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Tommy Stevens settles in at tight end for New Orleans Saints

'Just full in and just being a tight end right now has been different for me'

The pads are on at Saints Training Camp. Check out photos from Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.
The pads are on at Saints Training Camp. Check out photos from Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

For now, exclusivity is what Tommy Stevens has.

The New Orleans Saints rookie is a tight end, not a quarterback, at present.

He wears No. 85, goes through tight end drills, works with special teams and is more than content to do exactly what he's doing if it puts him in position to earn a roster spot and help the team win games.

"I had never really 'just' been a tight end before," said Stevens, the Saints' seventh-round pick, who played quarterback, tight end, running back, fullback and receiver in college at Penn State and Mississippi State. "I mean, obviously, I've done some things as far as drill work and things like that. But just full in and just being a tight end right now has been different for me.

"But I'm still doing some similar things I've done in the past. The speed of the game is fast – I went from playing in the Big Ten, played in the SEC, so obviously a lot of these guys have played in those conferences. So speed is fast, but not overwhelmingly fast. So far, it's been fun. It's been a good time. There's obviously a learning curve, but having a good time so far."

Stevens caught 14 passes for 62 yards during his 23 games played at Penn State. His most extensive quarterback play came at Mississippi State (1,155 passing yards and 11 touchdowns, with five interceptions).

But Saints Coach Sean Payton said he's seeing the adaptation, and not just as an offensive player.

"Look, he's had some plays in the kicking game," Payton said. "There's a play (Friday) where he did a good job as a punt hold-up player. He runs extremely well. Obviously, there's a large learning curve for what he's doing. And yet I've been encouraged with his approach each day. He'll correct the mistake and not let it affect him on the next play, but he's green and he's got a lot of work in front of him."

Stevens' development was slowed by the absence of an offseason program with the Saints. No OTAs or minicamps meant no early introduction – on the field, against NFL-caliber competition – to playing tight end.

During the virtual offseason, he was tutored on playing quarterback for the Saints. But even when he was drafted, Payton said the team planned to explore Stevens' versatility in the same manner which New Orleans developed Taysom Hill, who played special teams and tight end in addition to backup quarterback.

Hill became an essential member of the gameday roster because he played several positions at a high level. Stevens hopes to follow the same path.

"I think I've kind of said, really for as long as I can remember, I'm always going to do whatever is asked of me by the team, by the organization," he said. "And that carries back to when I was in high school – I did a lot of things early as a young guy, and then kind of transitioned into the quarterback role.

"I haven't closed the book on playing quarterback. I think this is just kind of where we're at right now. I definitely don't think that learning like this, and learning the tight end position, can hurt me in any way. So right now, I'm doing everything I can to be the best tight end that I can.

"But if they ask me to play quarterback tomorrow, or next week, or next year, it really doesn't matter to me. I'm going to continue to do whatever I can, as best I can, to help make this team as good as I can."

His teammates already have taken note of that.

"Tommy has been great," quarterback Drew Brees said. "Talk about a guy who's just been willing to do whatever we're asking him to do. I think the vision for him coming in was, obviously, he was a quarterback but man, we can put him in this Taysom Hill kind of role where he's such a big, strong, good athlete that he could provide this dimension maybe at the tight end position or this 'F' position. And he's actually embraced that role really well.

"I know he did a little bit of it in college but obviously, you're stepping up to a whole other level when you talk about the NFL. But he's a smart guy, he's been able to pick it up relatively quickly.

"Watching him run routes and watching him do certain tight end-type things, you kind of shake your head and say it shouldn't be that comfortable or natural for a guy that hasn't been doing it for very long, and certainly going against this level of competition. But I've been impressed, mostly just with his desire to do whatever it takes to help the team, to get on the field and to develop as a player."

PRACTICE NOTES: Taysom Hill was absent from Friday's practice. He and his wife were expecting to become first-time parents soon, and Payton said he would allow Hill to make the announcement when it happens…Tight end Josh Hill returned to practice on a limited basis. He was on the field with teammates before and during the stretch period, but did drills under the supervision of a member of the training staff when the rest of the team engaged in team, one-on-one and individual drills…The Saints practiced outside in full pads for the third time in four days on Friday, and for the first time on back-to-back days.

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