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Parker looks to emerge from tough year in Big Easy

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METAIRIE, La. (AP)

(With AP Photos.)By BRETT MARTELAP Sports Writer

Preston Parker says he never learned to love football until he lost his job as an NFL receiver for nearly all of last season.

''That's one thing I probably lacked before,'' Parker said following practice Monday with the New Orleans Saints. ''I didn't love it as much as I do now. But when I went home, it gave me a bigger heart for the game and for the opportunity.''

The fourth-year pro is back in the NFL and showing signs that the promise he exhibited two seasons ago in Tampa Bay may yet be realized in the Big Easy.

His four catches for 43 yards and two touchdowns in New Orleans' preseason opener against Kansas City last Friday night got coaches' attention.

''With me, you come here and it's a new beginning,'' Saints receivers coach Henry Ellard said. ''Since he's been in here he's done a great job. He's been consistent in what he does, and that's what I'm looking for, especially on game day when you show up and you make plays like he did this last game.''

The Saints likely will need production from a new receiver following third-year pro Joe Morgan's season-ending knee injury. Parker is a candidate to fill one of several open spots the Saints have at his position.

Parker's career appeared to be blossoming in 2011, his second pro season, when he caught 40 passes for 544 yards and three TDs with the Buccaneers. But Tampa Bay changed coaching staffs in 2012, and Parker had to prove himself all over again.

He struggled to distinguish himself to Greg Schiano's Tampa Bay staff and made matters worse by muffing a couple punts. After only two regular-season games, he was waived and never got more action than a pair of tryouts - one with the Saints and one with the New York Jets - for the rest of 2012.

Although the Saints decided against signing Parker to their 53-man roster last season, they were impressed enough with his workout to add him to their 90-man roster for the 2013 preseason.

Coach Sean Payton said Parker's experience both on special teams and as a receiver, along with his youth, made the former Florida State standout a prospect worth evaluating.

''There are a lot of factors as to why a guy maybe has a good season or doesn't,'' from one season to the next, Payton said, adding that a change in scenery can ''absolutely'' help some players.

Parker said his inspiration to persevere through the disappointment of being waived and remaining unsigned for months was drawn from his son, P.J., who recently turned 6, and from music. He often listened to rap artists whose lyrics paid homage to those who achieved success against long odds and through prolonged struggle.

''That's how I got through it, really - music and my son and just knowing that I can play,'' Parker said. ''That was probably the longest I've been away from football. It gave me a reality check and let me know who I was.''

Parker's touchdowns on Friday came on passes from backup quarterback Luke McCown, who said the first TD on a hard, low throw to the back of the end zone was ''as difficult a catch as you're going to find.''

McCown also was impressed by Parker's speed and ability to snag a ball lofted into tight coverage deep down field, as he did on a 33-yard catch along the sideline.

''He's not a one-trick pony,'' McCown said. ''He's got all the talent you need to play in this league. He just needs an opportunity.''

NOTES: The Saints signed veteran receiver Patrick Crayton and waived rookie receiver Brent Leonard. Crayton is an eight-year veteran who has not played since 2011, when he was with San Diego. ... LB Curtis Lofton left practice, but Payton said it was apparently because of dehydration or cramping.

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Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

Tagged: Saints, Luke McCown, Preston Parker

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