Saints rookie Kaden Elliss keeps busy on special teams, learns from veterans

Christopher Dabe

METAIRIE, La. -- One lesson for rookie linebacker Kaden Elliss came before he stepped on the field Friday.

One series into the preseason opener for the New Orleans Saints, starting linebackers A.J. Klein and Demario Davis came to the sideline and immediately talked about how the Vikings positioned their running back before certain plays.

That, Elliss realized, is what he needed to learn -- how to identify what he must know without having to hear it from a coach. 

In college, that's how things were done. Elliss came to the sideline and the position assistant would act as his eyes on the sideline or from above in the booth.

But veterans like Klein and Davis have been around a long time, and it showed on the sideline against Minnesota.

"It's amazing how good they are at it," Elliss said Sunday.

Fortunately for Elliss, the Saints have enough depth at linebacker so he won't be pressured into anything he's not ready for. Instead, the best way for this seventh-round selection from Idaho to make the roster will come in another area where he's been kept busy.

Elliss played a team-high 20 snaps on special teams in the preseason opener against the Vikings, and his 32 snaps as a backup on defense also matched a team high.

The special-teams play is the clearest path the 24-year-old from Salt Lake City will have to take if he wants to make the 53-man roster to start the season.

He started on the kickoff and punt teams one season while in college, giving him some experience with those units. Even there, however, the speed and technique required is different than what he experienced in college.

"Everything is a little faster, little different rules," he said. "Adjusting to those has been challenging and it's been fun."

Against the Vikings, Elliss finished with three tackles and one pass defensed.

"He had some good plays and then some plays that you want to learn from," coach Sean Payton said. "You see those flashes and are encouraged; a little bit more up and down, but encouraged with what you saw when he was doing it right."

To get better, Elliss will continue to lean on the likes of Klein and Davis so he can someday see what he needs to know without having to be told.

"I'm so thankful they're helping me with everything," said Elliss, whose father, Luther, played most of his 10 NFL seasons as a defensive tackle with the Detroit Lions. "They're teaching me every day. I've been with A.J. a lot, all the vets, a lot. They're so awesome about helping me develop in that area. I'm thankful for them."