In a season when undrafted free agents faced the most difficult odds to make an NFL team, wide receiver Marquez Callaway out of the University of Tennessee was a long shot to make the New Orleans Saints 53-man roster.
Without preseason games and a condensed training camp due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was imperative for undrafted rookie free agents to make a strong impression with limited reps, especially for a team as deep as the Saints.
"Obviously, it was a great experience," Callaway said Tuesday during his conference call with local media when asked about his reaction to finding out he made the club at the conclusion of training camp.
"It was a great feeling knowing that I had made the team and my family was happy for me, my friends were happy for me, the people back at home in the schools was happy for me, and I was happy for myself," Callaway continued. "The team, they welcomed me with open arms, they were proud of me, happy for me. But they told me, now that I made it, it's time to get the work (in). That feeling kind of lingered around for about a day, and the next day, (I) got back in and tried to get everything done."
Former Tennessee Volunteer teammate and current Saints star running back Alvin Kamara serves as a mentor for the undrafted rookie receiver.
"That's my Vol brother," Kamara said after the New Orleans Saints beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football. "Me and Quez went to Tennessee together. I know he's got it in him. I just talk to him and tell him to go make a play, go do something."
Callaway had a career night on the big stage inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, catching four passes for 34 yards after being targeted six times. He made his first career reception Week 4 in a win over the Lions, finishing the game with the one catch for 16 yards.
"His name was called and he did what he had to do," Kamara said of Callaway's Week 5 stat line. "It's next man up. He's playing well. He's getting comfortable more and more as the games go on. I'm just happy to see it because I went to college with him. So it's fun to see that."
Filling in for Pro Bowler Deonte Harris who missed the Monday night showdown due to injury, Callaway returned six punts for an 11.5 yards per return average, and two kickoff returns for 57 yards and a 28.5-yard average.
Those numbers could have been better, had the Saints not committed a number of penalties which negated some of Callaway's better returns.
"I'm with Deonte pretty much all the time, whether it's on offense or special teams," Callaway said Tuesday. "Really, I just follow his role. He goes back there and he goes out early on, I go early. He goes, stays to catch punts after practice, I stay and catch punts after practice. He and Alvin give me a lot of tips back there. Just be cool and relaxed. And that's pretty much all he's told me since I've been here, because I've been catching punts with him since I've got here and kickoffs with him since I've gotten here. He's been a great influence on me too, as far as not just on offense, but on special teams as well."
Saints coach Sean Payton has shown many times during his tenure he will put a player on the field who is ready to contribute, regardless of their experience and draft position.
At 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, many football scouts pointed to Callaway's ability in college to come down with one-on-one balls in coverage, but listed route-running as a weakness.
It wasn't a weakness against the Chargers in Week 5 of his first NFL season, as Callaway ran a number of short routes, and contributed as a blocker in the run game.
"We kind of moved around, Coach (Payton) wanted us to be efficient at every spot," Callaway said Tuesday about learning the intricacies of the offense during training camp. "They kind of moved us around to what they thought suited us better. Once we were at that spot, then that's when we started trying to increase our role with learning every other position."