Former Destrehan High School and University of Arkansas safety Jerico Nelson beat the odds and made it to the NFL in 2012. Nelson went undrafed in 2012, but he signed a free agent contract with the New Orleans Saints and was on the Saints developmental squad for most of last season.
The 5-feet 10-inch, 215-pound strong safety was active late last season and contributed mostly on special teams, but now he is again faced with the challenge of making the Saints roster.
Nelson knows his odds are even longer as the Saints spent a first-round choice on University of Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.
“This is a tough league and as a player you just want an opportunity to keep for a spot.” Nelson said. “All my life as a player I was never considered the top prospect or what some might consider the “star” player, but I made my dream come true in playing in the NFL and this is my passion. I love football and getting to play right in my backyard for the Saints is special to me.”
Nelson, like the rest of the Saints defense, is learning different terminology under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
“Coach Ryan is old-school. He believes in aggressive play and giving different looks to an offense,” Nelson said. “I like playing in that sort of system and understanding the different calls is what we are doing today. It’s different from last season, but I am use to this sort of defensive mentality because this is what I have played most of my football career and it hasn’t been as complicated as you might think. In the NFL there are just a lot of different sets for down and distance and being in the right position is key. That is something you perfect in the off-season because you can’t do it on the run once the season starts. Right now I am working hard on my assignment work and also perfecting my footwork in coverage sets. Just getting cleaner with my backpedal technique and breaking to the ball quicker.”
The former Destrehan star running back/defensive back also loves playing special teams.
“Well for me it is an avenue to get some playing time and also be a contributor. Special teams is such an important piece to winning at any level and I have done a lot of work college and also last season with the Saints in that area,” Nelson said. “Coach (Greg) McMahon is a tremendous special teams coach and this part of the game is about positioning and knowing your assignments fully. Some people think you just run down and try and make a tackle, but there is a lot more to it. We are blessed here with someone like Thomas Morstead as a punter and kickoff guy and he makes our job easier because of how good he is.”
Nelson is also very impressed with what he’s seen from Vaccaro.
“Kenny is a very athletic and you can see he is a very physical player,” Nelson said. “He’s a smart guy too and he has picked things up pretty quickly. The speed element is the biggest adjustment from college to pros and every week in college you weren’t playing a big-time threat in the passing game. In the NFL, there is that challenge each week. Like what they did for me, Jose Gumbs and Rafael Bush last season Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper are trying to help out Kenny right now. He’s a good football player.”
For Nelson, he just wants a chance to show the Saints he is a pretty good player also.