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Marquez Callaway shows he can be Saints' WR1 with 2-TD performance

If you weren't aware of New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway before Monday night, it's time to start paying attention.

Callaway impressed last week in the preseason opener. He blew the doors off Monday night in the 23-21 win over Jacksonville.

The 6-foot-2 receiver caught all five of his targets for 104 yards, including two marvelous touchdowns.

The first score came with Jaguars defenders draped all over him, getting yanked to the turf. The play appeared over as referees tossed their yellow hankies before the ball even arrived. Yet, Callaway didn't quit, battling through contact, desperately diving to corral the pigskin on the way to the ground.

Breathtaking highlight No. 2 came two possessions later, on a perfectly thrown ball from Jameis Winston versus all-out pressure. Callaway won off the line of scrimmage, earned separation and made a one-handed snag while staying in bounds as he tumbled to the earth, hitting the end-zone pylon for the score.

"Every day, I go out there and say that it's a new day and an opportunity to get better," Callaway said after the game. "In practice, we go against the DBs and we are getting pushed. Even when you have a bad day at practice, it is something to learn from. There are no bad days, especially if you learn from it. I'm excited for the game tonight. I'm happy. The team is happy. Tomorrow my goal is to watch the film and see what we did good and see what we did bad and get back to it."

It wasn't just the big plays in which Callaway shined. He gained easy separation versus man and showed the knowledge to sit in the hole against zone. He moved the chains on third downs. He won on in-cutting and out-breaking routes. It was as about an encouraging performance as you could have stacked for the second-year receiver.

"As a receiver, we get paid to catch," he said. "We run routes and catch. When it touches our hand, We have to come down with it whether we use an arm or a leg, two hands or one hand. We just have to come down with the ball."

Callaway generated just 21 catches for 213 yards in 2020, with a large chunk of that coming in an eight-catch, 75-yard performance in Week 6. The undrafted Tennessee product has improved leaps and bounds in every aspect this offseason.

He's turning heads of everyone, even Winston, who took a massive stride toward being the Saints starting QB.

"I think [Callaway]'s just an incredible football player," Winston said. "I mean, the guy was undrafted, right? Who missed out on that guy? I'm happy that we were able to get him. It speaks volumes of our organization and how they see talent. The thing about him, man, it's like when he's out there, it's like we're playing little league football. He loves it so much; he has no fear in his heart. He has elite energy. He's out there playing football. It's fun to have teammates out there that see the game the same way that you see it and just really love taking advantage of these opportunities."

The Saints are counting on Callaway continuing his preseason dominance once the regular season begins. With Michael Thomas expected to miss a chunk of the opening slate, New Orleans desperately needed to find a player who can handle the spotlight.

Callaway is that man.

"I think that's what makes Marquez so phenomenal," Winston said. "Like every time the lights turn on, he does an amazing job."

Callaway is set to be the Saints WR1 until Thomas returns. When the former Pro Bowl receiver gets back, the Saints should have a formidable duo.

Going from undrafted to the spotlight hasn't flustered the 23-year-old Callaway. But he's going to have to get used to the attention.

"(My phone is still) going off right now," he said after the spectacular performance. "I had to put it on do not disturb. I called my mom and my dad, and I was talking to them. I'll probably call them when I leave here. I'm going to soak it all in right now and enjoy the night. We got the win, and then I'll prepare for next week."

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