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Rookie kicker Blake Grupe remains poised, makes New Orleans Saints' 53-man roster

'Just worry about going out there and doing your job every single day and let the rest take care of itself'

Check out the game action from the New Orleans Saints game against the Houston Texans in Week 3 of the 2023 NFL Preseason.
Check out the game action from the New Orleans Saints game against the Houston Texans in Week 3 of the 2023 NFL Preseason.

It was hard to tell on Tuesday afternoon that Blake Grupe, the 156-pounds-with-maybe-a-couple-of-bricks-in-his-pocket rookie kicker, had made it possible for the New Orleans Saints to feel comfortable trading Wil Lutz, an 84.6 percent field goal kicker with a Pro Bowl appearance on his resume, to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2024.

Grupe displayed the poise of a seasoned veteran as he discussed the spot he earned via an offseason of ball-striking that belied his slight frame, because that was the expectation he had for himself when he walked in the door.

"To be honest, it's what I came here to do," he said. "It's why I came here. If you get caught up in everything else, then you're not worried about your job. So the job, when I wake up tomorrow, I'll feel the exact same that I've felt in the last month. Just take every single day, and go out and do it."

Sure, he was relieved to be named to the Saints' 53-man roster. But it wasn't an ear-to-ear grin relief, so much as it was a move-on-to-the-next-phase relief.

"It's been a wild ride," said Grupe, whose college career began at Arkansas State and ended at Notre Dame. "Thankful for everything that's come. It doesn't come easy, it comes with a lot of hard work. Just thankful for it all.

"I tried to do everything I possibly could. I took every single day, tried to get the most out of it and just go out there and maximize your opportunity. Just worry about going out there and doing your job every single day and let the rest take care of itself."

Coach Dennis Allen and the Saints, in fact, kept rookies at two specialist positions, as Lou Hedley was kept on at punter while New Orleans waived Blake Gillikin.

New Orleans terminated the contracts of eight players and waived 26 as it trimmed its roster.

"Tough," Allen said of the kicker decision. "Real tough. Wil Lutz has been a good kicker for us for a while now. That was obviously a tough decision. We felt like we had a chance to get value for a player and we felt like we had another guy in the building that we had confidence in. So, those are always challenging situations.

"It's a tough situation to be in, but yet it's a good situation because we felt like of those four, we had four guys that are NFL-caliber players. We decided to go with the young guys.

"I don't know if it's necessarily about the makeup (of Grupe). Certainly, I think he's a confident young man, but I think it's really just about the fact that he has gone out and performed, and performed well. Every player at some point, it has been his first opportunity. So I don't think we're unique in that situation."

For Grupe, it was the culmination of a grueling duel with every kick charted daily, and every miss seemingly taking on a life of its own.

"Obviously, it's a relief," he said. "It's been a long camp, it's been a highly competitive camp, going against a guy like that that's done it for a while and done it at a high level. It was a relief, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. The job is still the same, but I'm glad to be here, glad to be here for this team and just thankful for the opportunity.

"Every single day I knew I had to bring it. The guy has been here, and he's done it. So, to see a guy that's done it like that, you pick up on things. You know that every single day you have to go out and do it, because you know dang well that he is. It's a guy that's done it, so I couldn't have asked for a better competition or a better guy to do it against."

PICKS STICK: The Saints' entire draft class – defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, defensive end Isaiah Foskey, running back Kendre Miller, offensive tackle Nick Saldiveri, quarterback Jake Haener, safety Jordan Howden and receiver A.T. Perry – made the final roster.

"I feel like all the young guys, particularly the draft choices, stepped up and performed at a high level during training camp," Allen said. "There's always a little bit of, I don't know what that word is, trepidation or whatever, with young kids. We all like the experienced player, but yet, having young guys that you can develop, always having a pipeline to your football team I think is important."

Expect more movement this week as the Saints fill the practice squad and possibly make decisions regarding other NFL players who were released by their respective teams.

WHITHER WINSTON? Quarterback Jameis Winston missed practice Tuesday after injuring his wrist Sunday night against Houston in the preseason finale. "It's not significant, I think it's more or less a day to day deal," Allen said.

MERRIT'S MERITS: Running back Kirk Merritt, a Destrehan native and converted receiver, also was a keeper for New Orleans. Merritt spent most of last season on the practice squad but was active for four games.

"I thought early on, there was some growing pains with that transition," Allen said of Merritt. "I thought there was a point in training camp where he really looked good, and we felt like this is a guy that we kind of like. And then with the injury, it's been a setback there. And yet, running back is a position that we're probably a little light at, with Alvin (Kamara) going on the suspension list.

"(Merritt's) got a unique skill set. I think also, his ability to potentially help us on special teams is valuable."

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