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New Orleans Saints keep receiving corps nearly intact, expect improvement from within

'They believe in us'

At present, the New Orleans Saints are content to run it back at receiver.

Whether the Saints weren't looking for one to add to the collection they have, or weren't willing to settle for the wrong person to add, they took a pass on forcing a fit in free agency and during the NFL Draft.

Partly, that may have been due to the addition of free agent tight end Jared Cook, a Pro Bowler last season whose presence is expected to help shift attention away from Saints All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas. And, perhaps partly, that may have been due to the presence of running back Alvin Kamara, who arguably is the NFL's most versatile offensive player (81 receptions in each of his first two seasons, for a combined 1,535 yards and nine touchdowns, plus 314 carries for 1,611 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns during the same span).

But, too, it may signify that the Saints believe the group they have is capable of the production increase they're seeking.

Thomas, who owns franchise records for single-season receptions (125) and receiving yards (1,405) – both established last season – is joined by holdovers Ted Ginn Jr., Tre'Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr and Cameron Meredith.

Travin Dural (broken arm) and Simmie Cobbs, Jr. (knee) wound up on injured reserve and didn't play a down last season; Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler, and Lil'Jordan Humphrey are rookie free agents. And former LSU track star Cyril Grayson, Jr., is attempting to stick with the Saints after swings with Seattle, Indianapolis, Houston and Chicago.

"They believe in us," said Ginn Jr., who caught 17 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns in an abbreviated 2018 regular season. Ginn Jr. missed 11 games due to knee surgery, but returned to play in the playoffs and caught six passes for 102 yards in the two games.

"They believe in what they have," he said. "As the 'O.G.' in the room, as the difference-maker as far as relaying what the coaches want to the players and the players to the coaches, I think they've got to have a standup guy at the head. Just coming in and bringing these young guys along, still coming with Mike – he's still being who he is, great guy, Can't Guard Mike – it's just a great tandem."

Smith showed flashes, catching 28 passes for 427 yards and five touchdowns. Meredith, who played in six games before succumbing to a knee injury and having season-ending surgery, caught nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Kirkwood played in eight games as an undrafted rookie and caught 13 passes for 209 yards and two scores, and Carr, plucked off waivers in 2017, caught nine passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns in his second NFL season.

The Saints are running it back, with an eye on what the holdovers, and newcomers, might be able to add with a year on their resume and/or an opportunity to impress.

New Orleans never got an opportunity to see what Dural could do during a full training camp and preseason.

"He is healthy," Coach Sean Payton said. "He has had a whole offseason to get healthy. I think he is in better shape. He's a little stronger in his lower body. So, it's good to have him out here so we can get an evaluation and begin to work with him."

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