Thomas gone from Saints rookie camp, Meachem hurt

Updated: May 13, 2007, 10:08 PM ET
Associated Press

METAIRIE, La. -- One of the New Orleans Saints' more intriguing rookie prospects didn't keep coach Sean Payton's interest very long.

Walter Thomas, a 6-foot-4, 374-pound defensive lineman who had startled scouts with his quickness and agility, didn't even make it through one practice before Payton sent him packing.

"He had a brief career," Payton said Sunday in his first meetings with reporters during the Saints' three-day rookie camp.

Payton said Thomas needed to visit the training room for treatment after nearly 15 minutes of the first practice on Saturday.

"From a conditioning standpoint he had a long way to go," Payton said. "He struggled."

Thomas was considered something of a long-shot prospect because of his problems off the field. Bad grades forced him from Oklahoma State during his freshman year. He played only two junior college games in Mississippi before being arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery.

The Saints remained intrigued by scouting reports that said Thomas could run faster than most linebackers and had the ability, remarkable for a man his size, to perform flips and cartwheels.

But what Payton really wanted to see was a player who could complement his unusual physical abilities with toughness and character, and the early signs he got from Thomas were not encouraging.

"It's going to be tough, and if it was easy, then more of them would be out there," Payton said. "It's not easy, and it's not for everyone."<

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^RUN-DOWN RECEIVER:@ First-round pick Robert Meachem caught more flack than passes in his first appearance on the Saints' practice field.

On Sunday, the receiver limped around with a brace on his left ankle, which he said he hurt during practice that morning. He hoped he would be able to practice again before rookie camp ended Monday.

But even before the injury, the former Tennessee star had a tough time keeping up with the intense pace of Payton's opening practices, the coach said.

"He struggled some. He had some blisters on his feet, and he's overweight," Payton said. "Today, he tweaked his ankle a little bit during the morning practice. It hasn't been all roses for him. He's been on that first-round tour that these guys go on where they visit all these teams and eat all these fun dinners. And it looks like it right now. So he's got a ways to go."

Meachem agreed his hectic schedule in the weeks leading up to the draft two weeks ago hurt his conditioning.

"I think I had like nine visits or so. And every visit they give you a big old meal," Meachem said. "So for me, I tried to work out when I could, but I don't think I got enough workouts in."

Meachem said he remained in good spirits but was frustrated he couldn't provide his new coaching staff with an early sense of satisfaction over the confidence they showed in taking him 27th overall.

"I couldn't show anything because I was too tired. ... Coach expects you to run 4.3 every play," Meachem said, referring to his speed in the 40-yard dash. "They drafted me as a first-round pick and I can't show them why they got a first-round pick out of me. And it's kind of frustrating because, when you think about it, you've got a lot of people back home wanting to see you do good. And for me to come in and not be in the shape that I was supposed to be in, for me, it's frustrating because I think I'm hurting them as well."

Saints second-year receiver Marques Colston also struggled in rookie camp before improving dramatically during training camp en route to become New Orleans' best receiver in 2006. Colston, who incidentally was a psychology major at Hofstra, called Meachem over the weekend a couple times to talk him through his early struggles.

"He talked to me and he told me he probably got in his best shape" during offseason workouts between rookie camp and training camp, Meachem said. "It gave me a little confidence."

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^YOUNG CORNERBACKS:@ Usama Young, who the Saints selected in the third round of the draft out of Kent State, received some early praise from Payton.

The Saints will look for Young to develop quickly in case of injuries to either Mike McKenzie or Jason David, the Saints' expected starting cornerbacks.

Young also could be tapped for nickel and dime formations, when teams field five or six defensive backs to defend against a likely pass.

"When you watch Usama early in these practices, he's someone who's confident. He's pretty sudden with his breaks on the ball," Payton said. "He's in good shape and his stature is something that's fairly impressive when you see him."

Payton also spoke highly of fifth-round choice David Jones, another cornerback out of Division II Wingate.

"He's someone who's been fluid," Payton said. "You can see he's got good foot speed."

Payton said it will be hard to truly evaluate both players until they practice in full pads during training camp, "but you do get a chance to see some of their ball skills, foot work. ... They've done some good things."

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TIGER'S TRYOUT:@ Former LSU lineman Peter Dyakowski, who grew up in Canada, expects to be playing pro football whether he makes the Saints' roster or not. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL have offered him a chance to play for them as well.

"I want to be here this fall, and that's what I'm thinking about right now," Dyakowski said.

Dyakowski, who is 6-5, 310 pounds, was at LSU five years, starting only his senior year. He was rarely flagged for penalties, showing the kind of discipline Payton routinely stresses.

He said several NFL teams expressed interest in him, but the Saints were easily his first choice.

"I'm really happy I get to stay down here in Louisiana," he said. "It's become a second home to me."

He said he also had become a bit of a Saints fan while living only 80 miles from New Orleans.

"The New Orleans Saints have definitely become my favorite NFL team," he said. "Last season it was hard not to be excited about the Saints. I had already been pulling for them so it was great to see them go as far as they did, and hopefully, we'll be able to go even further this next year."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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