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Former Duke hoops star Paulus grateful for Saints tryout

METAIRIE, La. -- If nothing else, Greg Paulus' tryout with the New Orleans Saints gave him a chance to reminisce about his college basketball days with a former foe from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Although Paulus is focusing on football now, the first NFL team to give him a look was the same one that drafted Miami tight end Jimmy Graham, a converted basketball player himself whose four years as a Hurricanes power forward coincided with Paulus' four seasons playing point guard at Duke.

"We'd have a good basketball team," Paulus joked after practice this weekend. "We could run the pick-and-roll. We could have some fun."

Paulus and Graham were rivals in the ACC from the 2005-06 through 2008-09 college basketball seasons. This weekend, they've been working on the same football field in suburban New Orleans and carpooling to practice.

"It's a little bit different, but it's fun," Paulus said. "To switch sports, it's a very difficult thing, so to have this type of opportunity, it's something we were hoping for when we made the decision to play football a year ago."

Graham said it was "weird" to see Paulus joining him at Saints practice, "because I played him four years in basketball and threw his layups -- or him -- out of bounds a couple times."

"He's a smart player, obviously going to Duke," Graham continued. "He hasn't necessarily had as much time as the rest of us with the offense, but he catches on quick and is definitely a good football player. Anybody that gets him, or if he stays here, has a smart quarterback."

Paulus used his fifth and final year of NCAA eligibility playing quarterback at Syracuse last fall while getting his master's degree in communications. In his lone season, he completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,024 yards and 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. His head coach with the Orange, Doug Marrone, was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach on Sean Payton's Saints staff from 2006-2008.

Although Paulus was not drafted, he received a tryout at Saints rookie camp in May. He left without a contract, but got an invitation for a second tryout at Saints minicamp this weekend and has been working behind Drew Brees, Chase Daniel and seventh-round draft choice Sean Canfield.

"We wanted to look at him," Payton said. "He was here for the rookie camp and did a good job. He's a pretty good decision maker."

Paulus stopped short of saying he expects to return for training camp. The Saints have been talking with several veterans, including Josh McCown and Patrick Ramsey, who could come in and compete with Daniel, a second-year pro, for the backup role behind Brees. If that happened, Paulus could be out of the picture in New Orleans.

"There are a lot of different scenarios that could help or hurt you, and you've got to control the things that you can control, which is your performance and what you do on the field and how you carry yourself," Paulus said. "My primary focus is to be me, do what I do and hopefully there's a chance here because this is a special organization."

Paulus, who grew up in Syracuse, was a high school standout in both football and basketball. In the winter of 2005, he was selected for the Army All-American high school football game along with other top college recruits such as current Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. After that, however, he didn't play organized football for another four years.

If he wants to make it in the NFL, he'll need to learn fast. Even if he fails to catch on in New Orleans, he figured his time working under an innovative offensive play-caller like Payton and a Super Bowl MVP like Brees could only help.

"Having those type of mentors and things that you can learn from, if you were to dream of a situation, that's the type of situation that you dream about," Paulus said.

Payton's offenses have led the NFL three of the past four seasons. Brees routinely stays after practice to work on routes with receivers, and Paulus, like the other quarterbacks on the squad, has joined him.

"All I've heard is great things about Greg," Brees said. "Had he had three more years of college football, who knows what the possibilities are? From everyone I talk to, it seems like this guy has a lot of great leadership abilities and some natural talent.

"Unfortunately in this league, coming in like he has, with the nature of the position, you get so few opportunities, so you hope that somebody can stick with you," Brees said. "It might be here. It might not be here. But I think if he can get a chance ... who knows?"

Notes: Reserve defensive back Malcolm Jenkins sat out practice with a contusion in his left knee that occurred during Friday's practices. ... Payton, who spent parts of his childhood in both Philadelphia and Chicago, said he grew up a Flyers fan but would prefer to see the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this season. Payton added that he may have to wager a cheese steak on the series, now tied at 2, with All-Pro guard Jahri Evans, a Philadelphia native and rabid Flyers fan.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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