Saints QB Garrett Grayson: 'I owe my life' to Jim McElwain

"I feel like this is the first time probably since I've been here that I'm out there just playing," QB Garrett Grayson said. AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle

METAIRIE, La. -- Garrett Grayson's desperation level and comfort level have both increased significantly heading into his third NFL season.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback -- who was cut last September before spending the year on the practice squad -- knows that this is the summer he has to prove he’s worth keeping around.

Grayson might not even be here if the Saints had drafted QB Patrick Mahomes II in the first round, which they strongly considered. And he appears to have little chance of competing for the No. 2 job after the Saints re-signed veteran Chase Daniel to serve as Drew Brees' backup.

But as dire as the circumstances might look, the 2015 third-round draft pick from Colorado State also feels much more comfortable in his third year with the Saints -- thanks in large part to the summer he spent reunited with college coach Jim McElwain.

McElwain, who is now the head coach at Florida, essentially gave Grayson the keys to the building after last season, offering his own pointers and letting Grayson work with other coaches and players who were available.

“I could not tell you ... there’s not a limit I could say to how much he’s helped me. I owe that man my life,” Grayson said. “He helped me get here. And then obviously everyone knows what happened last season. The fact that he kind of took me under his wing again and helped me out and gave me everything that I needed, whatever I asked ... I owe him everything I’ve got.

“And I’m hoping to go out and put on a good show for guys like him that have helped me through the process.”

As a rookie, Grayson admitted that one of his biggest issues was being able to spit out the Saints’ detailed play calls with accuracy and authority in the huddle -- not to mention performing those plays without thinking about every detail.

Last year, he said his biggest issue was more technical details, like the difference between a 2-yard and 4-yard split.

But this year, Grayson said, “This is really the first time that I’ve felt like I did when I was at Colorado State, where I knew the offense like the back of my hand, and I had the ability to get people lined up and tell 'em what to do when they asked.”

“That’s a good feeling,” Grayson said. “Obviously when you’re like that and you can play like that out there and be confident in your play, then you’re willing to let balls go that maybe you wouldn’t have in the past. Whereas before I might have been hesitant or whatever.

“I feel like this is the first time probably since I’ve been here that I’m out there just playing. I’m not thinking, I’m not wondering what guys are doing. I’m out there just reacting to what I’m seeing, and it’s very comforting after what I did this offseason and everybody kind of helped me with the process.”

Grayson and former New York Giants backup Ryan Nassib are battling for the developmental third-quarterback spot -- whether that is on the active roster or the practice squad -- or perhaps for the chance to turn some heads in other organizations during the preseason.

So far, Grayson has outshined Nassib through the first week of practices. But those preseason games will be the ultimate test.

Grayson struggled in the preseason last year, completing just 55.7 percent of his passes for 409 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Ultimately, you’re measured on if you can move the team and score,” Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked what he needs to see from Grayson. “I think he’s gonna have those opportunities in the preseason, and I think it’ll be an important camp for him.

“I’ve seen in the last year a lot of progress now. [Saints quarterbacks coach] Joe Lombardi has spent a lot of time with him. And I have seen a marked improvement, just in his ability to get in and out of the huddle, up to the line, and make decisions. I think he’s someone who’s a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing. And you’re starting to see it a little bit from drill to drill.”