<span>"There is no substitute for experience."
If, as the age-old adage suggests, experience does indeed count for something, Saints CB Jason Craft is feeling pretty good about his situation these days.
The 5-10, 187-pound veteran cornerback is preparing for his fifth training camp as a member of the New Orleans Saints, and Craft doesn't have to look very hard around the locker room to tell him that personnel changes quickly, and regularly, in the NFL.
"I guess it means I am getting older," Craft said, with a laugh, when told that the number of players in the Saints locker room when he arrived in New Orleans can be calculated on one hand.
Craft, who joined the Saints via a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2004 in exchange for a fifth round draft choice in 2004, has been with the Saints longer every player on the Saints current roster with the exception of RB Deuce McAllister, LS Kevin Houser, DE Charles Grant and T Jon Stinchcomb.
The native of Denver was part of an infusion of new blood in 2004 that included the additions of DE Will Smith, WR Devery Henderson, FB Mike Karney and free agent G Jamar Nesbit and RB Aaron Stecker that are still with the team today.
"There have been a lot of new faces in here," Craft said of the team's locker room. "But I look around and you think of all the good guys in here that really want to win and how much fun it is to come to work and be working towards that goal of a championship. The offense really tests us on a daily basis and we test them back. There is a lot of pride in here."
Craft, who broke into the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice of the Jaguars in 1999 after an impressive collegiate campaign in the pass-happy WAC understands perhaps better than most that starting jobs aren't won in the offseason, but they certainly can be lost if a player isn't picking up on new systematic wrinkles that are being employed, or if he gets too caught up in trying to figure exactly what shape the roster is going to take in the final days of August when the final cuts are usually made.
With 13 career interceptions, countless time spent playing virtually every position a cornerback can play from starter to nickel to dime, Craft said that even with a bevy of infusion of talent in the secondary, he works hard at controlling the things that he can control, and leaves the other decisions to the coaches and administrators.
"By nature, every player worries anytime a new player is coming in that could potentially take your job," Craft said. "But I think back during my career and think about some players that got caught up worrying about something they couldn't control and it psyched them out and they mentally were not tough enough to battle through it. And, it cost them."
A veteran of 133 regular season career games and 46 starts, Craft is a wily seasoned pro who has filled a variety of roles during his nine year career and embraces all of the roles with the enthusiasm of a rookie. Regardless of what is asked of him, Craft gladly jumps in and gives his all and is often a sounding board for the younger players, or players that have recently joined the team.
"He's a true pro," said third-year safety Roman Harper. "He's smart and picks up things very quickly and then he can tell which of the young guys might struggle with a concept or scheme and he jumps right in to help them out."
"And, he's one of the nicest guys I have ever met," Harper said. "He likes to laugh and kid around when it's time, but he is dead serious about the game. You can rely on him and know that when it comes right down to it, he'll be ready."
This offseason, an influx of new cornerbacks has seemingly swarmed into the Saints' locker room. And the new faces bring with the satchels of experience or the prospects of top-notch athleticism.
For instance, veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn signed a few months back and long has been known as one of the top cover corners and ballhawks in the league and has seen just about everything the league offers after having played for the Jets, Texans, Cowboys and Jaguars during his career. Glenn is the senior member of the cornerback crew, but is still in tip-top shape and an extremely savvy veteran.
"He is amazing," Craft said. "He is so smart and still runs great. He's amazing to watch and learn from."
Former LSU standout Randall Gay, who played the past four seasons with New England and has a Super Bowl to his credit, was a marquee singing for the Saints this offseason and has played in the very biggest games and made plays throughout his career.
"He's a gamer," said Craft. "He makes plays and has instant respect because he has the ring and has played a variety of positions and played them well. He brings a lot to the secondary."
Second round draft choice Tracy Porter, from Port Allen, La. and Indiana University, has earned repetitions with the starting defense already this offseason and has fit in well in his new environment and will stand to get a long look at substantial playing time during training camp and the preseason games.
"Speed and talent," Craft said of Porter. "He is quiet, asks questions and is a good listener. He is going to be a good player. He's picking things up quickly."
Recently the team signed veteran corner Jerametrius Butler, who was a starter for St. Louis Rams for two seasons before some injuries forced him to the sidelines and he is hoping to return to form as a member of the Saints.
Despite the new faces at the cornerback spots that now dot the Saints' locker room, Craft is wise enough to know that taking care of business and preparing for the season is the smartest move he can make for not only himself, but the Saints, as well.
"He's done a good job in the offseason," Head Coach Sean Payton said of Craft. "He's been here throughout and he's familiar with what we're doing. We've tinkered with a few things defensively and he's handled that. He's a pretty quick study, and he'll be in competition with some of these other guys. Once we get into the heat of things, he'll be in the mix and I think he knows that."
Couple the new faces with a new position coach in Dennis Allen in the mix, and things will certainly be different and competitive in the defensive backfield during training camp this summer.
"Jason makes you reach into your bag of tricks," said WR David Patten, also a double-digit veteran of the NFL. "Just lining up against him, he can read where you line up on a field and start to eliminate the type of routes you are going to run, and that's just something he has picked up on over the course of his career. Younger guys might not understand it quite yet, but a vet like Jason does, so you have to work even harder against him."
"He is always working with the younger players at his position," Patten said. "But the thing that impresses me the most about what he does after a play is that he will pull a young receiver aside and work with him and explain things to him. That's pretty rare, and it's a sign of a true team guy."
Notes: New Orleans Saints assistant athletic trainer Kevin Mangum was inducted into the Louisiana Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame on Friday, June 6 ... Payton said the following players did not participate in this morning's voluntary OTA: S Josh Bullocks (knee), WR Marques Colston, Sedrick Ellis (excused), CB Greg Fassitt (leg) and CB Randall Gay (hamstring), TE Eric Johnson (ankle), C/G Matt Lehr (excused), CB Mike McKenzie (knee), DT DeMario Pressley (ankle), Titus Ryan (leg) and Pierre Thomas (groin) .. Payton said that the this is the furthest along the team has been at this point in this three seasons as head coach "I think we're ahead of where we have been in the last couple of years, which is encouraging. We still have a lot of work ahead of us. We'll finish up this week and then there will be a break before we get started in Mississippi."