BATON ROUGE – The starting cornerbacks for the New Orleans Saints when the 2014 season opens will likely be veterans Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey, who just signed this off-season.
But there will be room for 6-foot-3, 218-pound second round draft choice Stanley Jean-Baptiste out of Nebraska.
“He is someone that will still have a lot of growth, and we feel like he is a guy with a higher ceiling who needs development time at the position,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after drafting Jean-Baptiste last week with the 58th overall pick of the draft.
That development began over the weekend at the Saints’ rookie camp in Metairie that concludes Sunday.
“He’s someone that you can start with and build with length and build with ball skills,” Payton said. “He’s mature. He’s someone who is soft-spoken. He’s someone that is very confident.”
Jean-Baptiste, whose family is of Haitian descent, hopes to learn from Lewis, a five-year veteran, and Bailey, a 15-year veteran and 12-time Pro Bowler.
“Hopefully, he (Bailey) will take me in with open arms and can teach me what he knows,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Hopefully, my role will be to help win games. I am just happy to be a part of it.”
One of the reasons Payton selected Jean-Baptiste was his ball skills. He was a wide receiver and safety at Central High in Miami, Fla., and played wide receiver briefly at Nebraska before converting to cornerback early in his sophomore season in 2011.
In 2013, Jean-Baptiste intercepted four passes while defensing 12 passes for the Cornhuskers. He returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown against Minnesota in 2012.
“I think playing wide receiver helped me with a lot of things,” Jean-Baptiste said. “It helped me with ball skills and helped me read the formations real easy. It helped me break down the tendencies that receivers have.”
Jean-Baptiste has heard the comparisons to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, another former receiver who is 6-3 and 195 pounds and currently the highest paid cornerback in the NFL for the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
“I was aware of it,” he said. “I was paying attention to everything they were saying in comparing me to Richard Sherman. I heard all the details. But at the end of the day, hopefully the Saints took me for the person I am and the skill sets I bring.”
Jean-Baptiste does like one detail about Sherman especially – the one about the Super Bowl.
“I think the Saints have just as much potential as anybody else, including Seattle,” he said. “I think we can be really good. Rob Ryan (Saints defensive coordinator) has a great defensive mind. You never know what he is going to bring or what kind of defense he is going to come up with.”
IN-STATE FREE AGENTS: Among the new Saints at the team’s rookie camp over the weekend were three undrafted free agents from Louisiana – tight end Je’Ron Hamm of Louisiana-Monroe, tight end Nic Jacobs of McNeese State and previously of LSU and defensive lineman Brandon McCray of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Hamm (6-3, 236) caught 111 passes for 1,587 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career at ULM. In 2012, he caught 62 passes for 915 yards and six touchdowns. Jacobs (6-5, 269) was mainly a blocker at LSU in his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2011 and ’12 out of Many High in Many. He caught 32 passes for 453 yards and four touchdowns at McNeese last season. McCray (6-5, 318) made 13 tackles in seven games for the Cajuns last season.
JACOB HESTER TRYING OUT: Former LSU star tailback Jacob Hester, who helped lead the Tigers to the 2007 national championship, was listed on the Saints’ rookie tryout roster at the team’s rookie camp on Saturday.
Hester, who gained 1,103 yards on 225 carries for the Tigers in ’07, was a third round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2008 and played there through 2011. The former Evangel star from Shreveport played for Denver in 2012 before being released just before the 2013 season.
Former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson (2008-11) is also trying out with the Saints.
DRAFTEE SIGNEES: The Saints have signed three draft choices of last week to four-year contracts – safety Vinnie Sunseri of Alabama, outside linebacker Ronald Powell of Florida and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks of Kansas State. Sunseri and Powell were taken in the fifth round with the 167th and 169th overall selections, respectively. Rooks was taken in the sixth round with the 202nd pick.