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Receiver Tre'Quan Smith hopes to maximize availability for New Orleans Saints

'That's one of my biggest focuses'

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It hasn't been so much about the ability of Tre'Quan Smith.

Fourteen touchdowns on 80 receptions, 13.9 yards per catch and the reputation (and proof) of being one of the New Orleans Saints' best downfield blockers say that the fourth-year receiver has plenty of ability.

Maximizing it is where Smith wants to improve. And even though he has played in 40 of 48 regular-season games since being a third-round pick in 2018, and four of five playoff games, he knows that consistent availability is key after having dealt with injuries that have stunted his growth.

"That's one of my biggest focuses," Smith said Wednesday. "I said this last year and the year before, but I really don't know. It's not like I don't prepare myself not to be injured. It's just something that I really can't control.

"I'm trying my best this offseason just to work on the minor things that might lead up to it. Even though it's not hurt now, just fixing it and tweaking it and making sure it's as strong as possible, so I don't have any ankle issues this year.

"It's nothing that I didn't do as far as prepping my body and making sure all of my details and everything is there. I'd say it's more emphasis on the smaller things, like my core. Like, I always thought I had a strong core, but my core wasn't really strong. After I did different workouts with (quarterback) Jameis (Winston), I realized, like, 'I thought my core was strong.' So it's kind of things like that."

Smith's presence could be more noticeable this season in part due to the absence of Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders, who led the Saints in receiving last season (61 catches for 725 yards and five touchdowns), was released this offseason and New Orleans didn't sign a veteran receiver to take his roster spot.

Michael Thomas, the NFL single-season record holder with 149 catches in 2019, will return after an injury-interrupted 2020 season (40 catches and no touchdowns in seven regular-season games). But the most experienced Saints receiver other than Thomas, is Smith, who caught 34 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns last year.

"I feel like it's a big opportunity for me, knowing that they didn't bring in veterans and didn't draft a high receiver," he said. "I feel like they expect me to show up each day and that's just what I've been doing, and I appreciate that."

Part of showing up and improving has been working out with Winston, who has had throwing sessions with several Saints receivers.

Smith said Winston, who will battle Taysom Hill for the starting position in training camp, already has informed Smith to run his routes in their entirety, with the expectation that the ball will be coming.

"We talked about it a lot," Smith said. "Jameis already told me, he was like, 'Listen, when I've got the ball, whatever you do, don't stop running. Because I'm looking forward to stretching the ball, so please don't stop running.'

"It's kind of like, if your route is a decoy route and it takes you all the way down the field, it's still an option. Like he said, don't stop running because usually when you stop running, you know you've got a decoy route. But now, he's like, don't stop running because I'm going to come backside and if it's open, I'm going to throw it. I don't care if it's 60-70 yards down the field, I'm going to throw it."

Smith, who caught three passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints' loss to Tampa Bay in their Divisional playoff game – including a 56-yard scoring toss from Winston on a trick play – has shown the ability to make big plays.

This season, it's simply a matter of making the big ones, and the routine ones, more consistently.

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