Saints welcome Apple to struggling secondary

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — At the very least, Eli Apple didn't have to worry about whether he'd be welcomed warmly in the corner of Saints headquarters where the defensive backs' lockers are clustered.

Apple's former Ohio State teammates, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Vonn Bell, took care of that.

"We're glad to have him," Bell said, smiling widely.

Added Lattimore, "I know what he's capable of. I know the skillset. He's a great player, a big player, strong. He's got good feet. He's going to get it right."

For the Saints' sake, he'd better.

New Orleans enters its Week 8 test at Minnesota ranked 28th in the NFL against the pass, allowing nearly 276 yards per game through the air. Making matters worse has been the timing of some the Saints' coverage busts, most recently at the end of Sunday's victory at Baltimore , when Ravens receiver John Brown caught what should have been a tying touchdown pass in the final half-minute with no defender near him. Baltimore's extra point kick sailed wide, however, and New Orleans (5-1) escaped with another victory.

In Week 2 against Cleveland , the Saints gave up a game-tying, 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Calloway with 1:16 to go and would have fallen behind if kicker Zane Gonzalez hadn't missed an extra point. New Orleans then needed a field goal with 21 seconds left to clinch that victory.

Lattimore said New Orleans has been "terrible" in 2-minute defense.

So when the Saints had an opportunity on Tuesday to acquire Apple , who was a 2016 New York Giants first-round draft choice, in exchange for a 2019 fourth-round draft pick and 2020 seventh-rounder, they seized it.

"We felt like it was in our best interest," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We felt like it was going to help us this year."

Apple, 23, practiced with New Orleans for the first time on Wednesday. And while his status for this Sunday's game remains unclear, he said he was "very excited" to be traded to New Orleans from the languishing Giants, a team with which he has struggled at times and come under public criticism from teammates and staff.

"It's a great organization here, a lot of great players, too," Apple said after his first Saints practice. "I just can't wait to come in and contribute."

Apple's future in New York seemed tenuous since the 2017 season, when Giants safety Landon Collins called Apple a "cancer," and when Apple also was suspended for confrontational behavior toward coaches during practice.

This season, however, Apple seemed to be following through on his pledge that his attitude would be "all business." In five games with the Giants this fall, he'd made or assisted on 22 tackles, defended five passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

Asked in New Orleans if he needed a change of scenery, Apple responded, "I wouldn't necessarily say I needed it, but it's great to have one right now."

"A lot of juice around here," Apple added. "A lot of excitement."

Payton, who normally emphasizes the importance of character in the players he acquires, said he was comfortable Apple could help after speaking with the defensive back's former teammates who now play for the Saints.

"It's not uncommon that we would visit with certain players on a roster about guys they might've played with in college or maybe with prior to (on) another NFL team," Payton said. "We felt good on the information. We like the skillset and we're excited."

In addition to Lattimore and Bell, Apple was Ohio State teammates with receiver Michael Thomas and often competed against him in practice.

"It was a heavy-weight fight every day," Bell recalled, adding that both players practiced so intensely they had to be physically separated a few times. "It was competing at its best."

Notes: Left guard Andrus Peat, who sat out Sunday's game in Baltimore with a head injury that had occurred in practice the previous week, returned to practice on Wednesday and said he expects to play this week. ... Center Max Unger (hand) and reserve guard Josh LeRibeus (ankle) sat out practice. ... Safety Marcus Williams practiced, but was listed on the Saints' injury report with a groin injury.

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