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Former rivals battle for Saints' backup spot

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By David Brandt/ The Clarion-Ledger JACKSON, Miss. β€” Considering both are Southern bred, played their college football in Mississippi and have funny, easygoing personalities, New Orleans Saints defensive ends Josh Cooper and Willie Evans appear to have a lot in ...

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Old 07-31-2007, 10:12 PM   #1
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Cool Former rivals battle for Saints' backup spot

By David Brandt/ The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. β€” Considering both are Southern bred, played their college football in Mississippi and have funny, easygoing personalities, New Orleans Saints defensive ends Josh Cooper and Willie Evans appear to have a lot in common.

And truth be told, the two agree they get along pretty well.

But there's one vital thing the two probably won't have in common by the time the regular season rolls around: a job with the Saints.

"It's competition," said Cooper, the former Mississippi star. "But you've got to love the competition or you shouldn't be in football. That's what this game is all about."

Cooper and Evans, who played at Mississippi State, are in direct competition for what will probably be the last available backup spot at defensive end on the 53-man regular season roster.

Saints stars like Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister and Drew Brees come into training camp with a job virtually guaranteed. These hot summer days are about fine-tuning their skills for the battles in the months ahead.

But for Cooper and Evans? It's a constant reality that any day could be their last in a Saints jersey. The next battle in practice is always the most important.

"The effort is the one constant thing," Evans said. "You have to take a professional approach and never take a play off. ...There's just no room for error."

Early in camp, it would appear that Cooper (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) has the best chance of the two to squeeze on to the roster.

After starting defensive end Will Smith was injured last season, Cooper was signed for the final five games of the season and performed admirably, with nine tackles and a sack in a mostly backup role. It was his first extended playing time in three NFL seasons.

"I think it was the start to some bigger things," Cooper said. ”The coaches told me I needed to step up, and I felt I did that. Nothing's guaranteed, but I think the coaches are pretty comfortable with what I'm able to do."

That leaves Evans (6-1, 269 pounds) as the decided underdog. The Wayne County product had an outstanding career at Mississippi State, but NFL teams have been a little scared of his lack of height and size. On the team depth chart, Evans is listed just below Cooper at right defensive end.

Not a big deal, said Evans, who was a bit undersized even during his days terrorizing the Southeastern Conference.

"First, you've got to understand what you're capable of doing and what you specialize in," Evans said. "After that, it's just using your strengths and playing ball."

Both Cooper and Evans have tried to impress during their time on the field during training camp at Millsaps College. The energy is high as both rip through offensive linemen, hoping to catch the eye of coach Sean Payton or one of his assistants.

Though the tension is ever-present, it doesn't stop Cooper and Evans from the occasional banter.

"We'll talk college sometimes - you know, like Egg Bowl stuff," Cooper said with a grin. "But most of the time is spent going through mental repetitions even when you're not on the field."

As for Payton, he hasn't given either Cooper or Evans a complete stamp of approval, although the coach's familiarity with Cooper did seem to earn some points.

"Cooper played some a year ago and did a pretty good job," Payton said. "The other guys are going to get some reps in camp. ... They'll all get a fair look."

But the first chance for a real impression will be Sunday, when the Saints play Pittsburgh in their preseason opener.

One big play, like dropping a running back in the backfield for a loss, deflecting a pass or -- even better -- sacking the quarterback could change minds of the people who make decisions. Then again, getting manhandled at the line of scrimmage against the Steelers likely means a pat on the rear end and a quick trip home.

Evans knows this as well as anybody - especially after being cut by the New York Giants in 2006 just before the beginning of the regular season.

"I've got to make it show up on (the game) tape," Evans said. "If I can't perform during the game, I won't be here for very long."

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Old 07-31-2007, 10:17 PM   #2
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Re: Former rivals battle for Saints' backup spot

Who do I root for -- an Ole Miss Rebel or a State Bulldog?
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Old 08-01-2007, 09:25 AM   #3
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Re: Former rivals battle for Saints' backup spot

I heard MSU is going to fire Sly Crum. Rumor has it that they want to sign Mike Vick to a coaching contract since he can definitely get some fight out of those dogs.

Sorry...I had to.
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