Far from Shy, Saints rookie Tuttle has forced his way onto the field

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Saints: Malcolm Brown, Shy Tuttle, Cam Jordan
Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (#90) beat the odds to start for New Orleans to open the season as a rookie undrafted free agent (Photo: Parker Waters).

When defensive tackle Shy Tuttle stepped into the starting lineup in the season opener against the Houston Texans, it marked a milestone in Saints franchise history. It had been 47 seasons since an undrafted rookie at that position had started to open a season.

On Sept. 16, 1973 against the Atlanta Falcons, undrafted rookie Elex Price was a starter for the Black and Gold, alongside veteran Bob Pollard. The Yazoo City, Mississippi native played at Alcorn State before carving out a career in the NFL in New Orleans from 1973 to 1980.

Sheldon Rankins is still out while recovering from Achilles surgery while David Onyemata served a suspension in week one, but few expected the 6-foot-3, 300 pounder out of Tennessee to be taking reps with the first team defense days prior to the Texans game. Tuttle just kept grinding like he had been to reach this point.

“I just try to get better each week and do my job the best that I can,” Tuttle explained. “Whatever the coach asks me to do, I’m willing to do.”

With the release of Taylor Stallworth this week, Tuttle’s reps may increase. He played significant snaps against the Rams this past Sunday. In 33 snaps against the Texans, he shared a sack on Houston’s Deshaun Watson. He has already been a key part of the defensive line rotation against playoff caliber teams in his short pro career to date.

Saints head coach Sean Payton told the media that the staff recognized a jump in Tuttle’s performance at practice the last two weeks of the exhibition season. Payton felt that’s when the former roster longshot made a case to earn a spot on the final 53. That news came as a surprise to Tuttle.

“No, I really didn’t know. As a rookie, you’re blindfolded and you just try to do whatever the coaches ask you. The whole goal of the camp was to get better each week. Just beat blocks and that’s what I did.”

Tuttle did notice that the game slowed down after he reached his comfort zone later in the preseason. “You start to recognize things and get into the swing of things,” the Winston-Salem, North Carolina native said.

Tuttle was not always an under-the-radar hopeful. While at North Davidson High School, he was a highly-coveted recruit who attracted the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Notre Dame, Florida State, Georgia, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan and Miami. But the choice came down to the in-state UNC Tar Teels and the Vols.

“It was a tough decision,” Tuttle recalled. “Any time that you have to make a big decision like that, it’s tough, but I felt that was my best decision for me.”

His uncle Perry Tuttle was a wide receiver at Clemson, helping the Tigers capture the national title in 1981. Perry eventually was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills. There was, however, no family pressure during the recruiting process.

“My uncle helped me with a little bit of it,” recalled Tuttle. “He encouraged me to make my own decision. He fell back and let me do my thing, make my own decision. He didn’t put any pressure on me.”

Making 29 starts at Tennessee, Tuttle believes playing against top rated competition week in and week out in the SEC prepared him for the NFL.

“Definitely. People are bigger, stronger, faster (now), but playing in the SEC, I felt like I was playing some of the top caliber guys. It definitely helped me.”

At the Indianapolis Combine this past January, Tuttle performed well with 4.95 seconds posting in the 40, a 28″ vertical and 21 reps on the bench press test. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to be drafted but his chance to make the League came all the same. He feels he’s just scratched the surface.

“Being a rookie, I feel like I have a lot to improve on, but I’d like to feel that I’m athletic, big enough, strong and physical. I still have a ways to go, a lot to improve on.”

Tuttle has acted like a sponge around the New Orleans veterans, absorbing as much knowledge as he can to succeed in the NFL.

“The technique, the hands and coming here playing with guys like Malcolm Brown, David (Onyemata); all of these guys can play. I try to learn a little bit each day from them. It’s going to take awhile to get there. Cam (Jordan) doing his thing in the League for nine years. Sheldon (Rankins). I’m surrounded. It’s a great atmosphere to be around. Great to be a young guy, learning from these guys.”

As for outside influences, a former North Carolina sports legend and future Hall of Famer was Tuttle’s primary role model on the field.

“Julius Peppers, we’re really got some similarity. We both played D-Line,” he said with a laugh. “He was a great athlete, played two sports. I feel like I’m athletic, too.”

From the passionate Vol fanbase to Who Dat nation, Tuttle is enjoying the continuing passionate support as he slugs it out in the trenches.

“They are all die hard fans. They’re with you whether you win or lose. The energy that I see has been amazing. I can’t appreciate them enough.”

Shyheim Devonte Tuttle is working towards making a name for himself in the NFL. He’s already accomplished a lot, and not in a shy way.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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