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John DeShazier: Saints rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste taking first-team reps at cornerback

With starters sidelined, rookie from Nebraska getting a chance to play with front-liners

Call it Baptiste-ism by fire.

Because, likely, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a cornerback and the New Orleans Saints' second-round draft choice (No. 58 overall) in this year's NFL draft, wouldn't have been on the field nearly as much as he has been defensively if not for injuries to Keenan Lewis, Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson.

But since New Orleans has been short-handed at cornerback, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound rookie has been tossed into the fray in practice and preseason games, particularly last Friday's 31-24 victory over Tennessee at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

He played with the No. 1 defense when Lewis exited the Titans game (Bailey and Robinson already were out) and possibly will start at cornerback Saturday night in the Saints' third preseason game, against Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, if Lewis, Bailey and Robinson aren't ready for that load.

"We play a game where you're going to have some casualties," Saints secondary coach Wesley McGriff said. "Not that we welcome it, but we must be prepared for it.

"Definitely, the silver lining is that now, he has an opportunity to get more reps, get more experience and be in situations that, if everybody on the roster is healthy, he probably would not have that opportunity. So there's always a positive in something that's bad.

"The positive part about it, he gets an opportunity to get in there and get more reps and get a chance to work with the older guys. Believe it or not, when you work with those older guys, as a young guy, that's a little bit more pressure."

And McGriff and Saints coaches have worked to make sure that the soft-spoken Jean-Baptiste understands the pressure that goes along with playing the position for a team that has high expectations, and may require his contributions to reach them.

They've coached Jean-Baptiste "hard," tough love mixed with the appropriate amount of praise.

"You've got to coach me hard," Jean-Baptiste said. "You've got to coach everybody hard to get a point across. Me taking hard coaching won't change a thing."

But it helps that he has been receptive to it.

"It's two things," McGriff said. "How many corners are you going to have an opportunity to coach with his size? We work to get all of them ready for competition but a bigger guy like that has to play with a lot more fundamentals and technique because he's the first guy that's going to stand up. He's the first guy that with his size, if he allows a receiver to get on top, now he becomes the challenger.

"So you have to really coach him up more and more on his fundamentals and his technique, and also because he's a young guy. We've got to make him know that you've got to have a sense of urgency, technique is important and let's learn to play fast and be consistent."

For Jean-Baptiste, the tough love showed up in a positive way against the Titans.

"You see some signs of him not making the same mistake over and over again," McGriff said. "So I would have to say his awareness is picking up, he's very coachable and you can see him progressing forward. What would concern you is if he's making the same mistakes over and over again.

"Our offense does a great job of showing us multiple formations and situations and that's really going to help him because on game day, it's going to slow down a little bit for him. Our tempo on offense is so good right now, the movement and formations are so great, that a lot of times in practice he's out of whack.

"But then you see him in that last game, he played pretty good. Not to say that he's ready yet, but you saw him get better from one preseason game to the next one."

Jean-Baptiste understands that he has a long way to go to be the player he aspires to be, and recognizes his shortcomings.

"I'm still in a learning process, trying to get comfortable playing with new faces and with the defenses and all the checks that come along with it," he said.

"With the plays, I think I'm coming along pretty well. I'm just trying to figure out all the checks and formations that come along with it so I can just go out there and play faster.

"Some days – depending on what kind of plays we're running (on offense in practice) – it's comfortable to me that I can show my physicality. But other plays that we'll put in and we'll install, and me trying to read the formations, I'm always hesitant and I can't always show that (physicality)."

He's shown enough to be rewarded with the snaps he has gotten, though. And attrition in the preseason has been an ally, giving Jean-Baptiste time on the field that he otherwise may not have received, in situations he otherwise may not have faced.

"Stan is doing a phenomenal job," McGriff said. "What you see in Stan Jean-Baptiste is a big corner that has to continue to develop his fundamentals and technique. He's shown lately some signs of awareness and that comes with getting more snaps, more experience. He has to keep playing to allow the game to slow down.

"I guarantee you right now, the game is extremely fast for him. But we have to remember he has not been playing corner his whole life. He's been playing some receiver (as a senior in high school and part of his first season playing at Nebraska), so a lot of things are not going to natural to him.

"So the more reps, the better we can get him in his fundamentals and technique, the better he's going to be. But he's been doing a great job of progressing and staying on schedule."

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