Before the regular season began, New Orleans Saints receivers coach Ronald Curry was asked about Tre'Quan Smith.
Curry called Smith a special player, and said Smith needed some opportunities. And, he added, the third-year receiver needed to fix his stance.
"I think once he fixes his stance he'll be a little bit more explosive," Curry said. "We joke about that all the time."
With his stance likely corrected, Smith is doing most of the laughing these days. Because entering the Monday night game against the Los Angeles Chargers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Smith appears to have begun consistently fulfilling the promise and production expected when the Saints (2-2) made him a third-round draft pick in 2018.
The last three games – games in which the Saints have been without leading receiver Michael Thomas, who was sidelined with an ankle injury – have been the best three-game stretch of Smith's career. He has caught 13 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, culminating with four catches for 54 yards and a pair of second-quarter touchdowns in New Orleans' 35-29 victory over Detroit last Sunday.
On one of the most critical plays down the stretch – third-and-5 from the Saints' 27-yard line, with 3:25 left and the Saints leading by six, the trust Smith has earned was displayed by him being the primary target on a 19-yard completion from Drew Brees.
The play helped the Saints run out the final 3:35 of the game.
"I didn't see much," Brees said, with a smile. "I was getting hit. I was on my back, but I felt like there was a place that I could get the ball up and over the defender. They dropped a safety down to kind of rob the middle of the field, and I felt Tre'Quan get past his guy and get over the top of that guy. And obviously that was a huge play.
"It sustained the drive and gave us another set of downs, and then we were able to close it out with the next first down, but that's a huge play in the game. If you don't make that play, then you're punting the ball to them and they've got a lot of time left."
"I feel like that was probably the biggest play of the day," Smith said. "Definitely. We really needed it, and Drew trusted me, and threw me the ball and I came down with it. So by far that was kind of the biggest play and iced the game for us to secure the win."
Not that Smith hasn't produced his share of big plays for the Saints. He caught the pass from Brees – a 62-yard touchdown – that helped Brees become the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, against Washington on this day in 2018. And he has been a standout downfield blocker for New Orleans, helping spring several big plays.
But with Thomas out, Smith has shown he can be even more valuable as a receiver. He caught five passes for 86 yards in the Saints' 34-24 loss to the Raiders – both numbers tops among New Orleans' receivers in the game – and followed up with his performance against the Lions.
"He is the primary," Coach Sean Payton said, referring to the third-down reception. "The play was called with him on a spear. There's a secondary in that route, Emmanuel (Sanders) is coming in on a deep in and Taysom (Hill's) underneath on a shallow cross.
"There's a few options, Drew's (Brees) confident in the play. But I would say this guy's impressive relative to traffic and noise. He's sturdy. He's tough. And I think that's a great asset as a receiver."
And now, perhaps consistent reliability can be added to the list for Smith.
"I think you'd like to think you know, when you're drafting and selecting and signing, and yet you really never know, until they come here," Payton said. "But there's a there's a toughness to his play. He blocks extremely well. I think he's doing well."
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DISTRACTION AVERTED:
For the second time since training camp, the Saints faced the possibility of having to relocate for work due to a hurricane threat. With Hurricane Delta now expected to make landfall farther west, the team opted to remain home rather than relocate to Indianapolis and, possibly, play the Monday night game there. Add to the hurricane threats the fact that six starters missed the Detroit game due to injury, and a reported four false-positive Covid-19 tests, and the team seemingly has faced some kind of turbulence every other week. The last false-positive happened before the Lions game, leaving several players and staff members sleep-deprived and anxious as they tested, or re-tested, and awaited the negative results that allowed them to play. "I think we're fortunate right now," Payton said. "It appears that we're going to be able to stay and this storm is staying a little bit more toward the west of us. So we're trying to really focus on this game, focus on what we have to do to improve as a team here. After four weeks, there are still a number of things that are painfully glaring. That's what we're tasked to do right now, and get ready to play this team. And this team has played well. They've been in a lot of close games."
The Saints and Chargers aren't strangers, having held joint practice in California several times in the last few seasons. "I think you see a similar system defensively," Payton said. "I'm sure they feel the same way with us offensively. Obviously, there's jersey numbers and players that move in and out. I think there's been some staff change and yet, to some degree, there's nuances I'm sure both teams will be familiar with just from having that exposure during training camp. It's always been a good exposure. We compete, practice hard and yet, we've never had any issues. We feel like our teams can practice and get work done without it becoming a sideshow."