TRE’QUAN IN TROUBLE? Saints Receiver Competition Could Go “Down to the Wire”

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

One man versus six. Those would be overwhelming odds to overcome in a proverbial “street fight”, and they aren’t much better at the moment for 3rd year New Orleans Saints veteran wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

Smith — who New Orleans took with their 3rd Round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of the University of Central Florida — is currently engaged in what is likely the biggest fight of his professional football life at Saints Training Camp, against 6 other very hungry competitors who would gladly take his job.

With the Black and Gold only a little over 3 weeks away from their 2020 Season Opener at the Superdome against their division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the question now becomes: is Tre’Quan in trouble — and in legitimate danger of losing his spot on the team?

As of this moment, it’s believed by most observers that the 24-year old Smith will be able to survive the onslaught of intense competition for what’s expected to be one of six WR spots when the team roster is finalized early next month; mainly due to this year now poised to be what would be his 3rd NFL season within the Saints offensive scheme, and also because he’s an outstanding blocker; a trait that has endeared him to head coach Sean Payton.

Nevertheless, while Smith has had some flashes of outstanding ability as a pass-catcher at times, overall in his first two seasons combined he has failed to meet or adequately “live up” to the expectations that the team had for him coming out out of college.

Photo by Chris Taylor, JRNOLA

Last season in 2019, Smith battled a series of nagging injuries and ended up playing in a total of 11 games, as he  caught 18 passes for 234 yards.  His 5 TD catches matched the total from his rookie year in 2018, when he caught 28 passes for a total of 427 yards.

In all, Smith has caught a grand total of 46 receptions on 69 targets for 661 yards and 10 TD’s, for an average of 14.4 yards per catch in 26 games. of which half (13) were in the starting line-up with the 1st team offense.

But clearly, those numbers are seen as a disappointment given his previous production in college with the UCF Golden Knights program in the AAC (American Athletic Conference) based in Orlando, Florida.

Smith came to New Orleans originally over two years ago with a lot of hype for a 3rd-Round draft pick, which undoubtedly had something to do with the fact that he had an insane 13 touchdown receptions on only 59 catches as a junior in 2017 before turning pro a year early.

Out of his 168 collegiate career catches, 41 of Smith’s receptions went for 20-plus yards, establishing him as an elite-caliber downfield threat, which surprisingly came despite Smith’s lack of top-end “deep speed.” At the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Smith only ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, which isn’t necessarily the type of speed that you’d typically want in a deep threat /downfield-targeted wide receiver.

But obviously, when he’s on the field Smith has a “2nd gear” that allowed him to consistently blow past some of college football’s better defenders during his time spent in the center of the Sunshine State. That said, Smith will need to find that 2nd gear if he has any hopes of remaining with the team in spite of his past accolades.

Photo Credit: Phillip Petty III, JRNOLA

Currently, the Saints WR position has a total of 3 players who are what you’d consider to be “guaranteed locks” to make the final roster: All-Pro and #1 WR Michael Thomas, #2 WR and recent free-agent signee Emmanuel Sanders, and 2nd year veteran Deonte Harris — whose spot is set because of his additional role as the team’s designated punt and kickoff returner, as well as his incredible play-making abilities because of his top-level speed.

That presumably will leave another 3 spots open in a Training Camp competition at the wide receiver position among Smith, recently-signed veteran Bennie Fowler, young veterans Austin Carr, Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, and  Emmanuel Butler, and this past off-season’s undrafted rookie signees Juwan Johnson and Marquez Callaway (dual purpose offensive threat Ty Montgomery can play both WR and RB, but currently is listed as a running back on the Saints official depth chart)

Obviously, it means that the Saints WR competition will probably “go down to the wire” — and it will be have to be determined over the course of the next several weeks worth of practices — since the coaching staff won’t have the usual advantage of reviewing game film from the Preseason games which were cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 / coronavirus health crisis.

It also means that without the Preseason games as an evaluation tool, Smith might actually be the benefactor of any final coaching staff decision because of his prior experience within the offensive scheme and his notable talent as a downfield blocker in both the receiving and running game.

However nothing is written in stone at this point, and certainly these next 3 weeks worth of practices will have huge implications upon the ultimate determination that will be made by Payton, senior offensive assistant (and former WR coach) Curtis “CJ” Johnson and current WR coach Ronald Curry.

Both men were confident in separate interviews with the media back in mid-June, that Tre’Quan possesses the talent necessary to become a solid NFL wide receiver and have a nice career, if he can overcome his initial struggles during his first two seasons in NOLA.

“The one thing I would say about Tre’Quan also (is) we took him from an outside receiver and moved him to an inside receiver by necessity”, Johnson said. “He’s been outstanding doing those things. We’ve just got to continue to work with him on some of the things that he never did in college and didn’t do very much of in the first year that he was here. I think his improvement is going to be drastic and I think he’s going to have a breakout year.”

Johnson’s sentiments about Tre’Quan were echoed by Curry as well.

“I love Tre’Quan. I loved him coming out (of college). I spent a lot of time watching film on him before we decided to draft him. He’s a unique player”, Curry said pointedly. “He puts in the work and just needs to continue to play, (and) continue to receive opportunities…when the opportunity has presented itself he’s stepped up to the occasion.  He just needs more opportunities in my opinion.”

Photo Credit: Layne Murdoch/ New Orleans Saints on Twitter

Over the course of the next three weeks out at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center (the Saints Practice / Training Facility in suburban Metairie), we’ll see if Tre’Quan can reward the faith and confidence that both Coach Johnson and Coach Curry have in him as the young Delray Beach native (located in Palm Beach County on the southeastern Florida Atlantic coast) tries to fight off those previously-mentioned six other competitors fighting for final roster spots.

To that point, Tre’Quan earned praise from Payton after Day #4 of the Saints’ first week of padded practices in full gear, thanks to his great physical conditioning and his capability to make tough catches in “traffic” (in a manner reminiscent of former Saints 1980’s WR legend Eric Martin).

So is Tre’Quan still in trouble, nevertheless?

That’s yet to be determined — but clearly he is in the fight of his young NFL life — in a Saints 2020 Training Camp competition at the wide receiver position that very likely will “go down to the wire”…. 

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *