METAIRIE, La. — Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams figures it won’t be difficult to measure whether the investment New Orleans has made in him is paying off.
He was selected in the second round of last spring’s draft largely because he demonstrated an ability to intercept passes during his college career at Utah. He’ll be expected to do so again in the NFL.
“I feel like that’s what I hold myself accountable to do is go get the ball,” Williams said after a training camp practice this week. “Since I was in high school and college, that’s what I always practiced on doing is going to get the ball, being in position, watch enough film and being in my playbook in order to put myself in position to make those plays.”
Coach Sean Payton cautioned on Friday that the Saints haven’t even played a preseason game yet, so it’s too early to say whether Williams will play regularly as a rookie.
There has been cause for optimism, though.
Williams not only has intercepted record-setting quarterback Drew Brees already, but did so in a seven-on-seven drill, during which Brees routinely picks the secondary apart because he doesn’t have a pass rush in his face. Williams has had another interception in full team drills.
“I’m seeing a guy that’s picked it up pretty quick,” Payton said. “The thing he does well is he finds the ball. Part of it is instincts. … He also has to have the ability to get a jump on a ball and I think he has that. So I’m encouraged and I’m anxious to see it” in games.
The Saints play their first preseason game Thursday night at Cleveland.
Williams described intercepting Brees in practice as a “dream come true.”
“Going against one of the great quarterbacks, just coming in and being able to adjust is something that you always look forward to doing as a rookie,” Williams said. “I feel like I need to continue to be consistent in doing what I do.”
In three seasons at Utah, Williams had 11 interceptions — five in each of his final two seasons. He also forced four fumbles and had two fumble recoveries.
“If you looked at his college numbers, he was probably the most productive safety in regards to turnover production,” Payton said. “He’s very smart, and we’ve just got to keep giving him” opportunities to defend passes in practice.
Williams also has joined a defense that needs help, having ranked 27th or worse in the NFL the past three seasons, as well as tied for 27th in interceptions with just nine.
“Any time you get drafted that high, you’ve got to come in and play,” said fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro. “And we’ve been near the bottom of the league every year.”
Williams figures his knack for interceptions likely came from playing receiver from the time he was in youth football until his senior year of high school. He also credits his background in basketball, a sport that he felt emphasized coordination and agility, as well as going up to grab the ball at the highest possible point.
The revelation that he should play safety came during a high school game his senior year in which the starter at that spot got hurt.
“One of my high school coaches just threw me in one game,” Williams recalled. He had three interceptions in that game alone, and suddenly Division I scholarship offers began rolling in after he hadn’t had one from a Football Bowl Subdivision program before the position switch.
Just a few years later, he’s demonstrating the potential to be a pretty good pro.
Notes: CB Delvin Breaux returned to practice on a limited basis after missing three practices this week with an undisclosed ailment. … WR Willie Snead missed his first practice of training camp. Payton, whose usual policy is not to discuss injury specifics during preseason, did not explain Snead’s absence. Also remaining absent from earlier this week were TE Coby Fleener, DT Tony McDaniel and rookie DE Trey Hendrickson. … Quarterback Drew Brees was at practice in full pads but did not throw. Payton said the rest was part of a long-term plan for Brees, who turned 38 last January. … RB Mark Ingram and FB John Kuhn sat out practice after participating in stretching, which has been the typical routine of veteran players getting rest days. … Offensive lineman Jerry Ugokwe, who was claimed off of waivers from Indianapolis, attended practice. New Orleans waived Martin Wallace to make room for Ugokwe.