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John DeShazier: 'Observant' Sheldon Rankins trying to soak in knowledge during Saints rookie camp

First-round draft pick 'always looking at finer details'

There's not much to be said definitively for what Sheldon Rankins will offer in the NFL on game days, because not much at all has been seen during the New Orleans Saints' rookie minicamp, and not nearly everything will be seen during the three days of on-field work that will conclude Sunday.

The defensive tackle – New Orleans' first-round draft pick (No. 12 overall) this year – is one of 79 players looking to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff.

"It's hard to tell anything about a guy in rookie minicamp," defensive line coach Bill Johnson said. "It's way too early to try to say who's what, this, that and the other. Because we throw so much at these guys and they go home at night and they spend as much time just trying to study and get all the concepts, because we don't just teach them defense.

"They've got to recognize offenses, they've got to be able to name protections. They've just got a lot to learn. After four team periods and some meeting time, it's just hard to say about anybody, in my opinion. But obviously, he's a guy that we had targeted and we were lucky to get him. He's an outstanding young man and I expect him to do what it takes to become a good player."

If part of that is taking the job seriously, then Rankins already has that part down pat.

He was businesslike during his time at Louisville, when he amassed 18 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss in four seasons. And he was businesslike during his session with the news media Saturday.

"I've always been a laid back, quiet guy, never say too much," Rankins said. "But I'm always observant, I'm always looking at finer details. It's safe to say I'm very serious about what I do and I think I've shown that going out there these first couple of practices, and I'm going to continue to do so."

It's safe to say that the Saints are counting on Rankins to continue to do the things that have made him successful. It's the reason he was their targeted player at No. 12, in a draft that Coach Sean Payton said played out as the Saints expected it to through their pick.

"We saw a lot of athleticism, we saw explosive, he's very efficient in his movement," Johnson said. "We don't know if he's a three-down player yet; I don't know who our three-down players are right now. It's something that we've got to improve on as a team. We like some of the pieces we've brought in to work with, it's just way too early to tell.

"(But) from a prospect standpoint, he's a guy that Sean likes to say 'had a lot of the boxes checked.' He was there and here we are."

And where the Saints and Rankins are right now is the beginning stage of the learning process.

Rookies and tryout players are being plied with information, their football IQs and learning capacities being stretched and challenged daily.

"We're just learning on the fly, really," Rankins said. "We install, go out there and see what guys can handle, different formations and different shifts and things like that. We're just going out there and playing ball, guys learning on the fly and having fun.

"They've just been trying to see what I can do, see what I can handle as far as my mental capacity, football IQ, things like that. Just going out there and watching me play ball."

Said Johnson: "We do a lot to teach them a lot of football, (but) right now it's not so much defense. It's learning the game, it's learning the rules of the NFL, it's learning how to get up and come to work every day. So it's not all just about football."

But it will be, and soon. Because Rankins was picked based on the belief that he'll be a defensive asset, a disruptive force in the middle of the line capable of applying quarterback pressure and making plays.

And it's a daunting challenge for a rookie.

"It's two-fold, it's the ability to go out and make plays, make things happen positive for us, and eliminate the negatives," defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "How do they go about doing that?

"It's a process of being in the meeting rooms, being able to learn the scheme and understand what we're asking them to do, being able to buy into the culture and the way that we're going to ask them to play, and ultimately going out on the field and being able to produce. We'll see how that evaluation process goes with all these young players – and really, not just the young players, but the veteran players, too."

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