METAIRIE, La. — Listen to those who have been around Kenny Stills for the few short months he has been with the Saints and one phrase keeps coming up, one description that bodes well for the youngsters future.
He learns quickly, never making the same mistake twice.
So, maybe the first two preseason games are a sign of things to come for Stills, New Orleans’ fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma, and the Saints.
A week after not hauling in a long pass, fumbling a handoff out of bounds and being called for offensive pass interference, Stills caught all four passes thrown his way and athletically tapped his toes inbounds for a 16-yard touchdown.
“My attitude when I got drafted was to come in, work my tail off and hopefully have an opportunity to play,” Stills said after the Oakland game. “I never looked at it as where I got drafted to what team I got drafted on. I knew that if I came in and worked and eventually with my ability that I’d have a chance to play.”
Stills earned a third- through fifth-round draft grade when he turned in papers this past winter to a group of NFL personnel whose task it is to tell underclassman where they’ll get drafted.
In spite of that, he still declared and as the rounds went on in April and his name wasn’t called, he didn’t question his decision. Eventually, New Orleans dialed his phone and told him he’d be a Saint with the 144th overall pick.
But when Joseph Morgan went down with a torn meniscus and partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in left knee in the Black and Gold scrimmage, Stills became the beneficiary.
Yet, he hasn’t acted any differently.
“He is a smart guy who has a great feel for the game,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “You can see a lot of things come naturally for him and it hasn’t felt too big for him. There are a lot of young guys and you can see their heads spin at a certain time in camp or situation. I haven’t gotten that feeling from him.”
Neither has Henry Ellard, New Orleans’ second-year receivers coach. Ellard has spent 29 years in the NFL, including 16 playing. In other words, he knows what to look for and thus far, Stills has given the veteran coach something to talk about.
“He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and when he does, he doesn’t repeat them,” Ellard said. “His suddenness. He’s very smooth in the way he runs his routes. He still has to learn the detail and the nuances of what we’re trying to get done but the calmness and the way he goes about his demeanor I love.”
Stills spent three years at Oklahoma using that calmness and that demeanor to become one of the best receivers in the Sooners’ long, illustrious history.
His 2,594 receiving yards are third-most in school history. His 204 catches are fourth-best. And his 24 touchdowns are fifth-most.
But in talking with Stills, you’d never know how good he was in college. He thanks his parents for that. His father, Kenny Stills Sr., played in the NFL for both Green Bay and Minnesota.
The elder Stills makes sure to let his son know that he still has a long way to go. After the preseason opener, the two talked about the game afterward and the father wasn’t focusing on what his son did well.
Instead, he had one message to deliver.
“Just it's unacceptable to drop a ball and I'm lucky I still have a few more opportunities to continue to prove myself and make sure I'm catching everything,” the Saints receiver said.
Junior added, “It's not just my dad. It's myself as well. He knows if he were to kind of compliment me on the catch that I had or starting that I would still be the same way, very tough on myself and I expect to make those plays.”
Being hard on himself resulted in his game against Oakland, in which he caught those four passes for a game-high 64 yards.
That led him to say this afterward.
“Tonight was a great step in the right direction but for me I still have a lot to prove. I’m still very young,” Stills said.