For newly signed Saints WR Jeremy Shockey/Paris Warren.aspx">Paris Warren, 2007 was going to be a turning point in his pro career.
The 6-0, 213 pound wide receiver out of Utah was making plays and turning heads in his third training came for Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Word was spreading throughout the NFC South that the 2005 seventh-round draft choice of the Bucs could be one of the division's breakout players of the year due to his size, speed, route running ability and soft hands.
Warren had appeared in eight games in 2006 with the Bucs and had recorded a modest five receptions for 63 yards, but felt that he was taking the proverbial next step in his career in 2007 with a new quarterback (Jeff Garcia) in place and a growing cache of confidence.
"I was at an all-time high as far as my confidence goes," said Warren today after an OTA session. "All the hard work through the off-season was paying off and the quarterbacks had confidence in me, the coaches had it and were calling my number and I was making plays and looking forward to a good season."
The native of Sacramento entered the Bucs' preseason week three contest against the Houston Texans intent on locking up a roster spot and was vying for time as the third receiver, opposite Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard. Under the high humidity of a Tampa night game in August, Warren shined, making a team-high seven receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including a 51-yard catch and run, while his second score of the night, which proved to be the game-winning score, was also his season-ender.
Warren had sprinted free from the Texans coverage and hauled in a 31-yard pass, and just as he was crossing the goal line, was felled by a hit from CB Dexter McCleon that resulted in Warren's left ankle being dislocated. It was an injury that immediately ended his season before it really had actually even started. "Not to point fingers, but I had to hang back a second and wait for the ball to come to me and just as I was catching the ball, the defensive back and diving and trying to make a play on it," he said. "The quarterback was under pressure and didn't get everything behind the throw. That extra split second threw the whole play off just a tad and that was the result."
He said he didn't even need to look at his ankle to realize that his season was over, and the gruesome image of his ankle out of place and laying awkwardly on the grass surface, to this day, serves as a reminder of how fickle the game can be at times. "I have nothing bad to say about the play," Warren said. "It was a freak accident. He (the defender was trying to make a play) and I were trying to make a play. There is no way he tried to do that."
Warren worked hard through his rehabilitation and ended up splitting time between the Bucs and the Dallas Cowboys practice squads last season. "I wouldn't wish that rehabilitation on anyone," he said. "A lot of long hours, a lot of time to think about where things are going, a lot of time wishing you could be practicing and playing, and a lot of pain to get back to where I once was."
Warren has relied on the skills that former Utah Head Coach and current Head Coach Urban Meyer taught him at Utah. "He was adamant about the receivers running really good routes and being in the right place at the right time," Warren said. "I was lucky to work with Joey (Galloway) and Ike (Hilliard) with the Bucs, because they helped me as a young player, as well."
Meyer's influence at Utah helped Warren catch 156 career passes for 1,885 yards and 16 touchdowns. The receptions trail only long-time NFL receiver Kevin Dyson and Bryan Rowley in the team's records books. In addition, he moved into numerous Fiesta Bowl records when he caught 15 passes for 198 yards in 2004 against the University of Pittsburgh.
Quiet and soft-spoken, Warren jumped at the opportunity to join the Saints late in May and before the team's veteran mini-camp. And, to date, he has opened a few eyes around the Saints' complex. "This is a great, great locker room and the players have been very welcoming," he said. "The aren't any egos in here. As far as the playbook, there are quite a few similarities between Coach Payton's and Coach Gruden's, and I think a lot of it goes back to the days they were in Philadelphia together," he said. "That has helped this become a pretty easy transition. There are some different wrinkles, but I think I've been able to keep pace with it."
"This is a new start for him, and sometimes players need that," said veteran Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. "He has the ability to shine, and right now he is scratching the rust off and showing glimpses of what he can do. He's working on getting that 100% confidence you have to have when you take the field, and he's working hard in getting in the absolute best shape of his life."
Cornerback Randall Gay admits he has heard a bit about Warren and has kept on eye on the receiver throughout the OTA's and the mini-camp. "I haven't really had the opportunity to work against him too much, but it looks to me like he has good hands, runs crisp, sharp routes and is a hard worker. There's no doubt he's out here trying to make a name for himself."
Quarterback Drew Brees said that although his time with Warren has been brief, he likes what he has seen thus far from the receiver. "Paris is making plays, he did it again this morning. He is a very smooth runner who does a good job of getting in and out of his cuts quickly. He knows what he is doing out there and where he is supposed to be."
Warren said the long road he has traveled has found a happy place for him stop. "I really like it here," he said. "I like the team, I like the offense and now I just want to start doing things to help us win games. If it means going over the middle and making a catch in traffic, that's fine. If it means playing on special teams and covering punts and kicks, that's something I welcome, as well.
"Hey, there are a lot of good receivers here. I know that. But I think I can help out and contribute and bring something to the table."
Perhaps Warren has, indeed, hit another turning point.