll be up to the coaching staff. I'm more than happy to help out in any way that I can."

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