The New Orleans Saints spent the offseason upgrading the talent at the wide receiver position around Pro Bowler Michael Thomas and veteran speedster Ted Ginn Jr.
New Orleans signed Cameron Meredith away from the Chicago Bears in free agency, drafted Tre’Quan Smith in the third round and spent all of last season developing undrafted free agent Austin Carr, a promising player in the slot.
Two games into the season, Thomas and Ginn continue to carry the load.
Mostly unchecked by either the Buccaneers or Browns, Thomas has set an NFL record with 28 catches in the first two games of the season. He has collected 269 yards and three touchdowns. Ginn also has been productive, picking up nine catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.
All of the other receivers on the roster have combined for three catches — two by Carr in the opener, one by Tre’Quan Smith on Sunday — or 4.6 percent of the completions Drew Brees has thrown so far.
A year ago, the receivers other than Thomas and Ginn, including now-departed Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead, caught 41 passes, or 10.6 percent of Brees’ completions.
“Mike’s going to ball out, and it’s great seeing him ball out,” Carr said. “We all want to eat, though. We all want to be contributing. Week by week, we’re hoping to get better, definitely hoping to pull more weight.”
Carr has been given the most chances. Working out of the slot, the second-year receiver out of Northwestern has played 75 snaps over the first two games.
Saints coach Sean Payton has said he thinks Carr is playing well, but the young receiver is a much harsher critic.
“I feel like it’s been average,” Carr said. “I’ve got room for improvement. There’s more plays out there that I want to make. I’d just say I’m not satisfied yet.”
Carr wasn’t able to hold onto a touchdown catch on Sunday. Officials flagged the Browns for pass interference on the play, but the ball was in Carr’s hands, and he believes he should have kept it there for his first NFL score.
“That’s one of the plays I’m talking about,” Carr said. “I’ve got to come down with that; that’s where you make your money.”
Smith, who turned heads in training camp but has struggled to pick up all of the details of the offense, has played 45 snaps, been targeted twice and made his first NFL catch on Sunday for 18 yards. The rookie also was flagged for holding, although Cleveland declined the penalty.
Availability has been the problem for Smith and Meredith. While Smith is still fighting for snaps, Meredith has been inactive the first two games as he tries to learn the nuances of the offense after missing significant time during training camp as he recovers from the torn ACL that prematurely ended his final season in Chicago.
Two games into the season, though, the Saints aren’t ready to sound the alarm about a passing game led by Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara.
Kamara, who finished second on the team in receptions behind Thomas a year ago, has been a reliable target again, hauling in 15 passes from Brees in the first two games while playing a high number of snaps in the absence of Mark Ingram.
“I feel like we’ve taken steps in the right direction,” Thomas said.
His head coach agrees.
While Kamara’s heavy workload has him concerned, Payton is less worried about the toll on Thomas, who plays a position that sees far less contact than running back.
What concerns Payton about Thomas so far is the two fumbles the receiver has lost.
“I worry about workload relative to the running back position,” Payton said. “Mike’s played well, and yet I don’t like the fact the ball’s on the ground again for two weeks in a row.”
Reaping the benefits of the offseason investments at wide receiver will have to come later.
Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.
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