New Orleans Saints punter Blake Gillikin returns to New Orleans for his second season in the NFL. The Penn State graduate spent the 2020 season learning from all-time Saints great Thomas Morstead, who was released this offseason.
"Coming in as a rookie and having a veteran like that really teaches you how to be a professional," Gillikin said during his Saints Minicamp interview with local media. "Not only on the field but in life, off the field and in the community. Spending a year with Thomas (Morstead) was invaluable to me. Just learning so much from him. Spending a full year with him, practicing with him every day, lifting with him every day was just stuff that I've learned will take me throughout my career and throughout my life. Trying to replace a guy like that comes down to just trying to focus on myself. Being the best version of me I can be of myself. Just taking what he has taught me and putting it into action on the field…I still watch his film on our system and just kind of remind myself of how a legend punts. I take that every day into what I do and try to be as repeatable as he was."
Morstead had very high praise for the 6-foot-2, 196-pound punter.
"Blake's (Gillikin) a very talented, talented young player, and he's got a bright future," Morstead said in an interview during the 2020 season. "I think and hope that he's had a good experience, training alongside me and competing with me. I've tried to give him help and information and experiences that I've learned from because people did that for me when I was a young player. So it's a little bit of a trick bag when you're competing with somebody to do that, but it's just kind of the way I always promised myself I would do it when I was in this situation, so it's been good."
Gillikin has grown up with a ton of competitiveness and is embracing the competition against rookie punter Nolan Cooney this training camp. Gillikin also looks to pass on the valuable insight and techniques he learned from Morstead last season.
"I grew up with a twin brother, so competition kind of lives within me," Gillikin said. "We competed in everything growing up. School, SAT scores, sports, college - you name it, we did the same things growing up. So competition is kind of what I have done for a long time. Competition brings out the best in you, so punting alongside Nolan has been great. Having another guy to bounce ideas off of, feed into, kind of like how Thomas fed into me with a little less experience behind that. I'm just trying to help him out as much as I can. Give him as much as I learned last year and give that back to him. It's been great having him here and looking forward to future competition also."
Cooney signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse after the 2021 NFL Draft. In 2020, Cooney averaged 44.8 yards per punt, which ranked 15th in the nation and the best in Syracuse history.
"Both Blake and Nolan (Cooney) are established holders," special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said during his Saints Minicamp interview with local media. "Blake has a very unique situation. Blake's twin brother was the starting long snapper for Northwestern. Blake's kind of one of those guys were with him as a snapper as a kid, the other twin brother (Blake) was a punter and holder. On the other hand, Nolan Cooney was a holder at Syracuse, here was a guy that was a three-sport athlete with good hands. Both those guys are familiar with the operation."
Check out punter