Saints' Harper, Jenkins begin mentoring Vaccaro

METAIRIE (AP) — A necessary but potentially awkward period has begun for Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins.

The defensive leaders and starting safeties are now tutoring a first-round draft choice who could very well take one of their

jobs before long.

They knew this time was coming since late last month, when New Orleans selected Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and coach Sean

Payton left little doubt that the Saints expect Vaccaro to contribute right away.

The good news, Payton said after an offseason practice on Thursday, is that Harper and Jenkins are team-first guys who can

handle the challenge of both mentoring a player with whom they're also competing for playing time.

"Players' personalities really dictate how they handle young players coming in," Payton said. "Knowing Roman and Malcolm —

those guys, they're team players.

"An important element when you bring in a rookie is who's in front of him," the coach added. "So when you have guys like a

Roman Harper or a Malcolm Jenkins, guys that have experience but are also solid guys, I think that helps the transition."

Neither Harper nor Jenkins have criticized the Saints' decision to take a safety 15th overall and neither have said they wanted


Harper appears to be doing everything he can

to stick around. He recently accepted a renegotiated contract that

lowered his

annual salary by several million dollars, but also added

guaranteed bonus pay extended the length of the deal an additional

year, through 2015.

Now entering his eighth season, Harper said he recalls some good advice he received from now retired former safety Darren

Sharper, who played for New Orleans in 2009 and 2010.

"Sharper always told me everything comes full circle. He was my mentor in this thing and now I'm trying to do the same thing"

for Vaccaro, Harper said. "Hopefully I can do as well as he did, but yeah, I'm going to teach him up and try to coach him

on all the little things."

"We're definitely going to need this guy to make some plays this year and I'm going to help him do that."

Harper and Jenkins are both coming off

seasons below their standards. They were part of a unit in 2012 that

gave up more yards

(7,042) than any defense in NFL history. Harper had two

interceptions, Jenkins one. Neither had a sack, and that represented

a huge drop-off for Harper, who had 7 1/2 sacks in 2011.

Harper, however, did not have many blitzing

opportunities last season under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo,

who lasted

only one season in New Orleans before Payton replaced him with Rob

Ryan, who is bringing back some of the pressure packages

that were successful under Gregg Williams from 2009-11.

Jenkins, who due to be a free agent after this season, said seeing his team use a top draft choice on his potential long-term

replacement is "the nature of this game."

"Every year there's going to be an influx of players that come into this team, but I think all of our goal is obviously to

be the best team we can be this year and that's all we can focus on. What happens after that is out of all of our control,

Jenkins said. "Kenny's a hell of a player, so it just makes us that much better.

"He's a great athlete, very versatile, covers very well and he's grasping the defense — all the stuff that they've put on

him — pretty quickly."

Coaches say Vaccaro has the build and speed to play either safety position as will as nickel back. Vaccaro is constructively

ambiguous when asked about his potential to snag a starting job.

"I'm starting from the bottom. I'm the freshman on campus," he said. "I'm just trying to compete. Honestly I want to be the

best player I can be this year and I'll let the chips fall how they fall."

He said he hasn't sensed any tension with Jenkins or Harper, noting, "They were rookies once, too. I think they understand

what rookies go through."

"Roman and Malcolm have been a great influence on me," Vaccaro added. "They've been helping me learn my plays to get me lined

up and I'm glad I came to a team with a great group of vets in front of me."

Notes: Payton said he had met with

third-year receiver Joe Morgan about his drunk-driving arrest last

weekend but declined

to go into specifics about any consequences that Morgan, who

practice Thursday, may face. "Each team is faced with it at some

point," Payton said of players being arrested. "It is what it is

in regards to the lesson you hope the players, including

Joe, learn from it. It's our job to keep reinforcing the

importance of being smart and making right decisions and it's something

that we really try to pride ourselves in." ... Rookie left tackle

Terron Armstead was given a chance to practice with the

first team during Thursday's non-contact practice. Left tackle

Charles Brown, who will compete for the starting job, also

has returned to the field after sitting out last week's voluntary

practices. ... LB Jon Vilma also returned to team drills

after sitting out last Thursday.