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John DeShazier: Return to Saints has Robert Meachem feeling 'like a kid in a candy store'

Former first-round pick returned to the Saints on Tuesday

Robert Meachem's free agent experience in San Diego didn't leave him bitter. Perhaps, though, it made him better and certainly, it left him with a deeper affection for New Orleans.

So after the Chargers released him and the New Orleans Saints signed him Tuesday to a one-year deal, hoping he can replicate some of the success he experienced in New Orleans, he wore a mask of joy that he might not often have worn in California.

"Words can't even describe it," said Meachem, who rarely stopped smiling Wednesday during an interview session. "I'm like a little kid in a candy store. Tough experience but you learn from it. Now you come back home, try to make the best of it."

Clearly, Meachem's home and heart are in New Orleans.

The Saints drafted him in the first round, No. 27 overall, in 2007. After not playing as a rookie and catching just 12 passes in '08, he averaged 43 catches for 660 yards and seven touchdowns the next three years.

But his dip into free agency, in 2012, wasn't nearly as productive on the field. Signed by San Diego to a reported four-year, $26 million contract ($14 million guaranteed), Meachem finished last season with 14 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns.

However, he said reports of him having a "broken down" body are exaggerated.

"Every system doesn't fit every guy," said Meachem, for whom space was created by the Saints placing linebacker Jonathan Vilma on the injured reserve/designated to return list. "I feel like coming home, this system fits me well. I've done a few good things in this offense. I think this is the best place for me.

"The mistakes you do make, you learn from it. I don't think it was a mistake, I think it was something I had to learn. I think God was putting me through a situation where I had to grow as a person, instead of just as a player." [internal-link-placeholder-0]

But the Saints still see the player in him.

"We saw it on film," Coach Sean Payton said. "He's young, I think we have a pretty good idea of who the player is. I like the fact that he's here.

"It took him a couple years here but once he got going, there's a lot of things he does very well. I think most importantly, when you look at the tape from another team, is he healthy? Can he run? Outside of that, I'm excited that we were able to get him.

"He's familiar with what we want to do. He's someone we feel like can stretch the field. He does a real good job of making plays above his head. He was a first-round draft pick of ours that really helped us for a number of years. The key is just getting him up to speed and getting him familiar with what we're doing."

That process will be accelerated, courtesy of his familiarity with the offense and his after-practice work with quarterback Drew Brees.

"I know that was a tough situation for him," Brees said. "The guy we saw on film and incorporated in the game plan wasn't the guy we knew, the way his contributions here (were). All I can say is, glad to have him back and it's all coming back to him.

"He's all smiles. He's happy to be back. Familiar place, familiar offense. He looks as good as ever and we look forward to getting him incorporated back in."

The speed with which Meachem re-learns will determine how fast he gets back on the field with the Saints. But he gives the Saints a third veteran, knowledgeable receiver with whom the team has had success, joining Marques Colston and Lance Moore.

"I have a chip on my shoulder, but you've got to do that anyway," he said. "Every day, somebody is coming to take your job. So if you don't a chip on your shoulder, you're pretty much going to be out of the league anyway.

"I know it's going to be a growing process. It's not just going to happen overnight. I would love for it to happen overnight, but it's a growing process.

"(Payton) knows me like the back of his hand. He knows what he can do with me, he knows what I can do and I know that he's going to put me in the best position to make plays and to help the team."

Still smiling, Meachem exhibited no trace of bitterness. The quest now is to show that he's better because of last season's experience.

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