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John DeShazier: Saints Coach Sean Payton praises Michael Mauti, Ed Block award winner

Payton: 'He was relentless'

By almost any account, it's miraculous that New Orleans Saints linebacker Michael Mauti still is an NFL player.

After playing with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, for several years, he no longer could navigate his way around the condition that he'd lived with since his senior season at Penn State.

The special team ace, who was named Saints special teams MVP in 2015, was unable to complete the 2016 season (he missed the final seven games) and finally had corrective surgery last offseason. He re-signed with the Saints in July, was released after training camp, then re-signed in October.

Wednesday, the team announced that Mauti was voted by his teammates as the recipient of this year's Ed Block Courage Award, annually bestowed upon the player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration. Mauti has eight tackles and a forced fumble this season.

"It's been remarkable," Saints Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday morning in a teleconference with local media. "I think it's the only time a player has had the condition he's had, with three offseason surgeries, come back and play.

"When you look at before and after photos of his weight and where he was at, it's a credit to him. When he went through this whole offseason, periodically I'd get an updated photo and then late in the summer, I started getting these workout videos. He was relentless. It's the way he's approached life.

"I don't know, in my time here – we've had a lot of great candidates and guys that have won that award – Mike joins a list of those players. I can't recall anyone who had as many votes as that he did, amongst the total percentage. It was overwhelming."

NEWEST SAINT:Defensive end George Johnson is the newest Saint, joining a position group that has been decimated with the recent injuries of Alex Okafor (torn Achilles, out for the season) and Trey Hendrickson (ankle).

Johnson is a six-year veteran who has appeared in 42 regular season games, with five starts, for three teams. He has 58 tackles (38 solo), six sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three special teams tackles. In 2017, he appeared in four games for the Detroit Lions and recorded two solo tackles.

"We think he's a veteran player that can play the run and the pass, gives us some depth in the rotation there," Payton said. "We had worked him out here, I'm going to say three weeks ago – maybe a little further back than that – but we are familiar with the player and we have a pretty clear vision for how we want to use him."

FAMILIAR FACE:The Saints may recognize a few of the things that the Jets do offensively. That's because New York's offensive coordinator, John Morton, served two tours on the Saints' coaching staff, in 2006 and then as receivers coach in 2015-16.

However, the Jets will be starting a new quarterback. Bryce Petty takes over for Josh McCown, who broke his left (non-throwing) hand last Sunday and is out for the season. "Offensively, Johnny has done a great job there," Payton said. "They're a patient offense, and yet they'll take their shots down the field."

There isn't a lengthy NFL resume for Petty, so the Saints simply will have to make use of whatever is available. He has four starts in seven games, with 823 passing yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Petty has completed 54.2 percent of his passes.

"The tape's there, the games he's played in the preseason, any of the games he's played in our league," Payton said. "The college tape is there.

"Obviously, you don't have the same vocabulary you might have with another player. But he's athletic, he can run when the pocket breaks down. He can scramble and flush and make yards with his feet, he can beat you with his arm when he scrambles. But we've got to study what we do have and then pay attention to the situations as an offense, as they handle third downs or handle red zone, those type of things."

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