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Porter Rounds the Corner

    <span style="">Tracy Porter is a year removed from the uncertainty.</span>  

At this time last year the Saints' fleet-footed cornerback was making pre-draft visits all around the NFL and trying to get a feel of when and where he might be drafted by any of the 32 NFL teams.

"On the visits they are trying to get to know you better as a person and what motivates you and what kind of guy you are," Porter said. "And, you're trying to get a feel for what they're thinking and how you may fit into their draft day plans."

"When I visited the Saints, I thought to myself, 'this would be too good to be true,'" the Port Allen native said of the potential to play close to his hometown and for the team he grew up rooting for. "I wanted to come back home and play, but honestly, I had no idea where I was going. There are a lot of smoke screens out there and you hear the stories of teams bringing guys in and then not drafting them, and you hear stories of players that had no idea a team was even interested in them getting selected by them."

Porter's uncertainty ended on the first day of the 2008 draft when his phone rang and Saints Head Coach Sean Payton informed him that the Saints were taking Porter with the 40th pick overall.

"I remember it well and was thrilled when my phone said 'New Orleans Saints,'" he said this morning after his morning workout. "I was with my friends and my family and it turned out to be a very memorable day. A great day."

The Indiana University product was often seen taking repetitions with the first-team defense during the grueling two-a-days of training camp and acclimated himself more than adequately into one of the starting corner spots and along with first round draft choice DT Sedrick Ellis, gave the defense a sudden infusion of youthful talent.

Porter did suffer a mild setback a week into training camp when he and speedster WR Devery Henderson sprinted down the sideline in hot pursuit of a QB Drew Brees aerial. Running stride for stride alongside each other, Porter and Henderson each left their feet simultaneously and became entangled awkwardly in mid-air. The result of the hard spill was a setback for both Porter and Henderson, with each suffering strained hamstring injuries that sidelined them each for roughly a week's worth of practice time.

However Porter got back to the field and again worked himself into the starting role at right cornerback, and after impressive work in the practices and preseason games, found himself in the starting lineup for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In doing so, Porter became the first rookie to start at cornerback for the Saints since 2002.

"It was a pretty amazing feeling being out there as a starter as a rookie," Porter recalled. In the win against the Bucs, Porter was tested early and often but responded with six tackles and a pair of passes defensed. The following week at Washington, Porter posted nine tackles (eight of the solo variety), and bested his mark the following week at Denver with 10 tackles against the potent Broncos offense.

Porter intercepted his first career pass in the Saints' fourth game of the season, snaring a QB J.T. O'Sullivan pass in the Saints' end zone and returned the football 25 yards. In the same game, the 5-11, 186-pound Porter also sacked the 49ers passer on a corner blitz.

"Things were going well and I was gaining confidence on a daily basis," he said. "You hear guys say that the game starts to slow down a bit for them as they become more and more familiar with all that is thrown at them and I definitely felt that way."

Saints QB Drew Brees said he was stunned by the rapid development he witnessed from Porter in such a short period of time. "The first thing I saw was his athletic ability and speed," the veteran signal-caller said. "The transition you usually see for a rookie is usually pretty bumpy, but he was playing so well. In fact, he was probably making as seamless a transition from college to the pros as any cornerback I have ever seen." 

Porter and the Saints entered their key Monday Night game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Superdome on October 6 fresh on the heels of an impressive 31-17 victory over the 49ers and intent on posting their first two-game winning streak of the season. The highly emotional game that witnessed several lead changes and big plays from both offenses made for riveting action and Porter chipped in with three tackles and a pair of passes defensed in the contest through the first three quarters.

But fate struck a cruel blow to the rookie when he broke out of his back-pedal in the fourth quarter. As Porter was breaking on the ball, he stumbled in front of a wide receiver that had slipped while making his cut towards the sideline. "I was watching the ball, thought I could get my hands on it and then next thing I knew, I was falling down after our legs got tangled up," Porter said. "It was so sudden. I landed squarely on my right wrist and felt it pop right away."

Porter hustled over to the sideline to get it looked at by the Saints' training staff and doctors and when they removed his glove, saw immediately that Porter has suffered a dislocation of the wrist. 

"I thought it would be one of those things, that despite hurting pretty bad, would only force me to miss a week or so," Porter said. "But then they said it required surgery to repair it and that it would mean going to injured reserve, and that ends your season."

Porter's disappointment was mirrored by the Saints' coaching staff, as Payton had mentioned several times leading up to the Monday Night game that Porter was playing well above the standard of play generally associated with a rookie defensive back. "He's playing well," Payton said early last season. "Very, very well."

Porter said the confidence Payton and the coaching staff exhibited in him served to fuel his confidence level and, despite the season-ending injury, spurned him on to continue to learn more and more throughout the season, if only as a partisan bystander. "You can always learn in this game, and granted, it's far from ideal to learn when you're standing and watching from the sidelines and during film study leading up to the games, but it was the only way I could stay in the game and support my teammates," he said.

All the while Porter rested and began his rehabilitation process. He said his wrist is now back to full strength and he's eager to once again battle for the spot in the starting lineup he reluctantly was forced to cede last season. "I'm lifting and pushing myself and trying to learn what our new defense will look like, it's sort of like starting all over again," Porter said.

And while things are a lot more certain for Porter a year later, he still is aware that the 2009 season will be full of challenges, and hopefully, conquests.

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