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John Deshazier: young Saints defensive linemen ready to make their mark

Hicks says he is ready to play any position on the defensive line

Five days ago, a fumble-causing sack on New Orleans' fifth defensive play of the second half – which resulted in a turnover – had the Superdome masses roaring in delight. That 10-yard sack, and subsequent fumble recovery by Jay Richardson, was the most memorable play of the night for Glenn Foster in the Saints' 17-13 victory over Kansas City in the preseason opener.

But luster fades quickly for youngsters in training camp. Wednesday, the free agent rookie from Illinois was performing rookie duties after the Saints' final open practice, picking up and carrying the discarded helmet, shoulder pads and jersey of veteran defensive end Cameron Jordan, a reminder of the vet-rook pecking order.

So Foster, and a few other young defensive linemen, will look to continue making positive, lasting impressions through training camp and preseason games, hoping to earn a roster spot and/or more playing time.

Also hoping to create a more solid status are defensive ends Akiem Hicks (second season, from Regina) and Richardson (fifth season, from Ohio State). Hicks started at left defensive end in place of injured Kenyon Coleman (chest, out for the season), and Richardson had two tackles in addition to his fumble recovery.

Foster, who was credited with three tackles, gave the Saints possession with a third-down stop, chasing and jarring the ball loose from Chiefs quarterback Tyler Bray.

"I felt that I set the tempo for myself, as far as expectations going through this camp and this preseason," he said. "I guess I raised the bar for others to perceive what I'm capable of doing. So now, I have to keep getting better from that.

"I feel like the next preseason games, and from here on out, I know what I'm capable of doing. I just have a lot to get better on."

The loss of Coleman has opened the door for that to happen, given that Foster now will receive more practice time and game time than he otherwise might have if Coleman, the starter, had remained healthy.

"It's always unfortunate when anybody goes down with a season-ending injury," Foster said. "You don't want those things to happen, especially someone in your group. But it's just a time for me to step up, get more experience – especially going with the 2s now – to show the coaches and prove to myself I'm capable of being a dominant factor getting those extra reps in."

 "I would say that he is explosive off of the ball," Coach Sean Payton said. "He is sudden. He was one of the handful of guys that when we finished watching the tape, we saw a lot of good things from him. He is going to continue to receive more reps, but he has been a good surprise."

Hicks, too, has the chance to make his mark. Though Payton and Hicks acknowledge his relative inexperience compared to his defensive line teammates – Hicks played 17 games at Sacramento City College from 2007-08, attended but didn't play at LSU in 2009, then started 16 games at Regina (Saskatchewan) – the team thought highly enough of him to draft him in the third round in 2012, and highly enough that he was plugged in for Coleman after the latter was injured.

"Gotta keep going," Hicks said. "Gotta keep rolling, gotta keep getting better, gotta keep coming out here and working harder every day and putting another bean in that jar.

"Pad level, that's number one. That's what I come out here and focus on every day. I'm a 6-foot-5 guy, 340 (pounds), I've got to stay low and that's something that (defensive line coach) Bill Johnson works with me on every day."

Foster saw a huge void in his game Friday night, regardless of how solid it appeared he played.

"I just need to be more consistent as far as getting leverage to the quarterback," Foster said. "There were a couple of sacks I let go, as far as my angles to the quarterback once I was in the backfield.

"In camp, we don't have a chance to get deep and close to the quarterback (in practice) so I've got to be more conscious and be more aware of my direction to the quarterback once I'm in the backfield, so I can make those plays."

The opportunity to do so will be there. Foster, Hicks, et al, will have time to shine and to create lasting memories, even though there still may be a few rookie duties to perform. The youngsters are trying to learn the ropes, with a little sage advice from the veterans.

"It's a man's world," Foster said. "That's what I was told by Kenyon Coleman. You're playing with grown men now."

NOTES: Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma was one of several players who did not practice Wednesday. Vilma and receiver Courtney Roby didn't attend the morning session, which was the Saints' final open practice. Also not participating were linebackers Chris Chamberlain and Junior Galette, offensive lineman Greg Olsen and receiver Marques Colston.

Practice was highlighted by a spirited, full-contact, goal line drill. "We made it a live drill," Payton said. "I just thought we were sluggish at the beginning and I wanted to kind of create some tempo."

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