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BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: After a Slow Start, Rookie CB Natrell Jamerson is Making His Mark in the Saints Secondary

"Better late than never". We've all used that popular phrase at one time or another to describe the action of doing something much later than originally was expected; which isn't considered to be anything good, but at least it still is better than not happening at all. As a matter of fact: that phrase perfectly fits Saints 5th Round draft pick Natrell Jamerson.

As reported yesterday by NOLA.com / Times-Picayune beat writer Josh Katzenstein, it has taken a little while for Jamersom to find his footing at cornerback during this current 2018 Saints Training Camp. But recently, Jamerson has recently elevated his play, much to the liking of head coach Sean Payton.

More specifically: Jamerson looked very sharp during one-on-one drills in yesterday's practice, and even pulled off a one-handed interception while covering veteran WR Michael Floyd on a deep ball. Jamerson followed that up with a pass breakup in a red zone solo drill by swatting away a ball intended for fellow rookie (and one of Training Camp's "break out" performers) WR Tre’Quan Smith.

Katzenstein makes the observation that Jamerson might not completely unstoppable, but his tight coverage makes for tough completions between the quarterbacks and the wideouts.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Plus as Katzenstein adds: Jamerson’s improvement comes at an opportune time for his hopes of landing on the 53-man roster. Additionally, Jamerson has also started taking practice reps as a kick returner, a role he played back during his days in college at the University of Wisconsin from 2014 to 2017.

Bottom line: after a slow start, the newest member of the Saints defensive secondary has now began flashing his notable versatility to play any DB position as well on special teams, that earned him a stellar reputation as one of the Big 12 Coference's better (and extremely underrated) CB's while playing for the Badgers football program over the past few years.

Sometimes, it's better to be late than never.

Photo courtesy of Layne Murdoch, Jr.

The first instance was the willingness to play wherever the Badgers coaching staff needed him to play at, once he arrived at the school.

Jamerson switched positions multiple times during his time at Wisconsin. He started off as a wide receiver on offense before moving to the defensive side of the ball for then-Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda (who now holds the same title at LSU); where he then played cornerback during his sophomore and junior years before locking down a starting spot at safety and playing a pivotal role in the Badgers secondary, as a senior last season.

He started all 14 games during Wisconsin’s 13-1 campaign in 2017, registering 51 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and two interceptions — including a "Pick-6" against Northwestern to kick off Big Ten Conference play.

Jamerson's accomplishments helped the Badgers defense become one of the best units in the nation in multiple categories, including leading the nation in pass efficiency defense (96.4) while allowing less than 14 points per game (ranked 3rd in the country).

Photo courtesy of The Wisconsin State Journal

Additionally, he played a key role on special teams throughout his time as a Badger, one time even returning a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Maryland back in 2015.

Jamerson followed up the East-West Shrine Game Defensive MVP performance with an impressive showing at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine; where he recorded a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Scouting reports noted his special teams prowess and his understanding of a complex Wisconsin defensive scheme.

His versatility to fill so many different roles within that same complex scheme is presumably why he drew the attention of the Saints scouting department. Saints scouts and the defensive coaching staff were on hand for Wisconsin's Pro Day back on March 14th, where they got some individual time to work Jamerson — whom they also worked out privately.

The capability of Jamerson to move around and successfully fill a variety of roles on defense was a sentiment that was echoed right before the Draft by current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, a former 10-year NFL safety who believes that Jamerson’s best football is still ahead of him regardless of where ever he lines up.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

“I heard lot of conversations debating whether he’s a corner or a safety, a lot of people on both sides of the fence would start him one or the other,” Leonhard said in an interview last month with SB Nation Badger fan-site Bucky's 5th Quarter.

“I think as a safety, he has more value at that level because it’s a pass-oriented game. It is physicality, it is coverage ability from the safety position is extremely valuable up there. College football is more of a run game, so a little bit different deal, so I think if he’s playing safety, his best football is ahead."

“Even at corner, he’s really. really new to defense. He played as a sophomore at corner, was hurt most of his junior year and then moved to safety, so it’s not like he’s ever really been able to just focus, ‘This is who I am, this is how I get better.’ So in my opinion, it’s a no-brainer the talent that he has. It’s just getting him that experience and figuring out who’s he going to be, what’s his role going to be at that level.”

Although he was listed as a safety throughout the length of the entire 2018 Draft process, the Saints envision Jamerson playing as a cornerback on the outside boundary; as one of the back-ups behind #1 CB Marshon Lattimore and #2 CB Ken Crawley, as well as a contributor on special teams.

Photo courtesy of The Milwaukee Journal

Prior to Training Camp, Payton told reporters that Jamerson will have an adjustment process to go through, if outside cornerback does become his full-time position. 

"I think in Natrell’s case, our vision initially is outside and he is someone that tested out very well and can run. He is very quick, quick twitch — (he's) so sudden."

Payton also acknowledged that his capability to return kicks was yet another reason why he felt that Jamerson was the right pick to make at that spot.

“He's a guy that is very athletic. We had some individual workouts with some of these players so I would say both with Natrell, Kamrin, Boston those guys, we've all worked out separate and then other than a Pro Day."

"So I think most importantly as we were discussing these guys both Natrell and Cameron we discussed at that very same pick and fortunately you know around later we were able to select the other player but we'll see as they come in here and see where their weights are at, how they tackle. We do think they're both guys that are physical and both guys that fit our profile".

In Jamerson's case, his versatility to play outside cornerback, 'slot' CB / nickel corner, or even at either one of the safety positions, is vitally important; since the Saints coaches are constantly looking for players that are capable of filling multiple roles and can give the team additional options, whenever they're trying to determine exactly who to designate as their active players, on Game Days.

Photo courtesy of The Wisconsin State Journal

But he isn't worried about being asked to play on the outside.

In fact, it's actually something that he looks forward to, based on his comments with local New Orleans media via teleconference right after his selection was made.

"Initially, when I got the call, he (Sean Payton) said I'd be playing corner for the New Orleans Saints," Jamerson said. "But like I said, wherever they want to see me play. ... I'm going to put my best foot forward and give it my all."

"I even have no problem blitzing, coming off the edge," Jamerson said. "I do it all."

But for now, Jamerson's biggest impact as a rookie for the upcoming 2018 season later this Fall, will likely be on special teams.

Jamerson is an experienced blocker and has served previously as a designated "gunner" in kick coverages; and along with his notable athleticism it likely will make him a leading candidate to fill a substantial role for the Saints special teams initially, in the kick-return game.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

"I've been playing special teams since my freshman year," Jamerson said. "I take it very seriously."

Serious enough, that maybe he could use that attribute as a stepping-stone to a much more critical role on defense, one where he could serve as a vitally important reserve at the outside boundary CB position, God forbid should something happen to either Lattimore or Crawley.

And what does Payton envision for Jamerson, going forward?

He didn't elaborate much, but did give some precise thoughts he had regarding Jamerson's role up to this point.

REPORTER QUESTION: Is there something about (Natrell) Jamerson getting repetitions as a kick returner that would lend to his skillset?

Payton:  “He's returned kicks at Wisconsin, so he's receiving some work there.”

REPORTER QUESTION: How has he been doing as a cornerback?

Payton: “Pretty good. It's been better the last five days.”

Michael C. Hebert/NewOrleansSaints.com

Where ever the Saints eventually decide to put Jamerson, you can bet on one thing;

Which is that regardless of how they choose to utilize his diverse skill-set, Natrell Jamerson can serve in a pivotal role if he is ever called upon to do so — thanks to the impressive versatility that made him one of college football's most underrated CB's and is now allowing him to make his mark in the Saints secondary as a rookie.

Sometimes it's better to be late, than never.......

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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