Vicksburg’s Anderson takes first steps toward making Saints’ roster

Published 10:30 am Saturday, July 8, 2023

The first time he slipped on his No. 40 New Orleans Saints practice jersey and walked on to the team’s practice field in Metairie, Nick Anderson confessed to being a little starstruck.

The dream that he and every football player has of being on an NFL team had been realized.

“The first practice I was like, ‘I have a Saints jersey on, I’m wearing No. 40 and that’s the number that I wanted, the number I started off with at Tulane.’ It’s crazy how everything has gone full circle,” Anderson said. “The first couple days was surreal. Just seeing all the guys out there and the little things like the NFL logo on my jersey, the gear they gave us, and it’s like, ‘I’m really a Saints player.’”

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It didn’t take long, however, for Anderson to remember that those were only the first steps of a very difficult journey. The Vicksburg native signed with the Saints as a free agent following the NFL draft in May. Actually making the 53-man regular-season roster will take even more hard work.

“But after a week or so I was like, ‘OK, I made it here. Now it’s time to make the team. Now it’s time to stop being starstruck and handle my business,’” he said. “That’s just the maturity level of understanding that this is my job. It’s not something I’m starstruck about, it’s something I worked hard to get and I’ve gotten it. Now it’s time to kick it up a notch and make it big.”

Anderson has spent the past six weeks getting his first taste of the NFL during the Saints’ minicamps and offseason training activities. For veterans, it’s a time to familiarize themselves with new teammates and work out some rust. For rookies like Anderson, it’s an intense boot camp that indoctrinates them into the intense pressure of football at the highest level.

“It’s been just a rollercoaster of emotions. The first week heading into rookie minicamp, my eyes were big and wide. It was just trying to process everything, being in the NFL,” Anderson said. “Once they hit the field, they hit the field running. They throw the playbook at you and see how much you can soak in.”

Anderson said he thinks he handled it well. Being with the Saints, in the same city where he played college football at Tulane, helped.

Not having to worry about off-the-field issues like finding a place to live or adjusting to life in a new city has allowed him to focus on football. In a video posted to the Saints’ website, Anderson served as a guide for other rookies during a tour of New Orleans that was organized by the team.

“Already being in an area I’m familiar with and not having to deal with the hassles off the field of trying to figure things out, it’s helped me spend more time on my playbook and being focused on the football things,” he said. “I’m in a very blessed situation to where the cards played out how they were supposed to play out.”

On the field, Anderson said he’s done his best to soak up all of the wisdom he can from the coaches and veterans. The biggest piece of advice, he said, was to get better every day and find a niche with the team.

Anderson is one of 10 linebackers on the Saints’ preseason roster, and they’ll probably keep seven or eight when the final cuts are made at the end of training camp. To be among that group, Anderson said he knows he not only needs to make plays at every opportunity, but show he can contribute in as many ways as possible — even if it’s not immediately as a superstar or starter.

“Right now at the linebacker position they’re looking for somebody to add depth and to contribute on special teams. I know that. That’s the reality,” he said. “That’s one of the things you have to have the mindset in the preseason. You might not get that many defensive snaps, so the snaps that you get on special teams have to be of value. You can’t have any busts. You have to make plays. You have to stand out. That’s something I’ve always been able to do, and that I’m looking forward to doing.”

Anderson was an All-American Athletic Conference linebacker while leading Tulane to a top 10 national ranking and its best season in 25 years in 2022. He was an all-state linebacker at Vicksburg High, and a two-time Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year in Warren County.

Despite all of that past success, Anderson said having to prove himself is nothing new. It’s why he chose the No. 40 jersey for his rookie season with the Saints. It’s the same number he wore for his first two years at Tulane, when he had to claw his way up the depth chart. He later switched to No. 1, which is reserved for one of the leaders of the team’s defense.

“I wanted No. 40 because that was the number I started with at Tulane and I’m in a similar situation. I wasn’t an immediate starter. I had to come in and reset myself and work my way back up the totem pole,” he said. “I felt like that number would be a clear motivation of you’ve been in this situation before and it’s nothing new. It’s on a different level and it’s time to do the same thing.”

Anderson returned home to Vicksburg for a visit this week, but it was only a brief stay. The Saints’ rookies report to New Orleans on July 17 for a week of meetings, workouts and orientation sessions before training camp begins in earnest on July 24.

Anderson might never have looked forward to two-a-days more in his life.

Every practice, he said, is a chance to make a good impression on the decision-makers who will determine his future at the end of August.

“I’m a very physical linebacker. A lot of people don’t know that about me at this level. I can’t wait to show at the first full padded practice, when I lay a good lick on somebody and everybody is like, ‘OK, who’s that guy?’ Those are the type of situations where I can really excel,” Anderson said.

He’s also looking forward to the preseason opener against the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 13 in the Superdome. While many stars sit out the preseason games to avoid injury, and fans only give them a fraction of the attention of a regular-season game, dressing out for an NFL game will be another milestone that he’ll try to soak in.

But only for a minute. There is, after all, a job to do.

“I know that first preseason game, walking out that tunnel against Kansas City and seeing all of the fans, seeing the Dome packed out, it’s going to be very much a surreal moment. I know that once I actually get on the field, put on a uniform and play, getting ready for kickoff, it’s going to be one of those moments where it’s, ‘Man, I’m in the NFL,’” Anderson said. “But after I make my first tackle it’s going to kick in. Let’s do it. You’re supposed to be here.”

Aug. 13 — Kansas City, Noon (NFLN)
Aug. 20 — at L.A. Chargers, 6:05 p.m. (NFLN)
Aug. 27 — Houston, 7 p.m. (Fox)
Regular season
Sept. 10 — Tennessee, Noon (CBS)
Sept. 18 — at Carolina, 6:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Sept. 24 — at Green Bay, Noon (Fox)
Oct. 1 — Tampa Bay, Noon (Fox)
Oct. 8 — at New England, Noon (CBS)
Oct. 15 — at Houston, Noon (Fox)
Oct. 19 — Jacksonville, 7:15 p.m. (Prime)
Oct. 29 — at Indianapolis, Noon (Fox)
Nov. 5 — Chicago, Noon (CBS)
Nov. 12 — at Minnesota, Noon (Fox)
Nov. 19 — Open date
Nov. 26 — at Atlanta, Noon (Fox)
Dec. 3 — Detroit, Noon (Fox)
Dec. 10 — Carolina, Noon (Fox)
Dec. 17 — N.Y. Giants, Noon (Fox)
Dec. 2 — at L.A. Rams, 7:15 p.m. (Prime)
Dec. 31 — at Tampa Bay, Noon (Fox)
Jan. 6 or 7 — Atlanta, TBA

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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