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Saints paying close attention to WR Toon's progress as receiver enters third NFL season

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METAIRIE, La. - Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Nick Toon are not on the same page yet, and time is running short for Toon to get it right.

"Obviously, I'm still learning," Toon said after Thursday's practice. "The learning process never stops, so having an open line of communication with the quarterback and the coaches is always good."

There was a lot of communication Thursday — with Brees doing most of the talking.

Brees didn't look pleased after Toon slowed his stride and reached down by his knees to snag what appeared to be an underthrown pass. But Brees had in fact put the ball where he wanted.

The quarterback waved Toon over immediately for a few words while coach Sean Payton paced over to join the brief discussion.

The next time Brees threw to Toon, the receiver came back toward the ball to make the catch, and a second discussion ensued between the star QB and young receiver.

With the 6-foot-4 Toon entering his third season, the Saints want him to become a regular contributor. Lately, Brees and Payton have been seen pushing Toon to refine his route-running.

New Orleans' regular season opener is now less than three weeks away, on Sept. 7 in Atlanta.

The discussions between Toon and Brees during 11-on-11 drills Thursday centred on the receiver's failure to flatten the angle of his cut across the middle as much as Brees expected, based on the defensive coverage. Toon's angle was too deep, forcing him to slow down and reach back behind him to scoop up the pass.

"I know he can be a real productive guy for us and be a big contributor," Brees said when asked about the exchange with Toon, adding that it is often more effective to address cross-ups immediately at practice rather than waiting to take it up in film or meeting rooms.

"It has to happen in practice, in a live scenario, where you can actually go out there and say, 'Hey, I want you to see what I see, and this is the adjustment, this is the little nuance that's kind of built into this play.'"

"I've got a great comfort level with Toon," Brees added. "But that's always growing."

Toon, the son of former New York Jets All-Pro Al Toon, was selected out of Wisconsin in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. However, he was slowed by a foot injury during that preseason, and the Saints placed him on injured reserve, wiping out his rookie year.

Last season, Toon was healthy, but played only intermittently. He appeared in eight games with four starts and made four catches for 68 yards and no touchdowns. He also had several drops. One pass which deflected off his hands was intercepted in a loss to the Jets in New York, and he seldom played after that.

Early in training camp, Toon appeared to be emerging as one of the more effective receivers on the practice field. But after Brees strained a muscle in his abdomen and sat out for two weeks earlier this month, Toon was on the receiving end of fewer passes during full team drills. He also has not stood out in the Saints' first two preseason games, making four catches, none longer than 6 yards.

Now, however, Brees is back at practice and planning to start Saturday night's preseason game in Indianapolis. For Toon, a strong performance could help him carve out a regular role in a receiving game that will likely revolve around Saints all-time receiver Marques Colston and star tight end Jimmy Graham.

So Toon saw it as a good sign that Brees was looking for him in practice, and taking an active role in discussing his route-running with him.

"You want to be as close to perfect as you can come game time and that's what we're working on," Toon said.

Notes: Rookie WR Brandin Cooks returned to practice after sitting out several days with an illness, though Payton was noncommittal about whether he would play in Indianapolis on Saturday night. ... CBs Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson both practiced, and Payton said the plan is for both to play against the Colts. ... The Saints waived four players: LB Chidera Uzo-Diribe, TE Je'Ron Hamm, RB Timothy Flanders and WR Tobias Palmer. Those moves trimmed the roster to 86. NFL rosters must be trimmed to 75 by Tuesday and to 53 for the regular season.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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