The New Orleans Saints will be reporting to their 2018 Training Camp in exactly 3 more weeks from now, and one player fans will want to pay a bit closer attention to this Summer: 2nd year undrafted free agent, former LSU star wide receiver and Breaux Bridge, Louisiana native Travin Dural.
Dural was one of then true "stand out" performers during the team's recent off-season workout program (OTA's) and Mini-Camp, and it was evident that he has developed and progressed considerably from a year ago.
After failing to make the Final Roster last season, Dural spent all of last season on the Saints practice squad. Once the season was over, the team quickly jumped in and signed him to a reserve / futures contract — a clear indication that they believe he has further potential down the line.
But the question most fans (especially those in Louisiana) want to know:
Does Dural have a LEGITIMATE shot at making the Final 53-man roster in September?
For now based on his impressive recent performance although there are no guarantees, you'd have to think that he at least can give the other WR's competing for what likely will only be 5 available wide receiver spots, a serious "run for their money".
It would be fairly accurate to say that the 6-foot-2, 201 pound Dural made the team last year based mostly on pure athletic potential. He had 4 receptions for 56 yards during the 2017 Pre-Season, but eventually lost out to Brandon Coleman and TommyLee Lewis for the team's final #4 and #5 WR spots.
But this season his situation is actually more complicated than last year, given the Saints' recent moves this past off-season.
The Saints already have one of the Leagues's best WR's in superstar Michael Thomas, to pair alongside still-speedy-and-productive 33-year old veteran in Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints then added former Chicago Bears restricted free agent Cameron Meredith in free agency when Chicago refused to match the Saints offer, and used a 3rd round draft pick to grab a potential star in Tre'quan Smith from Central Florida.
Obviously Coleman and Lewis will both return to stake their claims to a spot; but there will also be even more competition from UDFA rookie Keith Kirkwood and returning reserves Austin Carr and Josh Huff — all of whom figure to provide heavy competition for Dural as well — at a position that might have only 1 single active roster spot up for grabs.
Nevertheless, Dural remains undaunted; and told reporters earlier last month that part of his improvement over time was getting more reps with QB and future Hall of Fame living legend Drew Brees.
"I love being out there with Drew," Dural said. "He's a great guy and a great teacher. It's always great to play with a player like that. I'm just trying to take advantage of every rep that I get with him."
Saints head coach Sean Payton even made mention of Dural's notable improvement of the past year at that same press conference with local media, and told reporters that if nothing else: Dural's progress is definitely starting to show up in a variety of ways.
"He's in better shape," Payton said. "He's stronger in the lower body. That was an area we thought he could improve a lot on. I'd say during these OTAs he's done a lot of good things. He can run."
"I expect to see a big step, a big jump from a player like him. So far he's done a number of good things. So I'm encouraged."
One thing that caught the eye of most observers, including fans in attendance at last month's final Mini-Camp practice session: how much more improved he is at CATCHING the football.
"The main thing was coming out and making contested catches," Dural said. "That's something you're always going to have to do in the NFL. There's going to be some tight coverages. There are going to be guys all over you. You're going to have to be able to make that catch in traffic."
"You have to have strong hands and finish the catch. You've got to be able to show that you can learn multiple positions. That was a thing for me having to come and learn the two inside positions along with the two outside positions that I was more accustomed to playing."
If these past few months of the off-season are any indication, Dural has been working extremely hard at improving his craft, a tribute to the steady-handed guidance of WR's coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson.
But make no mistake about it: more than anyone, the credit goes to Dural himself; for never once giving up or giving in, and continuously pushing hard for a Final Roster spot.