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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Marques Colston let out a laugh and shrugged his shoulders when the subject of his NFL longevity arose.
"I'd rather look at that at the end of the season," said the New Orleans Saints' all-time leading receiver, now in his ninth year as a pro. "When it's time to hang 'em up, I'm pretty sure I'll know and everyone else will know. But it's surely not that time yet."
Affirming that he feels healthy after making a concerted effort to rest a nagging left-foot injury this offseason, Colston aims to demonstrate why it may be premature to discuss his decline.
Last season, Colston fell short of the lofty standards he's set during most of his career. He caught 75 passes for 943 yards and five touchdowns, ranking 28th in the NFL in catches, 27th in yards and 37th in TDs.
His 63 yards receiving per game were the lowest of his career. It also marked only the second time he failed to reach 1,000 yards in a season — the first being 2008, when he missed five games with a hand injury. Last season, he missed just one game.
Yet at 31, Colston is bound to find his role growing this season.
He and Robert Meachem are the only receivers on the squad with more than one year of regular season experience, but whether there will be room for Meachem on the 2014 regular season roster remains unclear.
The Saints have a number of young receivers who've shown promise, including Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan and first-round draft choice Brandin Cooks.
Colston said it is odd for him to look around during receivers meetings and realize that he is oldest guy in the room, and in most cases, "by far."
While Colston has never been a particularly outspoken player, that doesn't mean he won't embrace a leadership role — though he may have his own, low-key way of doing it.
"It's not really about getting on guys. It's about being a resource to make corrections," Colston said, adding that younger receivers ask "a ton of questions and I'm glad to answer them."
The Saints appear content to let Colston lead as he sees fit.
"Guys can lead in different ways," coach Sean Payton said. "We don't want their personalities to change. He's someone that's always been fairly quiet. He does a lot of his talking (with his play)."
Meanwhile, Payton seeks to keep Colston as healthy as possible by limiting his workload.
"With guys like Marques ... you've got to pay attention to what they're doing daily, making sure it's not too much and still making sure it's enough to where they're not rusty," Payton said.
Colston didn't look rusty during 11-on-11 drills Thursday, reaching down and twisting to snag a low throw while running across the middle.
"Being able to really rest and come into this season healthy, it's a totally different ballgame," Colston said. "I really just came out of (last) season knowing that I had to get healthy."
Colston has continued to lie daily in his oxygen-rich, hyperbaric chamber in order to help his body recover faster. He even had it moved into his room at the Greenbrier Resort, re-arranging furniture to make it fit.
Few have been more pleased by the way New Orleans' senior has looked this offseason than quarterback Drew Brees, who like Colston joined the Saints in 2006. Since then, Colston has accumulated franchise records of 607 passes, 8,337 yards receiving and 63 touchdown catches.
"Marques has as big a contribution now as he ever has," Brees said. "It's nice to have him be healthy."
Notes: Veteran safety Champ Bailey missed a light practice on Thursday afternoon but the Saints did not discuss reasons for his absence. ... There were several scuffles during a morning practice in full pads, including one between LB Curtis Lofton and RB Khiry Robinson that Brees helped break up. DE Cam Jordan, who sparred with rookie left tackle Tavon Rooks, said Saints defenders made a concerted effort to turn up their intensity. "Today we just emphasized setting the tone," Jordan said. "It's one thing for a coach to say we have to be nasty, but it's another thing for the players to come in and say, 'We're going to set the tone today.'"
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