The New Orleans Saints didn't fully unleash their offensive arsenal on the road against Carolina, and Coach Sean Payton looked in the mirror to locate the culprit responsible for the shortcoming.
"I think he's fully healthy and I probably didn't give him enough touches last week," Payton said.
The reference was to running back C.J. Spiller, and the free agent signee from Buffalo is ready for the challenge. Spiller sat out the season opener while recovering from knee surgery and in the two games since, against Tampa Bay and Carolina, he ran four times for 11 yards and caught three passes for 41 yards.
But Spiller, entering the Saints' nationally televised game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Dallas (2-1) on Sunday night, said that though Payton specifically singled out the fact that he wants to get Spiller more touches, he's willing to accept whatever role the Saints have for him.
"I was just easing back into it," he said. "It's a long season, and I've never been a guy that got caught up in how many times I touch the ball. I never will.
"I was taught from a legend, (Baton Rouge native and former NFL standout) Warrick Dunn – he always told me, just take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and everything else will take care of itself."
Still, Payton said, the unique skills that Spiller brings are ones that more often will be used, as the Saints envisioned when they courted and signed him as a free agent.
"I think he's competitive," Payton said. "It's a competitive (running backs) room. All three of those guys (Spiller, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson) take pride in their touches whether it's running or receiving the football, or protecting. Marcus Murphy, even. Those guys, each week, are looking to see how they're being utilized. But C.J. is clearly a different style of runner than maybe you would describe Mark or Khiry.
"He's an edge player. He can take the ball inside, but he's an edge player. Just his body type is different – you want to get him opportunities in space. He's a player that can square up the defense and bounce in either direction and kind of circle a defense."
Spiller has spent a good portion of his career running around, and past, defenses.
He averaged five yards per carry in 668 rushing attempts over five seasons in Buffalo, with long runs of 77, 53 and 47 yards. He caught 158 passes, including a 66-yarder for a touchdown. In his rookie season, as a kickoff returner, he had a 95-yard touchdown among his 1,014 yards on 44 returns and last season, he took back 10 kickoffs for 306 yards, including a 102-yard touchdown.
That's the kind of impact he knows he can make.
"I'm always out to try to prove something," Spiller said. "I know what I can do in this league, I know what type of player I am. It's all about just taking what the defense gives you and not putting your offense in bad position, trying to stay out of negative runs and things like that, not trying do something that I'm not capable of – not trying to go and be Superman or anything like that. Staying within the game plan, staying dialed in.
"If you look at our room, I think every guy in our room is capable of making big plays. That's the exciting thing about playing with guys like Khiry and Mark, and we saw what Murphy did on the (74-yard) punt return (for a touchdown against Carolina). We've got a great group and we just talk about taking advantage of every opportunity.
"I think every guy can run every play that we have. Those guys are bigger than I am, Mark and Khiry, and if we want to do something where it's getting out in space, I'll probably be tagged to it – not saying that those guys can't do it. We always just say know the whole game plan. Don't just get dialed in to what specific plays you have.
"I study the whole game plan from front to back and make sure that I'm ready to go, because you never know what will happen in a game. If I spend the whole week just looking at stuff for when I'm tagged in…if something happens, I have to make sure that I'm ready to go."
Spiller will make sure he's ready to go, and Payton will make sure he's tagged in.
"It's just expanded more to where, he's just going to have more opportunities on the football field whether it's catching it or running it," Payton said.
Photos from Saints practice on Thursday, October 1, 2015. Photos by Alex Restrepo (New Orleans Saints photos)