Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
METAIRIE, La. For Saints running back/receiver Travaris Cadet, the NFL has been a summer time sport. His best moments have been in July and August in training camp and in preseason games.
In his debut as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Appalachian State in 2012, he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass in the Saints' 17-10 win over Arizona in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 5. He led New Orleans in receiving that preseason with 30 catches for 245 yards and was second in rushing with 132 yards on 39 attempts.
During the regular season, though, Cadet rushed just once for five yards and caught five passes for 44 yards, though he did return 26 kickoffs for a 26.5-yard average. In the preseason of 2013, Cadet rushed 22 times for 51 yards and caught six passes for 59 yards. During the regular season last year, there were no rushes and just two receptions for five yards to go with nine kickoff returns for a 26.6-yard average.
Then Darren Sproles the star to Cadet's understudy role who set the NFL record for multi-purpose yards in 2012 with 2,696 - was traded after last season to Philadelphia for a fifth round pick that became linebacker Ronald Powell of Florida. Sproles' role diminished over the last two seasons to 1,577 and 1,273 all-purpose totals.
Now, it's Cadet's turn.
'It's an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime,' he said Tuesday after the Saints opened a trio of mini-camp practices that will continue Wednesday and Thursday. 'This is my time. Me and Sproles, we're still close. We still train together. I still constantly ask him questions to gain knowledge because knowledge is power. But it's time for me to step up and play well. It's a great opportunity, but I'm never getting complacent even when times seem bright. I'm going to attack every opportunity with a force.'
Cadet, like Sproles, is versatile.
'I can do a number of things, whether it's in special teams, covering or returning kicks, or playing running back or playing slot or outside receiver,' he said. 'I'm pretty sure that they feel that I can contribute in all those areas. Whether it's picking up the blitz, covering on special teams, returning kicks, route running or reading keys, it's about being a complete player and not being a master of a few things, but a master of everything. I want to be a mastermind at every position they ask me to play.'
Cadet has particularly improved his running skills.
'A year ago, I don't know that I would've been able to tell you that,' Saints coach Sean Payton said. 'I know the focus for him was really the running game. I think last year we saw him transition into a guy we hand the ball to. That's something he's worked hard on.'
The receiver skills did not need as much work. He is Sproles-ready there.
'Even when he came here in '12 he started with the receivers,' Payton said. 'He has very good hands. He's sudden with good hips and change of direction, and that is one of the things that we'll look for in this training camp. But he's been able to do a lot of the things that we had asked Darren to do in the passing game. So we'll just keep building on that. He's a good young talent.'
Cadet amassed 3,929 all-purpose yards as a running back and kick returner in three seasons at Appalachian State. Like fellow Saints running backs Pierre Thomas of Illinois and Khiry Robinson of Blinn College and former Saint back Chris Ivory of Tiffin, Cadet signed as an undrafted free agent because he caught the Saints' eyes, if no one else's.
'I feel like all that draft stuff is inaccurate,' Cadet said. 'It's a bunch of people with opinions, I feel. There are always going to be players that are overlooked. It's just like coach Payton said, 'It doesn't matter how you get here. It matters what you do when you are here.' I don't care if you come from (fictional) Sands State. I'm here for a reason. I'm not here by mistake. And I don't want to waste any days because the day that you waste you'll never get back.'
That is particularly true now and in training camp in July for Cadet.
'It's all about getting the respect in the locker room, getting the respect from the coaches, and instilling the confidence in your teammates that you can go out there and make plays,' he said. 'And that you're not one of the guys they're going to be doubting when it comes time for prime time.'