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Trust Talent Time

Nick Toon continues to impress: Mike Triplett’s first take from Thursday’s New Orleans Saints practice

Second-year receiver Nick Toon continued to “flash” during the New Orleans Saints‘ practice Thursday. He made a terrific catch in the corner of the end zone during 7-on-7 passing drills, going up high to snag the ball then hanging on and keeping his feet in bounds as he was being shoved to the sideline.

Toon (6 feet 4, 218 pounds) has stood out to me more than any young receiver in Saints camp this summer. He passes the eyeball test as a big, physical target in the mold of Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham. He has great hands and run smooth routes.

Quarterback Drew Brees said Thursday that he thought Toon looked a little rusty during OTAs, when he returned to practice for the first time since spending last year on injured reserve because of foot surgery.

“But, man, ever since coming into training camp, the light bulb is coming on,” Brees said of Toon.

Nick Toon & Keenan Lewis: Saints Camp Sunday, July 28, 2013Wide receiver Nick Toon makes a reception in front of cornerback Keenan Lewis during practice at Saints headquarters in Metairie on Sunday, July 28, 2013. (Michael DeMocker, / The Times-Picayune)

At this point, I feel like Toon has a huge edge on the No. 4 receiver job behind Colston, Lance Moore and Joe Morgan — though it’s obviously still very early in the competition with all four preseason games yet to be played.

I also feel like rookie receiver Kenny Stills is a very safe bet to make the 53-man roster, at the very least. Stills has also had a nice camp, and coaches seem to be as high on his potential now as they were when the team invested a fifth-round draft pick on him.

So barring injuries, I think it will be extremely difficult for some of the other talented young receivers like Andy Tanner, Saalim Hakim or Preston Parker to make the roster.

It won’t be easy for the Saints to cut those guys. Tanner has continued to catch everything in sight during this camp. And Hakim has turned heads with his blazing speed (though he needs to be more consistent catching the ball).

But the numbers just don’t work in their favor.

First of all, I know many people will suggest that the Saints could cut veteran receiver Courtney Roby to open another roster spot. But I don’t really count Roby among the receiver group since he makes his living as the team’s top gunner on special teams.

Roby is a talented receiver — and he actually stood out with two outstanding catches during Thursday’s practice session. But for whatever reason, the Saints have barely ever used Roby as a receiver in regular-season games, even last year when they had injury issues creep up at the position.

So if Roby lost his roster spot, I think he’d lose it to someone like a safety or linebacker that could replace him on special teams coverage units. None of the Saints’ young receivers are really special teams standouts, though they might all be capable of contributing in a pinch.

So that’s why I think the Saints will likely only keep five “non-Roby” receivers this year.

The Saints generally only keep four non-Roby receivers active on game days. And barring injuries, that would likely be Colston, Moore, Morgan and Toon or Stills, with the other one being deactivated on game days.

It’s hard to imagine the Saints keeping two receivers who are inactive on game days, especially considering that tailback Travaris Cadet could line up as a receiver when needed as well. The Saints will have to really fall in love with the potential of someone like Hakim or Tanner to do that.

But as they say, it’s a good problem to have — especially in a year when the Saints parted ways with longtime veteran Devery Henderson and need some young players to step up.