NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton couldn't resist trying out another former college basketball player at tight end.
Who could blame him after the smashing success Jimmy Graham became before New Orleans traded him and his hefty contract to Seattle?
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Chris Manhertz, who played power forward for Canisius, knows he has a long way to go even to make any NFL roster, never mind Pro Bowls as Graham has.
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Unlike Graham, who played one season of college football at Miami before entering the NFL draft, Manhertz never played football at any level, or even watched it on TV that much growing up.
But Manhertz, who signed with New Orleans this week, suspects that if any NFL coaching staff can help him make the transition to pro football, it's Payton's.
''Absolutely,'' Manhertz said when asked if it meant something to him to be on the same team that developed Graham after making him a third-round draft choice in 2010. ''It's really amazing to see how smoothly (Graham) made the transition and where he's at now, and playing at a high level.''
As a senior at Canisius during the 2013-14 academic year, Manhertz averaged 8.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He described himself as a physical basketball player who got in his fair share of foul trouble.
Manhertz wasn't actively pursuing a career in pro football after his college basketball career ended. Rather, he was approached first by the Buffalo Bills. The Bills decided the Manhertz experiment wasn't for them, so the Saints swooped in to give it a shot.
''He is athletic, he is big,'' Payton said. ''When you see his size and stature - obviously he has a lot of things he has to learn, but the workout was pretty impressive.''
Given how scouting has evolved with technology, Payton said he wasn't surprised to see an NFL team approach a non-football player about trying out, rather than the other way around.
''I don't think teams are specifically, all of a sudden, evaluating all of the basketball programs. I think that they just expanded their search data, if you will, to include that - no different than how the NBA is, in the last 10 to 15 years, signing more European players,'' Payton said. ''We are doing the same thing with regards to body types (of college football players). A lot of those players you are not seeing in the college game necessarily in the traditional tight end formation. So where is that athlete? Teams are getting more comfortable and are looking at those types of programs.''
Manhertz said he was initially surprised by the overture from the Bills, but didn't need too much convincing.
''I looked at a lot of guys like Jimmy Graham and (Chargers tight end) Antonio Gates, and once the opportunity presented itself I just went head on, full-steam and just took it on. Why not?''
He soon found he had a ton to learn: the right stance, proper blocking and receiving techniques, reading formations, understanding the concepts of plays and the language used to call them.
But other aspects of football come more naturally, he said, including ''hand-eye coordination, using your body in space, using leverage of the defender, trying to get open, stuff like that. A lot of those components really translate here on the field.''
In all, Manhertz seems to understand that if he ever succeeds in the NFL, it may be later than sooner. The trick is finding a team that has a vision for his skill set and the patience to see it through.
''I'm just really trying to get better every day and show these guys that I have something to stick around,'' Manhertz said.
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