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John DeShazier: Rookies trying to make their mark on Saints special teams

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ronald Powell and Pierre Warren all know they need to contribute however they can

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – The similarities between New Orleans Saints rookies Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ronald Powell and Pierre Warren are few.

Jean-Baptiste is a high draft choice, a second-round cornerback who was born in Miami. Another, Powell, is a mid- to late-rounder (fifth) and linebacker, who hails from California. And the other, Warren, is an undrafted safety who was born in Montgomery, Ala.

Jean-Baptiste and Powell played at storied Football Bowl Subdivision universities that are renowned for their football success, Nebraska and Florida, respectively. Warren, who sprinkles his answers with "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir," played at Jacksonville State University, a Football Championship Subdivision school with a total enrollment of less than 8,000 – perhaps enough to fit in the student section of the football stadiums at Nebraska and Florida.

But what they do have in common is this: If they're going to be members of the Saints in 2014, it'll likely be because of what they have done, and can do, on special teams. And they'll get a chance to show that, and more, on Saturday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage at The Greenbrier resort.

"I actually did some things at Florida," Powell said. "It's similar, but different for me because on kickoff return, I was an ambush guy. Now I'm a front-line guy, running and getting back to power. That's a different technique that I've got to get used to, but I'm willing to do it.

"There are a lot of things I don't know, but one I do know is that special teams are very important and if you want to make the team, that's where it's going to start."

Likewise, Jean-Baptiste knows that the Saints have depth and talent ahead of him at cornerback. That makes special teams a high priority for him, too.

"Yes, especially if I want to get a lot of playing time," he said. "Special teams will be the first ticket to traveling. It's one of the things that I'm really focusing on.

 "(I'm) just hoping and expecting to get better every day. Not making the same mistakes, and just competing."

The competition for an NFL roster spot is fierce. And it comes from different venues – from on the roster, against teammates who also are hungry for an opportunity, and from other players in the league who may not make the roster of their current team, but may be good enough to pilfer a spot on New Orleans' if they're deemed valuable enough.

"That's their job, to make an impression," said Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon. "That's the way this league is. Every year you look at our team, we'll keep four or five guys that make an impression in the preseason and they make our team as special teams players.

"We're excited about these guys, excited about working with them, they've been working hard. We've just to get them in the game and see where we're at.

"And the other thing Coach (Sean Payton) always talks about is, not only are you competing with the guys on this team, but also with other guys in the NFL. So if a guy doesn't make a team we can always go claim that guy. It's very competitive and it's healthy and it's exciting."

Few Saints players in training camp have provided more excitement than Warren.

In short order, Warren intercepted a pair of passes in the first week. And he capped off Friday's morning practice with an athletic pass breakup on the goal line.

"I just finished talking about this with the whole team," Payton said earlier this week. "When you're looking at the safety position, linebacker, tight end … all of these players that are trying to make an impression are having a chance to do that now.

"Certainly they're going to have to do that when we start (playing) the preseason games. Every year there are going to be two guys that make it because of the kicking game – either they cover kicks, they block a kick, (or) they're smart and know where to be.

"(Warren is) a player that would fall into that category. He has good ball skills and it appears to be good reactions and someone who's beginning to pick up what we're doing. We just keep giving him reps, giving all these guys work. He's one of those players, though, where the kicking game is going to be important."

Warren understands that better than most.

"I think (my play as a safety has been) pretty good but I have to start with special teams first, because we are stacked at safety," Warren said. "We do have some great safeties that I'm behind, so I'm trying to learn from the safeties and also learn my special teams role.

"I'm confident – everyone is confident in their ability. But I still have to learn everything. I want to play so I've got to be on every special team, I feel."

He currently is playing wing on the punt team and as a front line blocker on kickoff.

"I still have to learn the playbook because I'm going at free and strong (safety) so I'm still learning both of them. I'm pretty comfortable with it.

"(But) every day my back is against the wall. I've got to make a play. I feel like I have to do something to stand out from everybody else."

They all understand that, because it has been a point of emphasis for most of the young players, regardless of how they wound up in training camp with the Saints.

"I can't really expect anything," Powell said. "My job now is to make sure that I'm in the playbook, making sure I pay attention to the little things and learning as much as I can from my coaches and the guys that have been here doing it. And earning my spot on special teams, and trying to do that in all phases."

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