METAIRIE, La. — When asked if Deshaun Watson looked like a rookie during joint practices with New Orleans, veteran Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro nodded affirmatively.
Then Vaccaro added, “I go against Drew Brees every day, so everybody looks like a rookie.”
Vaccaro said he has followed Watson’s career and is “rooting for the kid,” noting that he and Watson have the same agent.
“He looks good. He looks real promising,” Vaccaro continued. “Obviously he’s a rookie, so he’s still learning, but I’m excited for him.”
Watson, who was taking second-team snaps, wasn’t given an opportunity Thursday to discuss how he felt about his performance against a Saints defense that ranked last in the NFL in pass defense last season. The Texans declined to make him available for interviews, instead allowing media to speak with presumed starting QB Tom Savage.
Watson didn’t have to say anything about this trip to New Orleans; it was evident it has not been as easy on Watson’s ego as a couple previous ones. When Watson visited the Big Easy before, the former Clemson star arrived to be praised as he accepted the Manning Award as the nation’s top college quarterback the past two years. He is the first player to win the award twice .
While Watson was on target with several routine throws on Thursday, there were some plays that didn’t go so well. During 11-on-11 drills, he was intercepted by Malik Foreman, a rookie out of Tennessee. He tried a deep back-shoulder throw on a roll-out, only to have cornerback Sterling Moore bat it down. There were other plays in which Watson didn’t attempt a throw despite blockers appearing to give him a standard amount of time, and he resorted to scrambling.
But as Saints coach Sean Payton noted, forcing Watson to run doesn’t always produce a good outcome for an opposing defense.
“Man, if the play breaks down, he’s hard to get a hand on,” Payton said. “He broke contain on us a few times and it was challenging.”
The Saints could face Watson again on Saturday night, when Houston visits the Superdome for both teams’ third preseason game.
Payton has had the record-setting Brees as his clear-cut starter every year since taking over as Saints coach in 2006, but he could empathize with the situation facing Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who appears inclined to go with his more established QB for now. Many fans are clamoring to see Watson, last spring’s 12th overall draft choice, who led Clemson to a national title with prolific, clutch performances.
“They’ve got experience (with Savage) and they’ve got a young player (in Watson) and I’m sure they’re going to develop him as they see fit for their team,” Payton said.
Payton praised Watson’s poise and commended his play-making in a 27-23 exhibition victory over New England last weekend, when Watson had completions of 63 and 33 yards, and also ran for a short TD.
However, Watson completed only three of 10 passes overall.
“I’m sure like any young player … there’s a learning curve,” Payton said.
Brees said he was impressed with Watson’s college career and met him this offseason when both were working out in the San Diego area.
“He’s as talented as they come and he’s played in and won a lot of big football games,” Brees said. “He’s played extremely well against some pretty well respected teams and defenses — obviously, when you look at Alabama on defense and what he was able to accomplish against those guys over the last two years.
“Any time you take the step to the NFL from college there are adjustments — there’s a new system, the speed of the game.”
Brees, a former Super Bowl MVP, struggled with consistency and was an off-and-on starter during his first three NFL seasons before developing into one of the most accurate and productive QBs in the history of the game. He said he shared with Watson some of his experiences adjusting to the NFL after being a Heisman Trophy finalist with Purdue in 1999 and 2000. But Brees seems to expect Watson’s transition to be relatively quick.
“What they do now to prepare those guys for the draft and what’s to come in the NFL I think is light years ahead of where we were 16 years ago,” Brees said.
Notes: The Saints’ two first round draft picks, CB Marshon Lattimore and OT Ryan Ramczyk, both left practice with trainers Thursday. Payton did not provide updates on their conditions but expressed hope they could play Saturday night. … Saints RB Adrian Peterson made a crowd-pleasing catch between two Houston defenders in the end zone when Brees found him on a wheel route. “That was one of the things I was really excited about, coming into this offense and knowing the type of quarterback Drew is,” Peterson said.