Many starters and key contributors for the New Orleans Saints will sit out the preseason finale Thursday night, against the Los Angeles Rams in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Receiver Cameron Meredith won’t be among them.
The road back from a torn ACL has been an arduous one, to say the least, for Meredith. He missed the 2017 regular season after sustaining the injury in preseason, missed time during training camp with the Saints as part of the process to ensure no major setbacks in his preparation for the regular season, and only recently has begun to resemble the player that the Saints coveted enough to sign to a two-year contract as a restricted free agent, structuring a deal that the Bears did not match.
Abbreviated time in training camp and preseason games means that Meredith needs the work Thursday.
“He’s picked it up well,” Coach Sean Payton said. “The key is just, he’s a little behind just because of the injury. But he’s moving around real well. He’s a quick learner. He’ll get quite a bit of work.”
“Whatever Coach Payton feels like I need to do,” Meredith said. “At the same time, I need to go out there and I need to feel comfortable. I need to go out there and take a couple of hits, get a catch – I think I haven’t had my first catch since I’ve been back yet. It’s going to be good to go out there and get that, and feel like myself again.”
Meredith hasn’t caught a pass in an NFL game of any kind since the last regular-season game of the ’16 season. He has been targeted once in each of the last two preseason games; against the Cardinals, the pass got through his hands and was intercepted and against the Chargers, the throw was out of bounds.
Still, Meredith said he’s beginning to feel like his old self more and more.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m starting to come out and feel like myself. Going out there, taking every rep that I can mentally and physically, it’s all important.”
It’s a foreign process that he’s dealing with. The former undrafted rookie never had a serious injury before the ACL. And after making Chicago’s roster in ’15 and catching 11 passes for 120 yards in his first year, he emerged as a threat the next year with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
His confidence was growing, then the injury. The rebuild has been mental and physical.
“Dealing with this for the first time in my career, it’s not something where I knew what was going to go on mentally in the future,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s a day-to-day thing, waking up every day, just doing what I can in that day to be the best player I can be. Every day is a different type of day. You might be frustrated some days but I continue to push through it and I look forward to the future.”
The next significant step is Thursday, against the Rams. It will be the latest chance for Meredith to show what he was, and again aspires to be.
“(Quarterback) Drew (Brees) says it a lot: He says you have to come out here and prove yourself every day,” Meredith said. “And I take that to heart.
“Every day, I come out here and I bust my tail and give it all I’ve got on every play. Whether somebody believes in me or not, I’ve got to make myself happy. At the same time, I know people out there believe in me and I’ve got to prove them right.”