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Recorded
June 8, 2004

Recorded
June 8, 2004

 

2002 Column Archives

Thursday, September 30, 2004
WEEK FOUR: SAINTS vs. CARDINALS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:37 pm CST
LAST WEEK

Here are a few things I think from last week:

1. Aaron Brooks is becoming the heart and soul of this team. He is starting to mature into a consistent NFL quarterback, and has played solid in all three games this season. His poise under pressure reminds me of Brett Favre, and some of the laser-like passes reminds of John Elway. Now, I’m not ready to induct Brooks into the Hall of Fame just yet, but you have to admit that his play last week was particularly impressive.
2. I have to give credit where credit is due. I’ve been very critical of Mike McCarthy to this point but he did call a great game against the Rams. The call for a quarterback scramble in overtime was brilliant. I also like the way he started running the ball up the field while using the two-back set. Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.
3. Charles Grant benefited from Darren Howard’s return to the lineup. Grant could become a Pro Bowl defensive end with more performances like last Sunday.
4. Ashley Ambrose has outplayed Fred Thomas so far this season. Fahkir Brown is also playing at a high level.
5. I had some doubts about Aaron Stecker being able to carry the load in Deuce’s absence. Consider the doubts erased. Stecker did a great job both running and blocking against the Rams.
6. Rookie Mike Karney did a solid job as the lead blocker in the running game. While he is still not Terrelle Smith, he’s getting there.
7. The offensive line did a much better job run blocking this week. It helps when the play calling fits the strength of the unit.
8. The linebackers played well with the exception of the 19-yard touchdown by QB Marc Bulger. Courtney Watson registered his first sack of his career early in the game, but blew his assignment big-time on Bulger’s run late in the game.
9. The play of wide receivers Joe Horn, Donte Stallworth, and Jerome Pathon were as good as you can get.
10. John Carney has paid his debt for the extra-point miss against Jacksonville last season.

WEEK FOUR: Arizona Cardinals

Denny Green is in his first season as the Cardinals head coach, and he has gotten off to a shaky start. The Cardinals have only scored two touchdowns all season. QB Josh McCown hasn’t played well, the offensive line has been porous, and WR Anquan Bolden has been lost for most of the season with a knee injury. RB Emmitt Smith is the main ball carrier for the Cardinals and has rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns this season. The Cardinals have also allowed 13 sacks in the first three games.

The strength of the Cardinals is their defense. While they have given up 542 yards rushing, they haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Their passing defense has intercepted four passes and has allowed only three touchdowns so far. The Cardinals’ defense has also recovered seven fumbles in three games.

KEYS TO THE GAME

-RUN THE BALL-Last week Stecker ran for 104 yards and a touchdown. He needs a repeat performance.

-FIND THE TIGHT END-the tight end position has been virtually absent in the passing game so far this season. With injuries to Joe Horn and Jerome Pathon, the Saints will need to utilize Ernie Conwell and Boo Williams more in the passing game.

-PRESSURE THE QUARTERBACK-the Cardinals have given up 13 sacks so far and that number probably could be higher if McCown couldn’t run. The Saints should take advantage of their offensive line.

-STOP THE SHORT PASSES-you can bet that McCown will try plenty of three-step drops to get rid of the ball quicker to avoid getting pummeled. The Saints have shown a weakness in the secondary to short, quick passes.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 3 ½

This is a game the Saints SHOULD win. However, the Saints always seem to struggle against teams that they SHOULD beat. The Cardinals aren’t pushovers, especially on defense, but the Saints don’t scare anyone defensively either. Brooks SHOULD continue his solid play, although I expect his numbers to be down a bit with the injuries at wide receiver. Brooks will throw for 170 yards and a touchdown. Boo Williams will lead all receivers with 80 yards and a touchdown. Stecker SHOULD have another good day at running back rushing for 90 yards and catching five passes for another 50 yards. The Saints’ defense will score for the first time this season on a Derrick Rodgers interception, and Carney will get another two field goals. Scott says take the Cardinals and the points, but Saints win…Saints 20, Cardinals 17

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Last Week: 6-7-1 (.461)
Season: 20-25-1 (.444)
Lock O’ The Week: 3-0

LOCK O’ THE WEEK: Philadelphia –9 over Chicago-Eagles are hot and Bears start Jonathan Quinn at QB

And now for the rest of WEEK FOUR in the NFL:

Cin +4 over Pit-Bengals bounce back after beating by Ravens
Ind –3 ½ over Jax-Peyton is on a different level right now
NE –6 ½ over Buf-Pats make it 18 in a row
NYG +7 over GB-Packers win, but it will be close
Oak –2 over Hou-Collins is a better fit for Turner’s offense
Was –3 over Cle-Gibbs won’t stay embarrassed for long
Car –3 ½ over Atl-Foster outrushes Vick/Dunn
Den –3 over TB-Tampa’s just not that good
NYJ –6 over Mia-this is my second lock o’ the week
SD +3 over Ten-if McNair can’t go, Chargers have a shot
STL –3 ½ over SF-Martz doesn’t shoot himself in the foot
Bal –5 ½ over KC-wow, Chiefs 0-4 start?

Friday, September 24, 2004
Mike D's Top 30 Players for the 2005 NFL Draft - (Seniors Only)
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:29 pm CST
A few games into the 2004 college season, as I do from time to time throughout the year, here is an updated list of my top 30 Senior Prospects for the 2005 NFL Draft.

**1. Mike Williams- Wide Receiver USC
2. Derrick Johnson- Outside Linebacker Texas
3. Antrel Rolle- Cornerback Miami (Fla.)
4. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams- Halfback Auburn
5. Marcus Spears- Defensive End LSU
6. Shaun Cody- Defensive Tackle USC
7. Corey Webster- Cornerback LSU
8. Marlin Jackson- Cornerback Michigan
9. Anttaj Hawthorne- Defensive Tackle Wisconsin
10. Alex Barron- Offensive Tackle Florida State
11. Cedric Benson- Halfback Texas
12. Mark Clayton- Wide Receiver Oklahoma
13. Dan Cody- Defensive End Oklahoma
14. David Pollack- Defensive End Georgia
15. Chris Canty- Defensive End Virginia
16. Jammal Brown- Offensive Tackle Oklahoma
17. Kirk Morrison- Middle Linebacker San Diego State
18. David Baas- Offensive Guard Michigan
19. Ronnie Brown- Halfback Auburn
20. Darrent Williams- Cornerback Oklahoma State
21. Wesley Britt- Offensive Tackle Alabama
22. Kyle Orton- Quarterback Purdue
23. Donte Nicholson- Safety Oklahoma
24. Kevin Burnett- Outside Linebacker Tennessee
25. Terrence Murphy- Wide Receiver Texas A&M;
26. Ben Wilkerson- Offensive Center LSU
27. Carlos Rogers- Cornerback Auburn
28. Mike Patterson- Defensive Tackle USC
29. Michael Boley- Outside Linebacker Southern Mississippi
30. Craphonso Thorpe- Wide Receiver Florida State

** USC's Mike Williams was declared ineligible to play college football again by the NCAA.

WEEK THREE-SAINTS vs. RAMS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:31 pm CST
LAST WEEK

Here are a few things I think about last week:

1. Aaron Brooks is more important to this team than Deuce McAllister. If Brooks had been injured instead of Deuce, the Saints would be 0-2.
2. Brooks has looked good in both games this season. At this point, it looks as if Brooks has finally turned the corner and his becoming the quarterback that the coaching staff has believed he could be. (Knock on wood)
3. Donte Stallworth also looks like he may have finally come around as an NFL wide receiver, and could be one of the most dangerous threats in the league if can stay healthy. (Double knock on wood)
4. Joe Horn is one of the gutsiest football players that have ever worn the Black and Gold. Despite all his foolishness, there is no one on the team that brings his A-game every week like Horn.
5. LB Derrick Rodgers looked much better last week. James Allen didn’t.
6. Rick Venturi desperately needs to figure out how to get the defense to stop the run.
7. The offensive line looks to be suffering without Jerry Fontenot at center and LeCharles Bentley at guard. Bentley will be a great center one day, just not anytime soon. Right guard Montre Holland whiffed on a block that led to McAllister’s injury.
8. Have the Saints ever had a worse draft than in 2003? The only starter is fourth round pick Montre Holland, who has not looked good so far this year. First round pick Jonathan Sullivan is not motivated to the point that free agents Howard Green and Brian Young are starting ahead of him. Second round pick Jon Stinchcomb is not good enough to be activated on game day, much less start. Third round pick Cie Grant has stayed too injured to play at all. Fifth round pick Melvin Williams contributed last season when he fumbled a kickoff in Tennessee, which led to a Titans touchdown in their victory over the Saints. Other than that, he’s done nothing. Sixth round pick Kareem Kelly is no longer on the team. Seventh round pick Talman Gardner has contributed some on special teams, including a running into the kicker penalty last week, but has not done anything at all in the Saints’ offense. YUCK!
9. On the flip side, the 2004 draft looks to be one of the better drafts with Will Smith and Courtney Watson both starting and playing fairly well for rookies. DT Rodney Leisle played extensively last week; fullback Mike Karney has also contributed to the offense and Colby Bockwoldt has done a good job on special teams. Now, if they can only get Devery Henderson on the field…
10. Hey Coach Haslett, the fans were not booing the team, they were booing you.

WEEK THREE: St Louis Rams

Mike Martz is still on the sidelines, which means the Saints have a shot at winning the game. Marshall Faulk is not the running back he used to be, but with the Saints’ run defense, he may look five years younger this week. Rookie Steven Jackson will also see some playing time at running back. Former Saint Mark Bulger is the starting quarterback, who has done a decent job considering his offensive line only gives him a nanosecond to throw the ball. Wide outs Issac Bruce and Torry Holt are still two of the most dangerous receivers in the game. Another former Saint that is scheduled to play is TE Cam Cleeland. Cleeland, who is not known for his toughness, talked tough about the Saints’ organization this week, including a veiled threat to Jim Haslett on the sidelines. Haslett refused to comment on Cleeland’s remarks, which of course hurt Cleeland’s feelings, and he is now listed as questionable. (Kidding, of course)

The Rams’ defense has been ineffective since the departure of Lovie Smith and Grant Winstrom. Their secondary is banged up, which has caused New Orleanian Aeneas Williams to move from safety to cornerback this week. The Rams’ run defense isn’t as bad as the Saints, but it’s close.

KEYS TO THE GAME

-TURNOVERS-I know, you can say this about every game, every week. But it still holds true. Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.

-THREE IN A ROW-Aaron Brooks will need to have another great game in order for the Saints to win Sunday. With the Rams’ secondary hurting and a weak defensive line, Brooks should have enough time to find open receivers most of the day.

-STOP THE RUN-Until the Saints do it, they will struggle to win.

-LAST SCORE COUNTS-Because both teams have above-average offenses and below-average defenses, this game should be a shootout that will probably be decided by whoever scores last.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Rams favored by 7

The Saints started out 1-1 last season before losing three straight games and digging themselves in a hole that they never recovered from. During that period, they faced Tennessee (12-4), Indianapolis (12-4), and Carolina (11-5). The Saints’ next three opponents, St. Louis, Arizona, and Tampa Bay, don’t figure to be as difficult. The Rams were handled by Atlanta last week, and are trying to keep up with Seattle. The Saints have played the Rams tough in St. Louis since Haslett has been coach, winning both times they have played in the RCA Dome. I think that trend will continue this week. Brooks passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The combination of Aaron Stecker and Ki-Jana Carter will rush for 70 yards and a touchdown. The Saints’ defense holds the Rams to 110 total yards rushing, and sacks Bulger four times. Bulger gets three scores in the air, Holt catches two of them, and Cleeland pulls a muscle drinking Gatorade on the sideline. It goes to the wire with John Carney kicking 50-yard field goal to win at the end. Scott says take the Saints and the seven points…Saints 34, Rams 31

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Last Week: 4-12 (.250)-sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.
Season: 14-18 (.437)
Lock O’ The Week: 2-0

LOCK O’ THE WEEK: New Orleans +7 over St. Louis-Saints always play better on the road

And Now for the rest of WEEK THREE in the NFL:

Atl –9 ½ over Ari-Vick is hot right now
Cin +3 over Bal-Marvin Lewis hosts former team
Min –9 over Chi-Instant replay is your friend, Mike Tice
Cle +2 over NYG-unless Cle turns the ball over seven times
Hou +9 over KC-Chiefs win, but it will be close
Jax +6 over Ten-I would take the under in this game (35 ½)
Phi –5 ½ over Det-Eagles are soaring right now
Mia –1 over Pit-Dolphins get lucky
Den –10 over SD-if you like running backs, this game is for you
GB +6 over Ind-Favre will make it close at the end
SF +10 ½ over Sea-still not convinced Seahawks are Super Bowl contenders
Oak –3 over TB-Sapp gets revenge
Dal +1 over Was-just like the good old days, not.

Friday, September 17, 2004
WEEK TWO Saints vs. 49ers and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:24 pm CST
IVAN

Before I get started on the game, I’d like to send out my best wishes and prayers to everyone on the Gulf Coast that was affected by Hurricane Ivan. While we stayed relatively untouched by Ivan in New Orleans, the residents of the Alabama and Florida coast were hammered. And while most New Orleanians are spouting off their horror stories of it taking three months just to get to Baton Rouge, residents of the Emerald Coast are wondering where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep for the next few months. New Orleanians lost sleep and time in the car, Floridians and Alabamians lost livelihoods. It’s hard to imagine the damage that was done to that area where I’ve vacationed, honeymooned, and made a living as a musician playing various clubs on the coast. To hear that Flora-Bama’s was destroyed absolutely tugs at my heartstrings, not because of the actual building, but because of the many lives that will be forever changed. Once again, my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that Ivan affected.

LAST WEEK

Here are some things that I think about last week:

1. Tebucky Jones still can’t tackle.
2. The Saints didn’t lose because of Aaron Brooks.
3. Michael Lewis is back to his Pro-Bowl form.
4. Mike McCarthy still cannot manage a game.
5. Courtney Watson is the real deal.
6. James Allen and Derrick Rogers wouldn’t start for over half the teams in the NFL.
7. Jay Bellamy is the Saints best run-stuffer.
8. The one-back offense stinks.
9. Boo Williams still cannot block
10. The defense played better than the so-called “high-powered offense.”

WEEK TWO-San Francisco 49ers

This isn’t your father’s 49ers. Ken Dorsey will get his first NFL start against the Saints this Sunday, and no one will mistake him for Joe Montana. Coach Dennis Erickson is not Bill Walsh and Brandon Lloyd is no Jerry Rice. Kevan Barlow is a solid NFL running back, and will probably get the ball early and often. Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry will miss the game due to an injury.

On defense, the 49ers are led by defensive tackle Brian Young and LB Julian Peterson. The 49ers are not terribly strong in the secondary with Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph at cornerback, and Rumph has been suffering with a groin injury.

KEYS TO THE GAME

-PLAY CALLING-Once again, the play calling of Mike McCarthy last week leaves much to be desired. His decisions on third and fourth down and two late in the game left even the most die-hard Saints fans scratching their heads. The one-back offense is not working, and if the Saints have to rely on the passing game to move the chains, Mitch Berger is going to want a raise.

-CATCH THE BALL-New wide receivers coach, same problems. Dropped passes, bad routes, running the wrong routes, lining up wrong, etc… haven’t we been through this already? I keep hearing about all this talent the Saints have at receiver, but what exactly are they talented at? Running fast? If the position were called Wide Runners instead of Wide Receivers, the Saints would have the best in the business. And why sit out Devery Henderson? He can line up wrong with the best of them. At least he can catch the ball.

-IT’S NO LONGER PRESEASON-Will somebody please send a memo to Jim Haslett and Mike McCarthy that these games count now. Stop with the experiments, and stick with what works. Boo Williams can’t block, so what good is he in the running game? Deuce McAllister is the bread and butter, so why change the running game that was successful last season? If you are going to experiment, try putting Colby Buckwoldt in at linebacker. He can’t be any worse that James Allen.

-JUMP OUT TO AN EARLY LEAD-It will be important for the Saints to get some momentum early in the game and set the tempo. The offense needs to be able to score more than seven points in the first half. I’d like to see the defense score a touchdown early to show the offense how it’s done. If the Saints get behind by two scores early, they’ll abandon the game plan and common sense, which will lead to a 0-2 start.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 7

It’s time to put an end to the mediocre football that has plagued this team since 2001. The Saints are lucky to be facing a poor 49er ball club that will be starting an inexperienced quarterback. Look for the Saints to blitz early and often. Deuce will get back on track with 130 yards and two touchdowns. Aaron Brooks will complete 80% of his passes, but the receivers will drop 25% of them, which will put Brooks at 55%. He’ll have one touchdown pass and no interceptions. Joe Horn will catch 10 balls for 90 yards and a touchdown. The Saints defense will win the battle at the line of scrimmage and hold the 49ers to 240 yards total offense. Rookie Will Smith will get his first two sacks of his professional career, and Ashley Ambrose will intercept another pass. Saints win this one going away. Scott says take the Saints and lay the points…Saints 31, 49ers 14.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Last Week: 10-6 (.625)
Season: 10-6 (.625)
Lock O’ the Week: 1-0

LOCK O’ THE WEEK: New England –8 over Arizona: Tom Brady looks in mid-season form and so does Arizona.

And now for the rest of WEEK TWO in the NFL:

KC –6 over Car-no Stephen Davis, no Steve Smith, no offensive line
GB –8 over Chi-Chicago is still a year away
Den –3 over Jax-I think that Denver got the better of the Bailey-Portis deal
Hou +3 over Det-Charles Rogers on IR again
Ind +1 over Ten-drunken, idiot kicker wins it in OT
Pit +3 over Bal-Deion’s neon fading
Stl +2 ½ over Atl-take the over in this one
Was –3 over NYG-Gibbs gets to 2-0 with ease
TB +3 over Sea-Shawn Alexander may miss the game, Seabirds win in a close one
Oak +3 ½ over Buf-Raiders are tough at home
Cle +4 ½ over Dal-Garcia makes a difference in Browns team
NYJ –3 over SD-this game features two great RBs in Tomlinson and Martin
Cin –5 over Mia-the Dolphins are in trouble
Min +3 ½ over Phi-this game features the two biggest jerks in Moss and Owens

Tuesday, September 07, 2004
WEEK ONE-SAINTS v. SEAHAWKS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:34 am CST
OFFSEASON ANALYSIS

Here is a list of things that I feel about the past off-season:

1. Will Smith is one heck of a consolation prize in the first round. I think he will have more of an impact this season than Jonathon Vilma or DJ Williams.
2. This year’s draft class is just as good as how last year’s draft class was bad.
3. Thank the football gods that Fred Thomas re-signed with the Saints so that they have at least one decent cornerback.
4. It really doesn’t matter who plays second string quarterback or running back. If Deuce and/or Aaron miss any significant time, the Saints won’t win many games.
5. LeCharles Bentley is a better NFL guard than center at this point.
6. Jonathan Sullivan (Marcus Trufant) is as big of a disappointment as Alex Molden (Eddie George) was.
7. John Pease will have the biggest impact on the defense this season.
8. Ernie Conwell will have the biggest impact on the offense this season.
9. In order for the Saints to win more than eight games, Haslett, Mike McCarthy, and Rick Venturi will have to coach better than they have in the past four seasons. (And get a little lucky)
10. The Saints need a new stadium. I love the Dome, but a new stadium will ensure the Saints will stay in New Orleans for the next 25 years.
11. Carolina will win the division at 10-6. The Saints will finish 10-6 but will be a wildcard due to Carolina winning the tiebreaker. Saints will lose in the first round of the playoffs at Green Bay.

WEEK ONE: Seattle Seahawks

Seattle’s offense is very similar to the Saints in many ways. QBs Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks both studied under McCarthy at Green Bay and have had similar success since leaving the Packers. RBs Deuce McAllister and Shawn Alexander come from the Southeastern Conference, both played sparingly their rookie seasons before taking over the starting jobs in their second seasons, and both are franchise running backs that can take it all the way every time they touch the ball. Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson, two of the better wide outs in the NFC, lead the Seahawks’ wide receivers. The Saints are talented as well with Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth.

Defensively, the Seahawks have the edge over the Saints. CB’s Marcus Trufant, Ken Lucas, and Bobby Taylor along with S Ken Hamlin provide the Seahawks with a strong secondary. The Saints have Fred Thomas. Seattle’s linebackers are slightly above average, led by MLB Orlando Huff (not to be confused with the Saints’ MLB Orlando Ruff). DE Grant Winstrom leads the Seahawks defensive line.

KEYS TO THE GAME

-STOP THE RUN-with two of the best running offenses in the NFC taking the field, stopping the run will ultimately determine who will win this game.

-PASS RUSH-with the Saints’ questionable secondary, pass rush will be important for the Saints to sack or force poor throws in passing situations. For Seattle, Brooks won’t be as mobile as usual due to his injured leg and Bentley has looked average at best at center.

-SPECIAL TEAMS-Michael Lewis had his usual preseason punt return for a touchdown, and looks to be back in the saddle after having an average season last year. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has some good special teams’ players around him this year, i.e. Mel Mitchell. Field position will be important, as the game will probably come down to a field goal at the end.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Seahawks favored by 2 ½

In last season’s opener, the Seahawks physically dominated the Saints and were ready to play while the Saints’ seemed to sleepwalk through most of the game. I think the Saints will be better prepared than last season, and playing at home will be a big plus that may swing the game in the Saints favor. Aaron Brooks will be rusty due to his lack of work during preseason, but will still perform better than J.T. O’Sullivan on a good day. Brooks throws for 230 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, he will also throw two interceptions. Deuce goes for 88 yards and a touchdown as well. Defense will look improved against the run, but will surrender 130 yards and two touchdowns to Shaun Alexander. Will Smith gets his first NFL sack, and Courtney Watson will lead the team in tackles with 10, although most of the tackles will be five yards down field. Mike Holmgren out coaches Haslett at the end. Seattle wins it by a field goal…Scott says take Seattle and lay the 2-½ points…Seahawks 20, Saints 17.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

LOCK O’ THE WEEK: Tennessee –3 over Miami-the Dolphins have no quarterback or running back.


SURVIVOR PICK O’ THE WEEK: Houston over San Diego-the Texans are 2-0 in season openers.

And now the rest of WEEK ONE in the NFL:

IND + 3 ½ over NE- Pats DBs won’t be able to hold this time around
ARI +11 over STL- Rams will win, but it will be close
BAL –3 over CLE- Ray Lewis will shut up Winslow, Jr
CIN +4 ½ over NYJ- Bengals will be sleeper in AFC this year
CHI –3 over DET- Lovie Smith wins debut at home
BUF –3 over JAX- Eric Moulds will catch three TDs
OAK + 4 ½ over PIT-Where are you Franco Harris?
HOU –4 ½ over SD-With the first pick of the 2005 draft, the Chargers select…
WAS –2 over TB-Gibbs puts a smile on Snyder’s face…for now
SF –3 ½ over ATL-How long will Mora Jr keep the brakes on Vick
MIN –4 ½ over DAL-Randy Moss decides to play
PHI –9 ½ over NYG-Eagles start hot, Eli plays mop up duty
DEN –3 over KC-My grandma could rush for 1000 yards behind Broncos O-line
GB +3 over CAR-Don’t know who will win, but you can bet it will be an interesting 4th quarter

Thursday, September 02, 2004
SEASON PREVIEW: 10 Critical Factors for 10-6
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:53 pm CST

With Jim Haslett and company entering the fifth year of their reign here in New Orleans, their tenure has been marred with more frustration than fan-fare. Ever since the golden season of 2000, the New Orleans Saints have hovered steadily at .500. It has become far too rhetorical to hear Saints fans and “experts” talk of the young talent littering this underachieving team. Potential needs to become production or Saints fans will once more bid a bitter welcome to Groundhog Day of disappointing losses.

So with pieces such as a fiery young head coach, a fast emerging offense and a super-talented defensive line in place, what is missing from the Saints’ that could possibly yield a playoff berth and some commotion in the postseason?

The logical answer would be consistency. This team has lacked unitary consistency each year under Haslett. But to simply give such an answer would be trite as the consistency qualm is too superficial and easily solved. There is a much deeper reason for the struggles of this team and that reason is balance.

If defense wins championships and teams with dominant defensive units prevail, then why was this past Super Bowl so high-scoring. Why did a Carolina team that struggled to win games during the season (won them nevertheless) look so poised and mature in the postseason? The answer is because they achieved balance.

So what is the first step to achieving such an attribute beyond the field of play? Well, one would assume that balance goes hand-in-hand with a rational mentality, logically speaking. So is it rational to assume that the law of averages will play in as a factor for the New Orleans Saints? After regular season records of 10-6, 7-9, 9-7, and 8-8, are the Saints due for another 10-6 season in the fifth year of this regime? Many experts believe that due to the sheer competition of the NFC South that the 10-6 team will be the division winner. Could that team possibly… logically… RATIONALLY be the New Orleans Saints?

Here we go, more rhetoric! I’ve heard it all before!

But have you really? Is there a rhyme and reason in New Orleans for the seemingly random happenstance plaguing this team? A botched PAT after a miracle play? Two previous seasons where a team that appeared on a playoff fast track happened to lose out in December? I am not one to believe in the supernatural, but perhaps something is in the works.

But curses and blessings are not going to get this team a 10-6 record. So what is? A formula, perhaps. If this team can achieve balance at the macro level, just maybe it will permeate throughout each unit and each individual and yield the results we’ve been expecting and hoping to achieve for the past 36 years (present company not completely included).


5 KEYS TO 5 OFFENSIVE VICTORIES
A healthy AB and Deuce:
If the preseason has revealed anything to the fans, players, and hopefully coaches of the New Orleans Saints, it is that the depth at the QB position is not as solid as once thought. Todd Bouman has struggled this preseason with consistency, reading the field, and pocket presence. His arm is strong… maybe too strong for his own good. He lacks the touch to throw the deep ball which is what this offense would like to do more. J.T. O’Sullivan, while a fan favorite, is not ready to run this offense as it should be run. Therefore, the health of Aaron Brooks will be critical to the success of this team. The only factor more vital will be the health of Deuce McAllister. Even with AB’s lingering quadriceps problem revealing how integral he is to this offense, no one will make the mistake of thinking that Deuce McAllister is not the motor running this ship. While Aaron Stecker is the best backup Deuce has had since he became a starter in New Orleans, he is no replacement and this team is undoubtedly looking to ride McAllister’s legs into the postseason.

Donte’s fires must reign:
Donte Stallworth, that is. Anyone who has watched a Saints’ game (on what seemed to be the rare occasion that Stallworth was healthy) knows what kind of speed he possesses. Beyond speed, Donte has the potential to be a very complete receiver. He has soft hands, unmatched explosion, impressive power, and a knack for finding the crease to the endzone. The only thing holding Donte back has been himself. More specifically, his hamstrings. However, Donte appears to have gained a new understanding of his body and what is needed to take care of it. If he can return to his 2002 form and stay healthy for an entire season, this team will benefit not only from his production but from his presence on the football field, as well.

Offensive Assembly Line:
No one can argue that the Saints’ offensive line is not only one of the deepest units on the team but also in the entire NFL. This is evidenced by the fact that a well respected veteran like center Jerry Fontenot-- who could still start for many teams--is at serious risk of becoming a cap casualty. That is a testament not only to the depth of this line but to the versatility of the entire group. In spite of the depth that this line possesses, especially at the interior positions, health will, again, be key. Center (ex-guard) LeCharles Bentley, along with guard Kendyl Jacox and key reserve G/T Spencer Folau all missed significant playing time last season due to injury. If this line is to remain consistent, key individuals such as these must stay healthy through most of the season and perform at the same level that they have for the past two years.

Weapons of Mass Destruction:
On paper, the Saints weaponry is not a subject for debate. Yet somehow this team managed to keep them secret throughout most of the 2003 season. This offense has the talent to be one of the most potent in the NFL if the skill positions can produce as they should. If Mike McCarthy can find a way to have the offensive load shared among players like Deuce McAllister, Joe Horn, Donte Stallworth, Jerome Pathon, Boo Williams, and Ernie Conwell, and still manage to get speedsters Devery Henderson and Michael Lewis a couple of touchdowns a piece (just get the ball in their hands), there is no way that any defensive coordinator will effectively neutralize the Saints’ offense.

The emergence of ‘Miracle Boy’ :
Devery Henderson must have a taste for the divine. He emerged in the “Blue Grass Miracle,” a Hail Mary reception which individually put him on the map more than LSU’s championship season. And now he has come to the team that will forever be remembered for the “River City Relay.” After struggling in minicamps and holding out for a significant portion of training camp, Henderson is still playing catch-up in regards to learning the offense and getting his body into playing shape. However, this has not stopped him from opening eyes in the preseason with his speed and playmaking ability. The coaching staff still has reservations with regard to his early contributions, but with injuries being an inevitable factor expect “Miracle Boy” to make significant contributions in November and December if this team is to make noise in the postseason.


Fast Out of the Gates: Expect Donte Stallworth to put up big numbers as soon as the regular season commences. Stallworth will remain a relative unknown early on as he missed most of last season. His playmaking ability will not be fully accounted for until DC’s get some more contemporary game tape on him. Donte could easily be leading all receivers statistically heading into mid-October.

Clutch Down the Stretch: I expect Aaron Brooks to come out cold early in the regular season due missing repetitions during the preseason. Fortunately the Saints have enough weapons that Aaron will be able to get the job done; just don’t expect him to look like a Pro Bowler. However, AB always tends to hit his groove in the October and November months and fizzle out toward the end of the season. Look for him to continue his progress throughout December when the Saints face a string of intradivision and intraconference games. If Aaron progresses as he should and continues to cut down on mistakes in the passing game, the Saints’ will have no trouble maintaining momentum into January.


5 KEYS TO 5 DEFENSIVE VICTORIES
Put your money where your mouth is:
The Saints’ have roughly $15.5 million in 2004 alone tied into their top five defensive linemen: first-round picks DE Charles Grant, DE Will Smith, and DT Johnathan Sullivan; second-round pick DE Darren Howard; and free agent signee DT Brian Young. In the past, New Orleans defensive tackles such as Norman Hand and Grady Jackson set a precedent of putting nothing but chicken wings where their mouths are. This must change, especially for a talented youngster like Sullivan who has already struggled with his weight this off-season. The Saints’ D-line has the talent not only to be great, but to be dominant. Rookie Will Smith has exceeded even the high expectations that come with being a top-20 pick. It is obvious to all observers that this line will be talented… even very good. But for the Saints to reach the postseason, this line will have to progress toward dominance with each and every play.

Keep on T-Buckin’:
A pleasant aspect of this off-season has been the accelerated play of free safety Tebucky Jones. After signing a fat (and phat) contract with the Saints as a franchised free agent last off-season, Tebucky proceeded to disappoint with his poor tackling and mental errors. However, his speed was obvious--and, as the season progressed, it was apparent that he was becoming more comfortable within the Saints defense and more confident in himself. After dropping some extra pounds and working on his flexibility, Tebucky appears to have picked up where he left off at the end of the 2003 campaign. He is not yet the playmaker that everyone hopes he will develop into. But he is definitely light years ahead of where he started last season which is exactly what the Saints’ will need in order to progress well into the new year.

Be AG-GRES-SIVE:
Fans have complained throughout the preseason at Rick Venturi’s refusal of showing more than his “vanilla” defenses. We want to see excitement and violence, not this “read and react while we get gashed by the run” approach. In fact, the Saints will need to aggressively blitz and give multiple looks throughout 2004 if they expect their defensive ranking to break into the mid-teens. This approach should be much more feasible given that the defense--for the first time under the Haslett regime--has, for the most part, remained in tact. The lack of a natural playmaker in the back seven means that the defense will have to actively force opposing offenses into mistakes rather than waiting for the plays to come to them. Such an approach would yield more interceptions than the paltry numbers of the early months of 2003. The Saints will likely give up more big plays in the passing game, but the running game would benefit from the extra pressure and as long as the defense tightens up in the red zone to keep the point totals down, it will have the opportunity to win a few games for this team.

Watson and Waitin’:
If early indications are a sign of things to come in 2004, the Saints seem to have struck gold on the first day of the draft. While Courtney Watson has hardly shown the playmaking prowess of Smith and Henderson, he has found a way to earn and hold onto the starting middle linebacker job. Watson has the instincts, athleticism, and technique to have an impact but must be judged from a perspective of relativity. I thought that the Saints’ reached for him a bit on draft day, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was impressed upon further review. At this point Orlando Ruff may be the more solid option as the starter at the MIKE position, but the Saints’ seem set on Watson as the opening day starter, allowing him to weather the storm. The only way he is going to emerge is through game-time repetition, and for this defense to succeed Watson must materialize into a playmaking presence. He is aware of his weaknesses and is a very self-motivated player. He will face rookie struggles early--but come late September/October, Watson must step up his game and become the caliber of player needed to man the middle of an aggressive defense.

Third, Fourth, and in the Red:
A good defense is one that is consistent throughout, despite situation and circumstance. You pretty much know what you are going to get from it on each and every play. However, great defenses are those that are not consistent through all circumstances, but rather step up their play during key situations. More specifically, these defenses shine on third down, in the red zone, and in the fourth quarters of close games. The Saints may not have the makings of a Steel Curtain, a Doomsday Defense, or even a Dome Patrol. But with their depth along the defensive line, they have the ability to excel in the aforementioned situations. The deep rotation of Darren Howard, Charles Grant, and Will Smith will not only keep the Saints’ most formidable pass rushers fresh late in games when sacks and QB pressures are most important, but it will also give the defense the flexibility to rattle quarterbacks in third and long situations, thereby creating turnovers. As for red zone defense, Venturi’s “bend but don’t break” philosophy finally seems to be materializing in the preseason. Through three games the Saints’ first team defense has yet to allow a touchdown. This may not necessarily translate into the regular season, but right now it is a good sign for a defense not to melt when the temperature is up. If the Saints’ defense can control these three critical aspects of close football games, there is no reason why they should not be able to jot a few games in the W column en route to a playoff berth.


Fast Out of the Gates: Look for Charles Grant to explode early in the regular season posting a few multiple sack games in the early months. Grant is as hungry as any player on the roster and anyone who has seen him and defensive line coach John Pease together has been witness to a flagrant love affair. Pease has been thoroughly impressed by Grant’s rare physical skills and more importantly, the intangibles he possesses: fire, ambition, and a deep knowledge of the game. Grant, likewise, has completely bought into Pease’s philosophy and has really stood out even among what is arguably the most talented collective of young defensive linemen to ever play in New Orleans. But with Will Smith likely to get better as the season progresses and Grant’s fast start earning him extra attention, it is not likely that he will maintain the eye-popping statistics throughout the entire season despite no drop in performance.

Clutch Down the Stretch: After weathering the storm early in the season, there is no reason why Courtney Watson should not become a playmaking presence in the middle of this defense. All rookies go through growing pains, especially at the middle linebacker position. Green Bay fans were calling Nick Barnett a bust after his first regular season game. Yet he responded with a 12 tackle, one interception game the next week to silence his critics. Watson may not experience similar success as quickly. But he has the skills that once he becomes comfortable in his new environment, he can step up his game and become the clutch linebacker that fans have been begging for.


HERE’S THE KICKER
While the success of this team will obviously rest mostly on defensive and offensive shoulders, the prowess of the Saints’ special teams units will have a significant impact, especially early in the season. The kick coverage and return units must maintain consistency early on to give the Saints good field position on both sides of the ball. And with the loss of special teams captain “Fast” Freddie McAfee, other players are going to have to step up their game. Arguably the Saints’ best special teams player last year, Steve Gleason, has been sidelined with a hand injury but should be ready for the regular season opener. Safety Mel Mitchell, who missed all of 2003 after tearing his ACL in the preseason, was a Pro Bowl alternate as a special teams player in 2002 and should give this unit a much needed boost.

Perhaps the biggest key to a successful special teams unit in 2004 is WR Michael Lewis. Lewis set a league record for combined return yardage en route to the Pro Bowl in 2002. His speed is unmatched around the league; and once he finds the crease it is unlikely that he will be caught. Lewis looks healthier this season in the return game and could easily regain his 2002 form. Lewis is also one of the Saints’ best coverage players despite his diminutive stature. He is able to outrun the protection down the field and make the tackle before the return man has a chance to gain significant yardage.

John Carney, despite botching the extra point to tie the Jacksonville game, is as solid a place kicker as they come. The Saints new surface should make field goals easier on his aging leg, and his accuracy should climb into the mid 80% range. Mitch Berger was worthy of Pro Bowl consideration last season as a punter and after the Green Bay game, looks to be making a case for some time at linebacker.


X-FACTORS:
One player from each side of the ball that could come out of nowhere and change the course of the season.
WR Jerome Pathon
Pathon is quietly having his best preseason since he joined the Saints in 2002. Despite having a down year in 2003 (like all Saints’ receivers), Pathon still represents the most consistent receiver on the roster. It has been hard to catch Jerome dropping a pass in off-season practices and he looks to have regained some speed that he lost after injuring his foot early in the 2001 season. Pathon will thrive as the number three receiver and can only benefit from the attention that will be commanded by the rest of the Saints’ offense. Look for Pathon to make some clutch catches on third downs and late in games en route to posting his best season as a Saint in spite of decreased playing time.

CB Monty Montgomery
With the year-long suspension of Keyou Craver and the uncertainty surrounding the health of the Saints’ top four corners, look for Montgomery to have an impact especially late in the season. Montgomery, as a player, is strikingly similar to Fakhir Brown. He is a fifth year corner who has taken the hard road to the NFL. He is a big, physical, hard-hitting defender like Brown and possesses some of the best ball skills of any DB on this roster. Montgomery needs coaching, but after coming into training camp far behind on the learning curve, he has really stepped up his game. If Montgomery can take advantage of his situation here, there is no doubt in my mind that he will contribute to this defense down the stretch and into the playoffs.

RB Aaron Stecker
Stecker is, as I said before, the best backup RB the Saints have had since Deuce became the starter in New Orleans, but make no mistake. Stecker is a player who hangs his hat on special teams. He will provide security in the return game and is well-versed in coverage schemes. The Saints’ have a great deal of youth, speed, and experience on special teams this season, and Stecker should fit right in.

Saturday, August 21, 2004
All the comforts of home?
By
Nick Deriso - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:51 am CST
www.thenewsstar.com/saints

The New Orleans Saints have always seemed lukewarm about renovating the Superdome, rather than building a new stadium.

This week, a Saints official confirmed at least one of the reasons: Where would home games be played in the meantime?

The Saints got a close up view of how renovations can affect a team, watching the Chicago Bears struggle through a season spent bussing over for “home” games at the University of Illinois while Soldier Field was being renovated — even though the Bears’ struggles included a loss to New Orleans in 2002.

“It’s one of the drawbacks,” said Saints executive vice president of administration Arnold Fielkow, who will attend a Sept. 1 meeting with team owner Tom Benson to discuss the state’s new stadium plans. “If you did a major renovation, you would probably be out of that stadium for a couple of seasons.”

The state has insisted over the past several years that renovation of the existing Superdome was a smarter economic option than building a new stadium for the Saints. But this week, Gov. Kathleen Blanco called a meeting with team officials to update them on a quickly evolving proposal that could combine a convention center expansion project along the riverfront in New Orleans with a new stadium construction.

Blanco has ordered a feasibility study from the boards that oversee both the Superdome and the Morial Convention Center, in an effort to discern which would be smarter economically for the state. The deadline is Dec. 31.

But should the state decide that renovation of the Superdome is a better idea — after all, there is the question of reallocating existing bonds dedicated to the convention center project — the next question becomes obvious.

Where do they play?

The only facility large enough to accommodate the team’s 50,000 season ticket holders in 2004, plus visiting teams’ fans and walkups, is the 91,000-seat Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. The next largest site in Louisiana is Independence Stadium in Shreveport — which, though it has a capacity of just over 50,000, doesn’t appear attractive because of its remoteness to New Orleans.

The truth is, Fielkow is not sure that the Baton Rouge option is even workable.

“I really don’t think that’s where LSU would want us to be, and I’m not sure that’s where the Saints would want to be,” he said. “The Bears situation was clearly not ideal. For a football team to have to travel week to week, with no home venue, I think that’s a major weakness of the Dome renovation idea.”

Chicago reached the playoffs in 2001, finishing 13-3 during a season that culminated in a 33-19 post-season loss to Philadelphia. But, as renovations continued, the Bears then switched their home games to Champaign, Ill. — which is 150 miles away from Chicago.

Playing somewhere else for the first time since moving into Soldier Field more than 30 seasons before, the Bears would stumble to an awful 4-12 record in 2002 — a dry run that included a come-from-behind 29-23 loss to the Saints.

“It’s very difficult for a football team to pack every week and do what the Bears did,” Fielkow said. “The other issue you have to consider, besides the Saints, is that you have a lot of other annual events in the Superdome that would also be effected by a renovation. There are conventions, the Sugar Bowl, the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl, the Essence Festival, Tulane games, the Bayou Classic.”

That makes the governor’s offer to explore a new stadium project, the first from the state government in two administrations now, all the more important. For this, and other economic reasons, no previous initiative — not even the current 10-year payment plan — is more critical to keeping the team in Louisiana.

“There are a lot of events, besides the Saints games, that would be effected by a shutdown of the building,” Fielkow said.

Fielkow characterizes the Sept. 1 meeting as more of an update session than one where any concrete news will emerge. He said the governor is looking for a response from the stadium and convention center boards by the end of the year, meaning a proposal wouldn’t reach the Legislature until after the football season.

Like most people, Fielkow seems ready to talk about football, rather than politics.

“We’ll let the business of politics take care of itself quietly over the next couple of months,” Fielkow said. “We would like to keep the focus, from this point on, strictly on the football team. We’re very optimistic. We feel like this could be a special season. If there is anybody who deserves a championship, it’s the fans of the New Orleans Saints.”

News-Star sports editor Nick Deriso, named Columnist of the Year in July by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, wrote this exclusively for
SaintsReport.com. He is also a regular guest on Billy Ryckman’s Saints Report program at 9 a.m. Tuesdays on ESPN 1420 in Lafayette. E-mail him at nderiso@thenewsstar.com

Monday, August 09, 2004
TRAINING CAMP REPORT: Part Two (Defense)
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:32 pm CST

For the past two seasons, the New Orleans Saints’ defense has entered the season not only as a question mark but as an exclamation point of inconsistency that has continued to mar the success off a young team. This year the outlook has upgraded slightly from question mark to enigma. And while it is no comfort to possess a defense surrounded in mystery rather than mystique, there are many reasons for excitement to contrast and hopefully prevail over the few glaring concerns.


DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Let’s waste no time cutting straight to the 2004 training camp controversy. After coming in overweight and out of shape, Johnathon Sullivan quietly earned himself a demotion from the starting unit on the first day of training camp. The Saints made no explicit effort to keep Sullivan’s status under wraps, and it did not take long for the media pundits to spout their speculations. Though most initial reports were exaggerated, the issues of Sullivan’s work ethic and maturity came under immediate scrutiny from the Saints’ faithful. But that comes with the territory of being a high first round selection.

The truth of the matter remains that Sullivan is not in dire need of the late Dr. Atkins, as anyone who has been to training camp can realize with their own eyes. The concern among the coaching staff is not so much Sullivan’s physical condition as it is his mental development. Sullivan is not as far along on the learning curve Haslett, Pease, and others would like. However, they have pledged that if Sullivan cannot shift his own gears they will operate the transmission for him. The fact remains that Sullivan is by far the most talented interior lineman on the roster, possessing explosion and power that seem reminiscent of his successful UGA counterparts Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour. One can only hope that Sullivan will develop the maturity and discipline that has become a testament of the two aforementioned veterans.

The interim starter at the nose tackle position is former sixth round pick (Texans) and LSU alum Howard Green. Green has performed admirably in Sullivan’s stead, having dropped excess weight this offseason and impressing the coaching staff with his mental grasp of the position. Green is no superstar, but he is a very serviceable body on running downs and will serve well in the rotation or in the event that Sullivan only regresses, which is highly unlikely. Green’s emergence will also make the task of second-year man Kendrick Allen that much more difficult as he fights for his place on the 53-man roster. Allen is a physically impressive specimen at 6’6 and can be hard to move when he maintains leverage. Rookie fifth round pick Rodney Leisle shows promise but has fallen behind as a result of NCAA rules regarding players being unable to participate in practice sessions until they have finished their college classes.

At the three technique, Brian Young has been everything the coaching staff has expected. The free agent acquisition from St. Louis embodies just about every ideal defensive cliche, from his high motor to his nasty on-field demeanor. Young regularly handled linemen who outweighed him by 50 pounds in individual and team drills. He has good technique and is a scrappy disrupter at the interior of the line. The fifth-year veteran’s playing style is reminiscent of ex-Saint L’Roi Glover, minus the pass rush prowess.

Behind Young is versatile defensive lineman Willie Whitehead—capable of playing end or tackle—and fourth year veteran Kenny Smith. Smith, another one of the more talented but inconsistent members of the Saints interior defensive line, has been the subject of mild speculation this offseason involving trades. The prospects of such an occurrence appear to be lessening as Whitehead’s status remains uncertain. The uncertainty surrounding Whitehead’s health could very well land him on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which would cause the veteran to be inactive for the first six games of the season and open an extra roster spot at either the DT or DE position, if not both. Smith has performed admirably in camp, but the question surrounding him remains whether or not he is ready to turn potential into production.


DEFENSIVE ENDS
The DE position remains the strength of the Saints’ defense with regard to both depth and talent. Fifth-year man Darren Howard signed a one-year Franchise tender which immediately aids in stabilizing this young and talented defensive line. Howard is in good health aside from a nagging but mild knee injury and precautionary rest. He looks to regain the form he possessed in being the Saints sack leader for the two years prior to the 2003 season. Howard is a consistent force against both the run and pass and his presence alone should affect how teams gameplan for the Saints.

Manning the position across from Howard will be former first round pick Charles Grant. Grant has been the talk of the defense as of late and looks primed for a breakout season. He possesses not only immense physical talent but also a great knowledge of the game and the way things work, as well as a comfort within the scheme. Grant and new defensive line coach John Pease have taken an early liking to each other and it shows on the practice field. The third-year man’s play has been inspired and he does not shy away from extra repetitions following practice. Grant is definitely a player to watch throughout the preseason and regular season games.

Backing up Grant and Howard and figuring into the situational line rotation is rookie first round pick Will Smith. After struggling to adjust to the Louisiana heat and humidity in minicamps, Smith appears to be having a quiet but strong training camp. One of the most polished rookie pass rushers to ever come into the league, Smith also possesses the athleticism and intelligence to make use of such refined technique. The rookie should see around 20 snaps per game early on and will help the Saints by keeping the rotation fresh in the fourth quarter when quarterback sacks and pressures become critical.

Rounding out the depth chart are former fifth round pick Melvin Williams and fifth year veteran Tony Bryant. Both of these players could likely become casualties of a numbers game, and while Williams is practice squad eligible his pass rushing potential makes him a target of teams depleted at the ends. Bryant is an impressive physical specimen at 6’6 and 290 pounds. He has experience in the league but could suffer the same fate as Williams. Again, such outcome will predicate on the health of Willie Whitehead, who was a key contributor last year at the end postion.


LINEBACKERS
The talk of camp and the entire offseason has been the fate of the middle linebacker position. Usually a position of centrality and prominence on a defense, the Saints have lacked stability at the MIKE position throughout the entire tenure of the Haslett regime. Such uncertainty has contributed to the inconsistency of the defense as a whole.

Things look to change this season as the Saints are in search of their middle linebacker of the present and future years to come. Rookie second round pick Courtney Watson and second-year man Cie Grant have bucked their way to the top of the depth chart, leaving veteran run-stopper Orlando Ruff vying for a roster spot. While no position is secure, Ruff should not lose any sleep over the prospects of making the team as it is likely that whoever comes in second place in the Grant/Watson battle will slide over to the weakside behind eighth-year veteran Derrick Rodgers.

On the outside, Rodgers looks to build off of the 2003 season in which he was the most, if not only, consistent presence in the Saints linebacking corps. With a year under his belt and improved D-line production in front of him, Rodgers should continue to produce in his regular role as the Saints’ weakside linebacker. He should also see an expanded role as a pass-rusher in nickel and dime situations. Third-year man James Allen is in contention with the physically impressive Sedrick Hodge for the starting SAM (strongside) position. Allen has been working almost exclusively with the first unit in training camp and has impressed with his tenacity against the run. If he can continue to overcome the mental strains of defensive schematics, it is only a matter of time before he secures a starting role. If he does, it is likely Hodge will still see time on third downs and in passing situations.

Rounding out the position are heady veteran Darrin Smith, third year man Roger Knight, rookie seventh round pick Colby Bockwoldt and former UDFA and TCU alum LaMarcus McDonald. After taking a pay cut, Smith looks to provide a steadying veteran presence and the versatility to backup all three linebacking positions, as well as contributions in passing situations. His knowledge of Venturi’s scheme and football in general will provide insurance across the board. Knight appears to be lost in the numbers, while Bockwoldt will have to prove his worth on special teams and McDonald seems destined for the practice squad.


SAFETIES
The Safety position looks promising and to be the strength of the Saints’ secondary once again this season. 11th year veteran Jay Bellamy looks to build off of a strong 2003 campaign in which he surpassed expectations and overcame criticism from Saints’ fans and the media. He should continue to provide a tenacious and savvy presence at the strong safety position. Across from Bellamy, free safety Tebucky Jones has spent the offseason focusing on his body composition and working his way down to a more ideal weight for his body. Jones is also focusing on improving his quickness and change of direction skills, and more importantly, tackling. Jones was an unguided missile most of last season and while he came on strong toward the end, he still failed to wrap up and use proper technique when tackling. Former fifth round pick and special teams standout Mel Mitchell is having a strong camp and looks to be fully recovered from the torn ACL that ended his season before it even started. He should see an expanded role within the defense this year.

Rounding out the position are the versatile Deveron Harper, UDFA Brent Hafford and special teams captain Steve Gleason. Harper has impressed the coaching staff in training camp with his coverage skills and instincts when the ball is in the air. Though slight in build, Harper is not shy in run support and possesses the versatility to back up both the safety and cornerback positions. Hafford appears to be vying for a spot on the practice squad while Gleason looks to ease the loss of former special teams captain Fred McAfee.


CORNERBACKS
All in observance of the New Orleans Saints seem concerned with the state of the Saints’ cornerbacks, except Jim Haslett. While the unit possesses no marquee names and hardly any legitimate size to speak of, the Saints’ cornerbacks appear to be in good condition. Ninth-year veteran Fred Thomas looks to build off of two successful seasons in which he has led the Saints’ defense in interceptions (nine total). Across from Thomas, the starting position is up for contention among veterans Ashley Ambrose, Fakhir Brown, and newly acquired Jason Craft.

Ambrose appears to have the endorsement of the coaching staff. While he is almost painful to watch in individual drills, Ambrose always seems to be in the right place at the right time once scrimmages start. His comfort within the scheme and veteran savvy make up for the toll the years have taken. Ambrose does not necessarily have an edge as it is no hyperbole to anoint fifth-year veteran Fakhir Brown the most improved player in camp. Brown’s comfort and familiarity within the scheme has improved every aspect of his game. His technique and knowledge have allowed him to maximize his speed. It is rare to see Brown make a false step or experience any wasted motion in coverage.

While Jason Craft has seen little time with the first unit, he has excelled in individual drills. Craft is arguably the best man-to-man cover corner on the team and onlookers rarely see him get beat during individual drills. The only possible explanation for Craft’s inferior position on the depth chart is that he is not as far along mentally as his counterparts. However, his quickness, technique, and ball skills bring a lot to the table and it would be no surprise to see the former Jacksonville Jaguar crack the starting lineup early in the regular season.

Rounding out the position are young veterans Maurice Tucker, Ahmad Brooks, Keyou Craver and New Orleans Voodoo standout Monty Montgomery. And while Tucker and Brooks inherently do not excite much promise, Monty Montgomery has been a disappointment. That said, he joined the Saints late thanks to NFL rules that require AFL players to clear waivers before they can be signed by their home NFL team. There is likely a warm spot waiting for Montgomery on the practice squad.

The real surprise of camp has been Keyou Craver. Shunned by Coach Haslett in minicamps after maintaining a weight close to 220 pounds throughout the offseason, Craver has shown up in shape physically and mentally. A once promising draft prospect, Craver hopes to regain his 2002 form that had fans so excited about his future. If the former Nebraska Cornhusker is truly as committed as he appears to be, Saints fans could see Keyou Craver working his way up the New Orleans depth chart in the near future.


THE OUTLOOK
While there are no guarantees when it comes to the Saints defense, the prospects are promising. Training camp has become the battleground for the key competitions at linebacker and cornerback, and the outcomes will go a long way to determining the success of the unit. On the middle linebacker front, not much separates Courtney Watson and Cie Grant at this point. Watson is more decisive and clearly has the superior diagnostic skills. Grant is, however, the bigger hitter while not necessarily the better tackler. At this point I give the edge to Watson and believe the real excitement will begin once these two athletes are capable of manning the field simultaneously at their respective positions.

At cornerback, Ashley Ambrose appears to be the early leader with Fakhir Brown nipping at his heels. I am still confident that Jason Craft will emerge early in the season as the starter as I found him to be perhaps the most impressive of the entire group. This is, of course, barring any pre-season trade agreements (no specifics here!).

Overall, the Saints look to have a much-improved defensive unit in 2004. There are still key factors that must fall into place and the unit must fight through any early-season holdups and injuries in an effort to stay out of an early season hole and ensure team-wide success and playoff contention.


GREAT CAMP MOMENTS
During individual drills, CB Jason Craft recovered from a well-executed push-off by WR Jerome Pathon on a comeback route to wrap Pathon up from behind and break up the pass. Craft was infallible in individual drills and drew cheers from the crowd as he matched WR Donte Stallworth stride for stride on a stop-n-go, even after sitting on Donte’s well-executed stop.

In a physical matchup during individual drills, CB Fakhir Brown successful jammed WR Talman Gardner off the line. The two boxed hands for eight yards before Gardner forcefully broke into a well-timed out route. Brown recovered and broke up the pass just it connected with Gardner.

During scrimmages, LB Cie Grant—working with the first team in Watson’s stead—was caught taking a couple of false steps at the onset of a trap play. Grant’s speed was showcased as he quickly overcame his mistake and flowed to the hole, slipped a block and laid a bludgeoning blow on RB Lamar Smith in the backfield.

During individual drills, a long and repeated battle waged between DT Johnathon Sullivan and the tandem of guards Kendyl Jacox and Montrae Holland. On one occasion, Sullivan stood Jacox upright and then used a well-timed rip move to knife through the double-team, thereby drawing the praise of John Pease.

During individual drills, DE Melvin Williams was humiliated when G Montrae Holland countered his second-year counterpart’s dip-n-rip move by shoving him face down onto the grass. Williams regained his dignity on the last repetition of the drill when he displayed his quickness, transitioning from a bull rush to a rip move and then breaking free on a beautiful spin move, all in rapid succession. While Williams shows flashes, he may ultimately be too much of a finesse player at this time to make the 53-man roster.

CB Keyou Craver drew the wrath of defensive coordinator Rick Venturi on a particular play when he lost zone integrity, allowing WR Kerwin Cook to pull in a 15 yard reception. Craver responded strongly on the next play, coming up in run support and laying a strong hit on RB Ki-jana Carter. The POP of the hit enticed quite an ovation from the audience. Keyou Craver has been one of the more physical corners in run support.

CB Fred Thomas displayed his hands, or lack thereof, on a passing play in which he broke up a pass from QB Todd Bouman to WR Talman Gardner on a slant route. The pass hit Thomas squarely in the hands. After the play, Thomas received a good ribbing from his teamates, as one veteran player reverberated “Someone needs to hit the JUGs machines!”

During third-down drills, the Saints displayed a sub-package of the new Delta package they will utilize on passing downs in effort to have DEs Darren Howard, Charles Grant, and Will Smith all on the field at one time. This particular sub-package involves a three-man front with two linebackers, Derrick Rodgers acting as a roaming blitzer. The wrinkle comes in the secondary, where the Saints implement three cornerbacks as well as their top three safeties Tebucky Jones, Jay Bellamy, and Mel Mitchell all on the field at the same time. I am interested to see how creative the Saints can get with their personnel packaging in the upcoming season.

Sunday, August 08, 2004
Will the Saints be Rolling on the River -- or Rolling out of town?
By
Christopher E Barnes - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:59 pm CST

New Orleanians coexist remarkably well with that cloud of inevitability that perpetually hangs over the city.

For example, it’s not a question of if you're going to be rear-ended by an uninsured car with a cardboard “Lisents apply for” sign taped to the rear window, but when.

Sooner rather than later, daily navigation of New Orleans’ potholed streets will require a front-end alignment.

Somebody you voted for will one day wind up on the perp walk outside a local courthouse.

At some point, you'll tempt fate one too many times with a Lucky Dog and face the unpleasant gastrointestinal consequences a day or so later.

And someday, a hurricane heading for the mouth of the Mississippi won't inexplicably veer off toward Lafayette or Gulfport at the last moment.

Whether a minor inconvenience or a major catastrophe, something allows us to accept that the inevitable will happen. But instead of fretting nervously about the “dark day to come” like Sarah Connor in Terminator II, we carry on with that inimitable joie de vivre for which our way of life is famous.

Except when the local football team threatens to leave town for “greener” pastures.

After Tom Benson took a turn toward the door three years ago, state officials suddenly found a sense of urgency, stepped-to and hastily reached an agreement with the team that would subsidize them by tens of millions of annual taxpayer dollars so they could remain competitive in the NFL and stay in the Superdome.

With the deal done, we thought we'd made the inevitable, well … evitable, if not altogether impossible.

Of course, this is Louisiana, where you can count on a politician's promise about as much as you can count on the support of the French government. So it shouldn't have been surprising when, a couple of months ago, before the annual check to the team was due, new Gov. Kathleen Blanco turned out her pockets, revealing little more than a few sticky coins, a ball of lint and a worthless ticket from the previous week's Powerball drawing.

No, we couldn't predict the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their devastating effect on New Orleans’ tourism-dependent economy, on which those Saints subsidies largely depended. But isn't expecting a revenue-poor state to write a check for tens of millions to your football team each year a little like relying on your broke Uncle Augie to spring for your car payment when he can't hold down a job for more than two months at a time?

Occasionally, Uncle Augie will come through for you and scrape together enough cash to bail you out. And, sure enough, the state recently found the money to make that annual payment. This year.

State officials have indicated that its going to be much more difficult to find the funds to pay the Saints in future years based on hospitality revenue forecasts. This means the 2001 agreement could be in default as early as next year, which, in turn, means the team can pull up stakes and bolt without owing anything shortly thereafter.

With the agreement essentially on life support, now comes Gov. Blanco, asking Benson back to the negotiating table. And predictably, the owner reacts about as warmly to that idea as a Ninth Ward junkie being told that his crack supply’s been cut. He expects the state to live up to their end of the bargain.

But credit the governor for at least trying to find a way out of this dilemma and buying some time with the team. She's floated out the idea of a new riverfront stadium packaged into the fourth phase of the New Orleans Convention Center planned for the Uptown side of the Crescent City Connection. The bonds have already been sold for Phase IV, but delays due to litigation over the construction contract have given state officials enough pause to consider other options for that bond money.

What better way to get Old Tom back to the table than to dangle the possibility of a new stadium with a breathtaking view of the river, using funds that had been earmarked for the convention center expansion (providing the bonds can be reallocated)?

Hospitality officials have welcomed that idea the way Judge Smails welcomed Al Cvervik to Bushwood Country Club in Caddyshack - that is to say, not very hospitably.

This is understandable, of course, considering that they don't want the fate of their project tied to, and hijacked by, the Saints and their never-ending quest for a better home. They're also far from eager for a new round of debates about a need for a fourth phase of the convention center. They thought they'd won that battle already.

However, there are those who say the city already has sufficient large-scale convention space and what's needed is a facility that's more cost-effective for smaller gatherings that New Orleans typically loses to other markets.

If there's validity to that argument, combining a state-of-the-art football stadium and a smaller, high-tech conference center within the scope of the original Phase IV budget funded partially by the team (the $100 million Benson once said he'd put up), seems to be a win-win.

A new feasibility study being commissioned by the state will weigh the risks and benefits of a riverfront stadium/conference center combo, analyze the practicality of the location relative to infrastructural needs, determine the impact this all would have on the Superdome and evaluate whether the stadium and a smaller, cheaper, high-tech conference center will have as much of an economic impact as the originally planned Phase IV convention center. Hopefully, they'll find the stadium/conference center package will pay for itself in time.

But in no way should the state's new willingness to discuss a new stadium mean the Saints don't have to make a compelling case. Louisiana's taxpayers deserve a better rationale from the team than “... because everyone else is getting one.”

Tom Benson and his chief lieutenant, Arnold Fielkow, need to clearly illustrate a) how much more revenue they can reap from a new facility than from the Superdome; b) whether that added revenue will help the team keep pace with the other 31 franchises, not just in the short term but over the long haul (20 years from now, we don't want to be wringing our hands and facing the possibility of two otherwise useless hurricane shelters on opposite ends of the CBD); and, c) that they can operate a team in that facility without the yearly taxpayer subsidies they've been getting.

Meanwhile, that pall of inevitability has once again fallen over the Saints' future in New Orleans.

Without substantial renovations, it appears inevitable that the Superdome will be empty on autumn Sunday afternoons sometime in the not-so-distant future. Whether the Saints will be playing somewhere in New Orleans or another market may very well depend on the outcome of this stadium/convention center study.

Saturday, August 07, 2004
TRAINING CAMP REPORT: Part One (Offense)
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:25 pm CST

The preliminary outlook of the Saints offense is as one would expect. The Saints appear to scheming toward a more attacking style of play. And while the primary theme seems to remain speed, there is also no shortage of power and intensity from both a personnel and philosophical standpoint.

QUARTERBACKS
Aaron Brooks looks as sharp as ever. And while consistency is a hard thing to judge through practice, he appears to have strong command in and out of the huddle. The question with Aaron has never been talent. He wowed many onlookers with precision passes, usually to Joe Horn. He is developing strong
chemistry with tight end Boo Williams as well, and the two can often be seen talking on the sidelines during practice sessions. Brooks also plans to utilize his scrambling ability more this season and is noticeably more muscular in the upper body. Whether Aaron has faced down his fumbling demons is a question that will likely not be answered until the bullets start flying.

Todd Bouman is clearly one of the top backups in the NFL at the quarterback position. If the dark angel of injury were to victimize Aaron Brooks
(knock on wood) at some point this season, Bouman would have no problem leading this offense in limited action. He has a cannon for a arm, great intelligence, and impressive athleticism. However, he seems to struggle with the deep passes and puts too little air underneath throws traditionally requiring more touch.


J.T. O’Sullivan has seen very limited action in camp. The best basis for evaluation here is his tenure in NFL Europe, where O’Sullivan led his team to the World Bowl and put up the best numbers at the QB position behind Rohan Davey.

O’Sullivan provides good emergency depth and appears to be developing within the Saints’ system.

RUNNINGBACKS
What can one say about Deuce McAllister that hasn’t already been said? So far in training camp Deuce looks to be healthy and in great shape. And while rhetoric of Deuce sees no shortage among the Saints’ faithful, the real training camp story is unfolding behind him. While fifth-year man Aaron Stecker seems to be a lock after receiving a four year contract in free agency, competition is tight between veterans Lamar Smith and Ki-jana Carter.

The third runningback position will be critical this season in the unfortunate event that Deuce misses game time. Aaron Stecker is not an every-down back and someone will have to step forward on first and second down.

And while the pre-camp consensus was that the position was Lamar Smith’s to lose, Carter has looked very impressive in practices. He is seeing the holes
clearly and exploding through them, showing no ill signs of the foot injury that cut his season short. He appears to be much more comfortable within the offense and in his understanding of the Saints’ zone-blocking schemes. A darkhorse in this race is fifth-year veteran Ronney Jenkins. Jenkins is regarded mostly as a special teams man, but he has looked stellar in drills. If Jenkins can gain a feel for the mental demands of the Saints’ offense, he may just have a shot at the 53-man roster.

Fullback Mike Karney seems to be the uncontested starter and perhaps lone fullback on the roster. While he and Dan Curran appear to be physical twins to the untrained eye, there is significant drop-off in the blocking from Karney to Curran. Something must be in the water at Arizona State. Karney not only
utilizes the power gained by pulling small sedans around the Sun Devil campus in his blocking, but also actualizes the technique and proper pad level to be an effective lead blocker in the power running game.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Regardless of mild rumors and innuendo, the three positions atop the wide receiver depth chart appear to be locked by Donte Stallworth, Joe Horn,
and Jerome Paton. The biggest issue among the three veterans will be that of health and consistency—issues which will obviously go hand-in-hand. Horn
appears healthy and shows no signs of slowing down to age or a weakening knee.

Pathon looks as consistent as ever and appears to be sporting more muscle in the arms and legs. His routes are precise and his hands sure as he was able to leave many a young defensive back grasping for air in one-on-one drills.

The biggest reason for excitement among regular Saints fans and those within the organization still surrounds former first round pick Donte Stallworth.

Stallworth is no product of hype as any average spectator can bear witness to his immense talent. Stallworth seems to gain separation with ease and appears more fluid. And while his physical improvement is in large part result of professionalism and the on-field translation of strict flexibility training, it is also due to the receiver’s improved understanding of his own body. Donte in past years had a tendency to run out of control causing muscular strains resulting from extreme stress. His stride and movements seem to be more controlled without too much deliberation or conscious effort. Looks like Donte has torn a page from the Isaac Bruce book of running. If he can stay healthy for 80-100% of the regular season, opposing defensive coordinators will experience long, sleepless nights preceding their matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

Beyond the top three receiving positions, the outlook becomes more convoluted.

As Michael Lewis continues to gain consistency as a receiver and retains explosiveness as a return man, his roster spot becomes more and more secure.

Devery Henderson, fresh off a week-long holdout, is also all but guaranteed a roster spot leaving in essence one last empty position on the 53-man roster.

The battle for this final spot is being waged among fan favorites Nathan Black and Kerwin Cook, veteran and former all pro Germaine Crowell,
NFL Europe star Derrick Lewis, and talented though sometimes troubled 2003 seventh round pick Talman Gardner.

And while contention for this final spot is competitive and nothing is guaranteed, barring a surprising turn of events Gardner appears to be the
frontrunner. It is far from a hyperbole to call Gardner the most physical receiver on the practice field. He has the size, speed, and talent to pay
dividends in the immediate future, and while his hands remain inconsistent they have improved greatly since minicamp as well as his route-running. Black and Cook have earned the support of fans through their underdog personas and surpassing low expectations, but this team is deep and competitive at wide receiver. Neither have the upside of Gardner and while one or the other are sure to catch on with a team, that team does not appear to be the Saints. Crowell has yet to separate himself from the younger players... or separate himself at all for that matter. He looks sluggish and deliberate in his movements, raising the question of whether he has fully recovered from his past injuries. If he hasn’t, all talent and size are now negated. Lewis is suffering from nagging injuries and appears to be the forgotten man in training camp.

TIGHT ENDS
A not-too-distant weakness of the Saints’ offense is quickly becoming an impending strength while transforming the entire offensive face altogether. The pass-catching abilities of Boo Williams and Ernie Conwell will make for a formidable combination in seams of the intermediate passing game.

They will allow the Saints to dictate the tempo between the hashes and make the task of opposing defenses nearly impossible. Williams finally appears to have completed his transition from wide receiver to tight end showing much improved though still only average in-line blocking skills. If he can follow suit and become a great technician like that of Shannon Sharpe in the running game, Williams has a chance to join the elite at his position.

Rounding out the depth chart are former undrafted free agent Zach Hilton and fifth year veteran Lamont Hall. Hilton looks to have the makings of a contributor this season and would add another wrinkle to the Saints offense by utilizing his 6’8 height and big, soft hands in the red zone. Hall should continue to provide a solid blocking option for short-yardage situations, reclaiming his former role after a year-long hiatus.


OFFENSIVE LINE
Perhaps the most consistent offensive unit of the past two seasons, the Saints’ offensive line does not look to buck such a remarkable trend. The biggest change will come in all-pro guard LeCharles Bentley sliding over to man the center position, replacing aging veteran Jerry Fontenot. Bentley has looked sharp in practices showing no ill signs of the reconstructive surgery he underwent following a serious knee injury last season. He should provide a dominant and versatile presence at the interior of the offensive line.

Flanking Bentley will be newly re-signed veteran Kendyl Jacox and second-year man Montrae Holland. Jacox, a solid and surprising presence
for the past three seasons, appears to be slightly sluggish this offseason.

While this is not a reason for concern, the coaching staff will not hesitate to hand the starting position over to newly acquired free agent Jamar Nesbit, who has been a pleasant surprise thus far in training camp. Jacox must maintain his playing weight and retain the quickness that makes him so potent in reach and trap blocks, especially with the Saints looking to revert to more zone-blocking to complement a new one-back scheme. Holland still looks to be a dominant in-line blocker with only average quickness and range. The Saints will look to run more of the power and isolation plays to his side, utilizing Holland’s mean streak and mauling style of play. Holland must also continue to improve his pass blocking.

Anchoring the line will be bookends Wayne Gandy and Victor Riley. Last season Gandy eased the consecutive losses of fan-favorite left tackles Willie Roaf and Kyle Turley. A savvy veteran, Gandy still has a couple of admirable years left in his aging body and provides solid protection for Aaron Brooks’ blind side. Fans should expect more of the same from Gandy in the upcoming season. Riley, a player worthy of pro-bowl consideration last season, is a dominant blocker in the running game when he is in shape and focused. Riley is arguably the most talented specimen of the group and while his play was strong last season, he still has yet to realize his full potential. Both players are having strong camps.

Rounding out the depth chart at offensive tackle will be the versatile Spencer Folau, a player capable of playing both tackle and guard, and 2003
second-round pick Jon Stinchcomb. Folau will continue to provide consistent depth and an insurance policy in the event of injuries or that Riley loses focus. Stinchcomb is having one of the strongest camps of any Saints’ player and looks to provide solid depth at left tackle and the potential to step into the starting lineup in the near future.

THE OUTLOOK
An early diagnosis of the Saints’ offense inspires both excitement and confidence in those involved both externally and internally with the organization. The emergence of players such as Boo Williams and Montrae Holland, combined with the health of Donte Stallworth and the consistency gained through a year of cohesion brings only promises that finally seem attainable. In 2003, the missing pieces of the offensive puzzle were both small in quantity and large in value. Given the continued health and good fortune to the marquee players, as well as the success of new schematic alterations, there is no reason that the
New Orleans Saints can not regain their status among the league’s offensive elite in 2004.

GREAT CAMP MOMENTS
During blocking drills, UDFA fullback Nate Schurman was nearly knocked to the ground after Mike Karney laid a crushing blow to the tackling dummy he was manning.

During individual drills, Donte Stallworth left cornerback Ashley Ambrose flailing in his wake on an eight-yard IN route. The route was beautifully run and while Ambrose’s days of great man coverage are behind him, it did not take away from the magnificence dwelling in the speed and explosiveness of Stallworth.

During the same individual drills, Jerome Pathon left cornerback Maurice Tucker stranded on planet earth. After being eluded on another beautifully
executed eight-yard IN, Tucker attempted to recover and cut Pathon off downfield only to receive further humiliation as Pathon made a quick cut to the
inside leaving the overpursuing Tucker struggling to regain his balance.

During scrimmages, Kijana Carter hit the off-tackle hole perfectly just as it was closing, quickly reached the second level and after one crisp cut was off to the races. Carter appears to be in very good shape.

After catching a pass in down the seam during scrimmages, Boo Williams smiled while jogging back to the huddle and flashed his newly acquired diamond grill said to be worth around $1,800. Can you say BLING BLING

Monday, July 26, 2004
Ricky’s Retirement Accomplishes the Impossible, Makes Saints Look Like Geniuses
By
Christopher E Barnes - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:17 pm CST

With Ricky Williams' "stunning" retirement from pro football, Jim Haslett may very well be regarded as a visionary for sparing New Orleans from the inevitable train-wreck that occurred in South Florida this weekend.

But it was eminently clear that when he was first introduced to the iconoclastic and eccentric Williams after taking the helm of the Saints, Haslett saw something he just didn't like. And he recognized that, whatever made Mike Ditka surrender eight draft picks for the rights to select Williams, he didn't think it was strong enough to rebuild a franchise around.

There were, after all, plenty of red flags pointing to Williams' flakiness, which was masquerading as off-beat individuality.

Maybe it was his irreverent pose in a wedding dress with Ditka for an ESPN magazine cover before his rookie season.

Maybe it was the fact that he entrusted negotiations on his rookie contract to an inexperienced crony of hip-hop mogul Master P, who wound up being taken to the cleaners by then-GM Bill Kuharich and his salary capologist Terry O'Neil.

Or perhaps it was his insistence on conducting interviews at his locker wearing his helmet. Or because Williams whined to the media when his offensive linemen didn't pick him up and dust him off after a play during his rookie season.

Or is it that his psyche bruised easily when a straight-to-the-point Haslett avoided sugar-coating his expectations of Williams, neglecting to show personal concern for the running back's health following an injury-plagued rookie season.

Whatever Haslett saw, he made it clear the following off-season that Williams' shelf life in New Orleans was limited when, using his first first round pick as Saints head coach, he drafted ... another running back. As it turns out, Williams' former Saints understudy, Deuce McAllister, could fulfill a hall of fame promise at that position that Ricky -- not to mention the drug-troubled duo George Rogers and Chuck Muncie before them -- couldn't.

Haslett has defined his career in New Orleans by ripping the band-aid off quickly and being unafraid to make a controversial, painful and, some might say, rash decisions to move the team forward. Without a second thought, he's kicked players to the curb who've threatened locker room chemistry and held themselves apart -- or above -- the team concept and don't fit his expectations of a professional football player.

That's why an aging William Roaf was traded to Kansas City in 2002, why the uncontrollable Kyle Turley is now wearing a Rams jersey, why a petulant Jeff Blake was released after being unable to accept his backup role under Aaron Brooks -- and why the Saints moved Ricky to Miami.

I think they called these moves addition through subtraction. 5-3=6. Makes sense to me.

To be sure, Haslett's made a fair amount of mistakes – losing free agent La'Roi Glover to continue his Pro Bowl career in Dallas, and signing Dale Carter and Albert Connell, being key among them. But it's hard to avoid stepping in a pile of horse droppings when that's what the previous regime left you, so I think he can be forgiven for missing a spot or two during the cleanup

What Haslett recognized in Williams were the same traits Ricky alluded to in his retirement rationale -- not wanting to play by any rules or be under anyone's "control," (never mind his desire to smoke a fatty without "The Man" bringing him down for it) -- and he knew those characteristics had no place on an NFL team. Net-net, Williams was flakier than a croissant and about as steadfast a comrade as Jacques Chirac, and ol' blondie saw it right off the bat.

Yes, Williams' rugged individualism is something all Americans aspire to have, which is why some would view his impulse to retire with admiration. But while self-determination is a celebrated American value, it’s easy to see how such an ideal clashes in a professional locker room culture, where players are required to conform to structure, rules and expectations and embrace the team concept.

The Dolphins, blinded by decades-long mediocrity in their running game, saw in Williams a rising star who could help the team relive its 1970s glory days of undefeated seasons and Larry Czonka chugging like a runaway train on the Orange Bowl turf. But because they failed to see the flaws in Williams' character, flaws that were apparent to a team whose shortsightedness in personnel decisions is the stuff of legend, the Dolphins gave up two first round picks ... and now have nothing to show for it.

Much Ado about Ricky
By
Nick Deriso - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:33 am CST
www.thenewsstar.com/saints


The sudden retirement of former New Orleans running back Ricky Williams, on whom so much of the team’s hopes once rode, has again awakened the passion and insight of our buddy Bil. Naw, not Ryckman. Shakespeare.

It’s been about four centuries since The Bard’s “death,” and about that long since someone said something nice about Ricky Williams on SaintsReport.com.

Still, that can’t account for e-mails that end with “B-ye’olde-B&G.;”


Perhaps it’s because Shakespeare shares a birthday with St. George, the patron saint of England. Perhaps it’s because he always identified with the tragic and star-crossed.


In keeping, there may never have been a more star-crossed Saint — and that’s saying something — than Williams:


Former New Orleans coach Mike Ditka gives away the farm for this particular magic bean in a 1999 trade. The cost is still staggering: Ditka, as Williams slid to the 5th pick, traded the Saints’ entire 1999 draft — along with the first and third pick in 2000 to the Washington Redskins.
“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! — Hamlet (II, ii, 115-117)


Williams, not long after the draft, proceeds to appear on a national magazine in wedding dress. He’ll then give interviews with a helmet on, live in an unfurnished house and then generally begin to act odd. Generally, very very odd — even by the South’s generally lax standards. By the way, Washington used those top picks to select cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker LaVar Arrington.
“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer's lease hath all too short a date.” — Sonnet 18.


Williams hires a rap singer for agent, then signs a crazy incentive-laden contract that Ricky Ricardo could have seen as a tissue-thin joke in the age of a player-driven league.
“How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!” — As You Like It (Act V, Scene II).


Ditka would win only 3 games, despite the fact that Williams gained 884 yards the next season. In 2000, after a nasty injury, the first playoff win in Saints history is achieved without Williams’ services. Paging Lamar Smith, please.
“Now is the winter of our discontent.” —- King Richard III (I, i, 1)


Still hopeful Saints fans are stunned when coach Jim Haslett and former general manager Randy Mueller select Deuce McAllister in the first round of the 2001 draft, then jettison Williams at the end of the season. “Haslett and I used to regularly converse about whether or not we wanted to put ourselves in the position of having to count on Ricky for the long haul,” Mueller wrote in a Sunday piece for ESPN Insider. “The trade was evidence of what we concluded.”
“Then must you speak of one that (you) lov'd not wisely but too well.” — Othello (V, ii, 343-3440


Saints fans are put in the uncomfortable position, however, of hoping for success for Williams, but not Miami — since that will alter where the compensatory draft pick for Williams will fall. The wishful thinking becomes typically ironic: Ricky needs to run for more than 100 yards a game, while the Dolphins go 0-16.
“My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late.” — Romeo and Juliet (I, v, 140-141)


The Dolphins’ bill for Williams would be steep: A first round pick in 2002 draft and what would eventually become a first round pick in 2003. Ricky Williams exceeded the required 1,500 yards rushing in 2002, thus meeting a condition that turned a third-round gift in 2003 into a first-round steal. The Saints would take two Georgia defensive linemen — end Charles Grant in 2002, and (after a subsequent trade with Arizona) tackle Jonathan Sullivan in 2003.
“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” — Twelfth Night (II, v, 156-159).


In the process, Williams loses much of the weight that seemed to slow him as a Saint, and smashes the Miami team record for rushing in 2002 — while leading the league with 1,853 yards. He has back-to-back 200-yard games and averages 4.8 yards per carry. Heck, he was ready for the 2004 season, according to Miami coach Dave Wannstedt: “Ricky came in this March at 228, two pounds less than his playing weight,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. “He was in great shape, ready to play.” But, Williams has also begun talking about stuff like art and the homeless and parenting.
“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much; such men are dangerous. — Julius Caesar (I, ii, 194)


There are drug problems. He has failed two tests and was scheduled to be docked four game checks, although an appeal was pending with the league. Williams told the Miami paper over the weekend that he has sometimes used a special liquid that players around the league drink to prevent getting caught.
“Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?” — Hamlet (Act III, Scene II)


Williams, just 27, then quits — saying he’s taking off to travel the world, and … hey, dude, do you know it never rains in southern California? The coach that drafted him sounded as confused as everyone else: “I’d love to talk to him and try to talk him out of it,” Ditka told The Associated Press from Chicago. “It seems kind of foolish to me, but I don’t know what’s on his mind.” As if anyone ever did.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” — As You Like It (II, vii, 139-143).


The Dolphins will presumably now rely on less celebrated names like Travis Minor, Leonard Henry, Fred Russell and Sammy Morris. But Wannstedt did not rule out the free-agency signing of another running back. Wannstedt said Minor will enter the team’s training camp — which, horrifyingly, begins Saturday — as the starter.
“This was the unkindest cut of all.” — Julius Caesar (III, ii, 187)


Of course, Miami might have gotten more involved in free agency, had Williams not flaked out so late in the off-season. In the past week, former Heisman Trophy Eddie George was waived by the Titans then signed with the Cowboys, and Antowain Smith then replaced George with Tennessee.
“Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.” —- Much Ado About Nothing (III, i, 106)


In the end, despite the cataclysm both of giving away a draft and then losing a signature player, the Saints found a steady, even spectacular replacement in McAllister — an eventual Pro Bowler in his own right.
“All that glisters,” Shakespeare says in The Merchant of Venice (II, vii), “is not gold.”


News-Star sports editor Nick Deriso, named Columnist of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, wrote this exclusively for SaintsReport.com. He is also a regular guest on Billy Ryckman’s Saints Report program at 9 a.m. Tuesdays on ESPN 1420 in Lafayette. E-mail him at
nderiso@thenewsstar.com

Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Zen and the Art of Franchise Maintenance
By
Nick Deriso - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:50 pm CST
www.thenewsstar.com/saints

If they can’t sell the Superdome, then how about this: Zatarain’s Zen.

See, the New Orleans Saints are going to be fine. That is, if coach Jim Haslett has anything to do with it.

Just fine.

“I think that if we take care of business and keep improving individually, then this team will be fine,” Haslett said.

Sounds like a blueprint for 2004.

Only that’s not a current off-season quote — but one from Oct. 16 of last season, as the team prepared for Atlanta.

Still, it certainly wasn’t the only time that the New Orleans coach displayed this particular kind of fortune-cookie hopefulness.

You’ve gotta love it. After all, it comes despite enough injuries last season to make Evel Knievel flinch.

Despite the free-agency losses of several fan favorites over the last few years. Despite a bunch of losses, period.

After all, these Saints have been 8-8 since a breakout 2000 season that saw the woebegone franchise win its first playoff game.

Yet, it’s … fine.

Call it Zen and the Art of Franchise Maintenance.

One of the central tenants of that thinking is intuition. Sometimes, as this eastern philosophy goes, words and sentences have no fixed meaning — thus, that whole “goo-goo-gah-joob” business with the Beatles. Logic is often considered too obvious, irrelevant.

In keeping, words have meaning only in relation to who might say it, who he is talking to, and the situation.

Let’s stick, then, with this one word: Fine. Zen stresses meditation as a pursuit of enlightenment.
First-round pick Will Smith looked like the humidity was smothering him during the first day of Saints mini-camps, but finished strong. “He did fine,” Haslett said on June 16.

UCLA defensive tackle Rodney Leisle probably only lasted until the fifth-round of this year’s NFL Draft because of an ankle injury that had to be cleaned out. Still, Haslett, on April 27, said: “He’s going to be fine.”

Former first-round pick Johnathan Sullivan, a defensive tackle who at one point was struggling with weight issues, returned a different man for mini-camps: “Jonathan’s coming along fine,” Haslett said on June 9. “He’s picking things up.”

Back in November, when LeCharles Bentley reinjured his knee, Haslett was upbeat: “He should be fine.” Haslett even encouraged the NFL to … fine … Joe Horn after his infamous cell phone incident.

OK, instead of bliss, I’m becoming confused. What a fine mess.

Actually, being upbeat is part of the process. After all, when the Saints got their heads caved in on national TV against Indianapolis, Haslett said: “The effort was fine. It was bad technique.”

This Zen way spreads. Kicker John Carney, talking about the play AFTER the River City Relay, said

… “Everything was fine.”

Should there be a fine for the over usage of the word

… fine?

When the Saints signed center Jerry Fontenot to a one-year deal last spring, solidifying a line that had lost two consecutive left tackles, Haslett said: “We’ll be fine.”

OK, we were: Deuce McAllister dashed for a NFL-tying number of 100-yard games last season.

But then McAllister backslid into Buddhism. Asked before the Giants game last season if he was concerned about MVP voting, Deuce said: “If you are in the race, you are; if you aren’t, then that is fine, too.”

Blame Haslett? Fine.

But have we made made the mistake of thinking that since much of Zen sounds like nonsense — especially, as the Wikipedia notes, in translation and out of context — that any clever nonsense is also Zen?

I can’t help but think of Chad Johnson, who pulled a fine stunt that garnered him a $10,000 fine last season. The Bengals’ receiver was punished for retrieving a sign from behind a snowdrift that said: “Dear NFL, Please don’t fine me again.”

Wise words. Zen, even.

Nick Deriso, sports editor at The News-Star in Monroe, La., wrote this exclusively for SaintsReport.com. He is a regular guest on Billy Ryckman’s Saints Report program at 9 a.m. Tuesdays on ESPN 1420 in Lafayette. E-mail him at nderiso@thenewsstar.com.

Sunday, July 04, 2004
Texas Hold-em, NFL Style
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:26 pm CST
July 4, 2004

Texas Hold-em, NFL Style

Dear Saints Fan,

The World Poker Tour has become one of cable televisions most watched programs. Through the process of elimination, several hundred participants are narrowed down to a final table where the winner takes all. While neither the Saints nor the State have publicly raised the bet to all or nothing, Saints Fans wonder who has the upper hand with the current negotiations to keep the Saints in New Orleans.

The Saints were listed 20th on Forbes list of most profitable NFL teams as of September 15th, 2003. The value of the franchise at that time was shown as $585 million. In the course of seeking a “permanent solution” to keep the Saints in New Orleans, Tom Benson must be thinking, “If I move the team to Los Angeles, its value grows from $585 million to nearly a billion dollars as soon as the new zip code is assigned.” To a businessman, that’s called opportunity. To those opposed to the current contract between the Saints and the State, which calls for the payment of $186.5 million over the next ten years from state generated revenues, it’s been called blackmail.

The NFL wants a franchise in Los Angeles by 2008. Consequently, teams "in trouble" may consider Los Angeles as their ace in the hole when bargaining with State entities over finances and outdated facilities. But there is only one Los Angeles and at least three other teams besides the Saints with significant stadium/revenue issues.

San Diego, Indianapolis and Minnesota currently lead the list of teams mentioned to become the next Los Angeles team. Forbes ranked their respective values 28th, 29th and 30th in the league. Based on those numbers, it may be presumptuous to assume that Paul Tagliabue would recognize the Saints’ problems in New Orleans as the most compelling. That said, Saints Fans might wonder if Benson really has the upper hand in negotiations with the State should he resort to the threat of relocation.

Other than Los Angeles, there are no cities being publicly promoted by the NFL as potential new markets. San Antonio was a suitor in the past, and could open its arms again to Benson, or possibly Vikings owners Red and Charline McCombs, the Colts Jim Irsay or the Charger’s Alex Spanos. But at this moment, the best option for Benson and the State of Louisiana is to manufacture a deal.

If negotiations between the Saints and the State fail, Benson would then have to fight an entirely new battle, this time with the owners of three other NFL franchises who share his same motive to move to greener pastures. All told, there are not enough new locations for all of the teams looking for help.

For Governor Kathleen Blanco, she must show that the State is able and willing to attract and keep major businesses in Louisiana. This means finding a way to accommodate an NFL presence which, according to most economic studies, provides substantial revenue to State coffers, far in excess of what Benson is asking in cash and/or concessions.

Benson, for his part, has to either justify an argument that the Saints simply cannot exist financially in New Orleans, or admit (at least to himself) that his “needs” are based primarily on an ego-driven desire to have his franchise valued higher than 20th on the list of most profitable franchises.

Could it be that the real question is not whether the Saints can exist profitably in New Orleans, but how much profit is enough?

Fortunately, there appears to be a willingness expressed by both sides to find a workable solution that addresses the Saints’ demands, as well as the ability of the State to provide assistance. But if talks between Benson’s representatives and Governor Blanco’s team ultimately become a game of high stakes poker, it will be interesting to see what happens when all of the cards are on the table.

Until Next Time,

The Editor

Friday, July 02, 2004
You Did Not Have To Say We Had Talent
By
st dude - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:26 pm CST

“The definition of a good coach is one who can take mine and beat yorn, and then turn around and take yorn and beat mine”. Bum Phillips

I first learned about the talent game coaches play as a member of the Bayou Portage Fighting Raccoons high school football team. Our coach with the mail order physical education degree, Joe Fred Nabors, would talk about talent, or the lack of it, to kick off every season I played. At our pep rally to kick off our season, Coach Joe Fred would gather the students, players and their families together for his prediction for the upcoming year. “Folks”, he would start, “our boys may not have a lick of talent but they have heart”. Then he would add, “this might be the weakest group we have ever had and if anything happens to Eraste Joe, we are in deep doo-doo”.

Eraste Joe was actually Eraste Joseph Moreau. Joe Fred was from Beaumont and he liked for all of us to have two first names. While that was fine for Texas names like Billy Bob and Billy Joe, it never seemed to work to me at Bayou Portage where most of our players had names like Emile or Adolphus. And Eraste Joe was hardly talentless. Like most Cajun kids from the bayou, he was a tad short coming in at just a shade over 5 feet. But years of hunting and fishing in the basin had made Eraste as wiry and tough as they come. We also had the Ardoin twins, Tee John and Tee Mike on the line. These kids starting wrestling each other in the womb and have been tackling each other ever since. To say that we had no talent just was not true.

I hated each year when Coach would say we were in deep “doo-doo” if Eraste went down. First of all, I always hated the expression “doo-doo”. Maybe they say that in Texas but here we just call it.....well, you know. But what really bothered me is that I was the back up quarterback. Having the head coach say your season turns into cow patties if you have to take over is not much of a vote of confidence, even if it was pretty much true.

Its only in later years I have been able to figure out why Coach Joe Fred never admitted having talent. It is because talent is a curse for a coach. Well, its not so much the talent that curses him as is the perception that his team has talent. If you have talent and win, you were supposed to. If you do not have talent and win, you are a great coach. Worst of all, if you have talent and lose, you have no excuses. As thick of a brick as Coach Joe Fred was, he knew nothing created more pressure for him than the perception that his kids had talent.

I think the concept first dawned on me after an LSU basketball team beat an Ole Miss team by twenty points. The then Ole Miss coach was asked about Dale Brown, the LSU coach, and what kind of job he thought Coach Brown was doing. His simple and telling response was “If I had Shaquille Oneal on my team, we would have won by twenty.” On the one hand it was a derogatory comment towards Brown, on the other hand it was so obviously and undeniably true.

Phil Jackson’s fine career has always been plagued by the question mark of whether he has just been the beneficiary of talented teams. I am sure he would love to make speeches like Coach Joe Fred about his talent less teams, but there probably are no words in the English language that could spin Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaq as not having talent. Ironically in the NBA finals it was Larry Brown who got all the credit for taking a team the public perceived as not having talent to the championship.

My thoughts are that the media created the false assumption that the Pistons lacked real talent and that it got perpetuated in the way those things do. Keep saying it and it becomes true. Personally from the games I watched, Brown had way more talent, top to bottom, than the Lakers did on their roster. Brown was in the perfect coaching situation and Jackson in a no win spot. Jackson was supposed to win, Brown was not.

Just like with the Lakers and Pistons, I think the media has confused talent in describing the New Orleans Saints the last few years. Generally speaking, the perception here, and around the league, is that the Saints are talented underachievers(thus making Coach Haslett look bad). The Carolina Panthers, on the other hand, have been described as less talented over achievers(making Coach Fox look good). But what is the basis for the assumption the Saints have had more talent the last two years? Does that assumption hold up under scrutiny?

I think to answer the question one must first understand how many in the media (incorrectly) perceive what exactly makes a team talented. The mistake most media people make is in focusing on offensive skill players in defining overall team talent. The Saints boast a roster with Aaron Brooks, Deuce McCallister, Joe Horn and Dante Stallworth at their key skill positions. I would not argue that is a talented group. But NFL rosters are made up of 53 players and 22 starters. Some of these players play on defense and some defensive players are talented as well. The media just does not see to look at it that way.

Beyond their skill players on offense, the Saints are hardly a talented team by NFL standards. Not one Saints defensive player got even mentioned for the pro bowl. Carolina has oodles more talent than the Saints on the defensive side of the ball. Yet for some strange reason most every pro football magazine you read will continue to perpetuate the myth that the Saints are an underachieving enigma while the Panthers are a less talented team that does more.

John Fox has a combined record of 18-14 over the last two years in regular season play. Jim Haslett has been 17-15 in his last two seasons. The perception is that Fox is doing more with less. Without taking anything away from Fox, is that the reality? While I am reasonably sure the Panthers boast more defensive talent, I am not so sure that they do not match up even with the offensive skill players. They have Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad at wideouts with Stephen Davis at running back and an improving Delhomme at quarterback. Thats hardly a talent less group and arguably every bit as good as the Saints.

This is not to make excuses for Jim Haslett. He has a lot of input into the draft and free agency process. If his team is not as talented on defense, he shares some of the blame. And I say share because few can argue Randy Mueller was not the chief architect of the defense that collapsed in 2002.

So if the point of this discussion is not to make excuses for Coach Haslett, then what is the point? Some are probably wondering by now if there is a point. The point certainly is not that all teams are created equal and that some coaches do not get more out of talent than others. Larry Brown seems to win wherever he goes. The point rather is that we not blindly accept what perception the media or a coach has created as to the level of talent on a given team. It is also important we understand how talent can be misdefined. The New England Patriots are another good example of a team the media likes to portray as not talented when very few of the Saints players would ever start on the Patriot's defense.

Fortunately there never was a quarterback controversy at Bayou Portage High. Eraste Joe never got hurt and whether we were losing or winning, our fans never chanted my name. Coach Joe Fred had seen to that. They knew we were in deep doo-doo if I had to come in.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004
If you love a big-splash free agent, set him free.
By
Nick Deriso - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:55 am CST
http://thenewsstar.com/saints

There may never be a better free-agent signing in New Orleans than Joe Horn in 2000.

No profile. No hype. Lots of heart. Lots of upside.

“Sure,” Horn admits. “They just took a chance on me — and I took a chance on them. It was a perfect fit.”

Horn, who set the mark for the most productive season by a Saints receiver ever in his first season, was an All-Pro his first three years at New Orleans. In four tries, he has set the top three marks for a season in Saints history — and is already third all-time in career receiving yards.

“That may be the best signing I’ve ever been associated with,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “Nobody knew him. His best year had been 14 catches. When I look back at signings that count, those are the guys I look to. The guys who came in as an unknown, but produced.”

That’s the mindset, Loomis said, that guided the Saints through a quiet off-season.

Quiet isn’t so bad, he said. Make smart choices and develop your own talent, he said.

Expect more from the people you have.

Loomis gives, as an example, defensive lineman Reggie White — who was signed away from Philadelphia by Green Bay in 1993 as a great, if unheralded, performer. White would spark a defense that played a key role in the Packers’ 1996 title, their first since the Lombardi era.

“He brought not only great play to Green Bay, but changed the way people around the league saw the team,” Loomis said.

This year’s sleeper free agent in New Orleans is former St. Louis lineman Brian Young, though Loomis also touts the club’s signing of Jacksonville corner Jason Craft.

Young has already impressed the staff: “He’s been more than expected,” said defensive line coach John Pease, a veteran assistant from New Orleans’ Dome Patrol era. “If we can get opposing teams to third down, we should be able to bring some speed to the table.”

Neither Young nor Craft made many waves with fans when they were signed. Both will likely contribute more than most casual observers could have imagined.

“A guy that nobody talks about is Jason Craft,” Loomis said. “He was a starter for the Jaguars, until he got hurt. Then, when he came back, they didn’t give him his job back — but, I think, only because of a change in coaching. They wanted their own guys. He reminds me of Freddie Thomas, when he first came to us.”

Since his own free-agency signing in 2000, Thomas has actually produced similar numbers to a cornerback that many fans wanted to sign away. New Orleans, faced with a prohibitive demand for a first-round pick from Green Bay, balked.

“It’s been reported that we nosed around Mike McKenzie,” Loomis said. “But the price was too great to consider, in terms of draft-pick compensation. If another opportunity comes a long that we think is better than the guys we have, then we will seize upon that. There hasn’t been anybody that jumped out at us.”

Every off-season sees the headline-grabbing move.
Take Philadelphia, which made two of the year’s biggest big-splash signings: Wide receiver Terrell Owens and defensive lineman Jevon Kearse.

On the opening day of free agency, the Eagles signed Kearse to an eight-year, $66 million contract that included a $16 million signing bonus. Owens received his own $10 million signing bonus, too.

Compare that with Young, who New Orleans signed to a far more reasonable four-year, $10 million contract, according to ESPN.com.

The 6-2, 278-pound lineman, drafted by St. Louis in 2000, was a starter at St. Louis for most of the past three seasons. But while everyone was watching defensive end Grant Wistrom — or at least his hair — Young quietly worked, amassing 121 tackles and 10 1/2 sacks in 59 career games.

It was Wistrom, of course, who was given a brain-busting 6-year, $33 million contract with Seattle this same off-season.

Never fear, Loomis said.

“History has shown that most of the big-splash free agents have not been worth the dollars that they were paid,” he said. “I think most the reason is, you give these guys giant contracts and there are these high expectations. It’s impossible to meet those expectations — unless you win the Super Bowl.”

Washington has used the model of big-ticket buys with disastrous results for years — famously assembling a $100 million roster for a team that included an aging Deion Sanders, only to go 8-8 in 2000.

“They don’t win the Super Bowl,” Loomis said of the Eagles, “then people are going to say those signings were a bust. That’s a lofty standard for team that’s a very good team.”

Philadephia, it must be noted, made Thomas one of its other key free-agency targets.

“It was everything Fred could do to turn them down,” Loomis said. “It was our mistake for even letting him get up there.”

The Saints believe that developing underrated players like Thomas and Young, and molding them into a team, is the safer bet.

“That’s part of the reason I wanted to come down here,” Young said. “They’ve got this club going in the right direction.”

Nick Deriso, sports editor at The News-Star in Monroe, wrote this exclusively for SaintsReport.com. He is a regular guest on Billy Ryckman’s Saints Report program at 9 a.m. Tuesdays on ESPN 1420 in Lafayette. E-mail him at nderiso@thenewsstar.com.

Saturday, June 26, 2004
Continuity is the Key
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:17 am CST

Dear Saints Fan,

Ever since the franchise’s first playoff victory that capped the 2000 season, Saints Fans have offered a variety of arguments, analysis and gut-feelings to predict even greater success. Unfortunately, the results have fallen short of expectations. But a new rallying cry is born each year, and this time around, it’s “continuity.”

The starting roster finally has a semblance of stability, at least as defined in this era of free agency. At a recent caravan stop in Mobile, Jim Haslett, Mickey Loomis, Joe Horn and Darren Howard all claimed that the primary reason to set our sights high this year is the fact that the starters have played together long enough to come together as a team. Perhaps Loomis illustrated the point best when he suggested that, “it’s hard enough to get eleven people to walk in a straight line, much less execute a football play.”

Repetition alone is a major factor in reaching one’s potential as a player. Repetition alongside the same players is every bit as critical to develop the potential of the team.

In recent years, the offseason catchword has been “chemistry.” It appears that goal has been reached. No starters have been jettisoned, and if there are any internal problems, they have not become newsworthy. Based on the absence of a significant roster overhaul this year, it appears that the organization is finally satisfied with the overall character and talent of the team.

Perhaps to the surprise of Saints Fans, there may be only a couple of changes on both sides of the ball. But Haslett sounds convinced that he has assembled a roster that will produce “the most competition and depth at any time since I’ve been here.”

The only starter absent from the offense from last year is fullback Terrelle Smith, who signed with the Browns via free agency. Free agent veteran Sam Gash and rookie Mike Karney headline the competition to replace Smith whenever the team uses a two-back formation. But Haslett revealed that the Saints will primarily run the offense from their “Tiger” formation, which features one back and two tight-ends. Fans should expect to see Boo Williams and Ernie Conwell on the field together, with the option for one of them to shift into the backfield as an “H” back when necessary.

A battle is expected at center between incumbent Jerry Fontenot and starting guard LeCharles Bentley. If Bentley moves to center, Kendyl Jaycox and Montrae Holland will continue to man the guard positions as proven starters.

Haslett pointed out that “this is the first season in three years that Horn and Stallworth have been here the entire offseason.” Horn has had contract issues and Stallworth has battled nagging injuries. Aaron Brooks also missed significant practice time last season while recovering from shoulder surgery. It all added up to an erratic passing game from beginning to end in 2003. When the Saints open the regular season this year, the timing between Brooks and his receivers should be vastly improved.

Haslett also revealed that offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy will be calling the game from the coach’s booth this season rather than from the sidelines. The Saints are also working on getting out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage faster, leaving twenty seconds on the play clock instead of eighteen. Haslett said that Aaron will need the additional time to read the defense and adjust the play, in order to allow the Saints to open up the offense.

According to Haslett, the priority on defense is to get better against the run, where the team finished 27th in the league in 2003. From a formation standpoint, Haslett said that the defense will revert to a “70’s” style, where the gaps along the line are narrower. But the effectiveness of any defense is dependant on the players, and Haslett believes he has a group who can build on what he called “a strong finish” in 2003.

Last year’s defensive starters are returning to face tough competition, mostly from emerging players already on the roster. The starting lineup could ultimately include only one unfamiliar face, with free agent Bryan Young taking over an open spot at defensive tackle. Darren Howard, Charles Grant, Johnathan Sullivan, Melvin Williams, Kenny Smith, Willie Whitehead, Kendrick Allen and this year’s number one pick Will Smith, will combine to make the Saint’s defensive line one of the deepest and most talented in the league.

Haslett projects middle linebacker as the tightest battle in training camp. Incumbent Orlando Ruff will be pushed by Cie Grant, whose 2003 rookie year was stalled by training camp injuries, and rookie second rounder Courtney Watson. Derrick Rogers and either James Allen or Sedrick Hodge are Haslett’s current candidates to start on the outside.

Fans still bemoan the team’s inability to acquire a star quality cornerback, fearing the players on the roster aren’t good enough. Loomis’ chances of trading for disgruntled Green Bay corner Mike McKenzie have waned somewhat, although he still expresses interest “at the right price.” Both Haslett and Loomis say we shouldn’t underestimate the players on hand.

If Fakhir Brown climbs ahead of Ashley Ambrose, he could start with Fred Thomas in the Saints base 4-3 defense. All three should be on the field in nickel situations. Newly acquired free agent Jason Craft, a former starter at Jacksonville, is also expected to compete for significant playing time.

Haslett says it took Tebucky Jones at least half the season to learn his role with the Saints at safety last year before starting to show his true ability. Jay Bellamy was arguably the comeback player of the year for the Saints, stepping back into the starting lineup after Mel Mitchell was lost for the season.
Haslett is counting on the fact that the players acquired over the last few seasons have begun to reach their potential, and that radical changes to the roster are no longer necessary. He’s also banking on the belief that the final fifty-three players who survive the cut will be the best he’s had from top to bottom, so that more players can be rotated in and out of the lineup without a meaningful drop in production.

Fear not, Saints Fans! Continuity will be the key to the playoffs in 2004. I just know it!

Until Next Time,

The Editor

Thursday, June 10, 2004
Are we there yet, Coach?
By
Andrus Whitewing - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:48 pm CST

As training camp draws near and the opportunities to upgrade team needs in free agency have all but evaporated, we take a look at what the Saints have on their roster. The collective masses that are "Saints Fans", as well as the media are almost unanimous in that one position is in dire need of upgrading as well as quality depth -- Cornerback!

Considering that there was a bounty of quality cornerbacks at the onset of free agency, we hear this question asked ad-nauseam, "Why weren't the Saints more aggressive in free agency?

Of course, the answer we generally get is it was a sellers market, and teams were greatly over-paying for quality corners.  When the Saints did see an opportunity to secure a quality player (albeit debatable to some) like Juran Bolden for example, who most had shied away from because of  pressing legal-matters, the Saints too held their breath on his legal situation just long enough for Jacksonville to snatch him away.   So what happens then?   Jacksonville then made available Jason Craft, whom the Saints had signed to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent two off-seasons ago, and the Saints struck a deal for the speedy 5-9' part-time starter.

Now, there is more than one way we can look at Craft.  We could say that we traded for a CB that Jacksonville considered to be no better than their 4th or 5th best CB. The Jags signed three cornerbacks (DeWayne Washington, Lewis Sanders and Juran Bolden) during the off-season and already had a solid one in Rashean Mathis.  We could say that he is a high quality up-and-comer that fits our scheme better than he did the Jaguars, or we could just say that he was a bargain and that is the Saints off-season theme song,  “No bargain, no signing”.  We will address this "bargain" notion later.

The next question we hear often is "Why didn't the Saints take a CB in the draft?  Well, the Saints say that there were only a couple of corners that they deemed worthy of choosing in the first round.  When they were gone before the Saints got on the clock, the quality of a Will Smith was much higher than the next best corner on their boards. In subsequent rounds the same scenario repeated itself.  Of course, there was the trade in the 3rd round where the Saints reportedly had Michigan stand-out cornerback Jeremy LeSueur penciled in, but the deal with the Washington  Redskins was deemed too good to pass up.

The Saints went for a switch-a-roo of their 5th round picks and securing Washington's 2nd next year for the Saints 3rd round pick this year.   It's not like the Saints were going to benefit from a rookie like LeSueur's presence this season anyway, right?

Okay, that is understandable.  As it stands now, even with the Saints talking-up their cornerback situation publicly, it is painfully obvious that an upgrade as well as an infusion of youth is needed here.  Let's take a look at the best of what we have at the position as of today: 

PLAYER                        HGT    WGT   AGE    EXP 

22 Fred Thomas             5’ 9”      184       30         9

21 Jason Craft               5’ 10”?   179       28         6

33 Ashley Ambrose        5’ 11”    190       33         13

35 Fahkir Brown             5’ 11”    192       26         5

29 Keyuo Craver            5’ 10”    195       23         3

28 Deveron Harper          5’ 11”    187       26         3

Your two projected starters are both actually about 5’ 9” in cleats.  One is 30 years old and the other is yet unproven in this system and certainly not in any system as a number two.  Your nickel back/possible starter (Ambrose) is 33 years of age and though a smart and savvy player, has lost a step.  Fahkir Brown is a work in progress who played well near the end of last season and we do see potential there. It really is wide open after that as to who will be contributing, but an injury or two to any of your top 3 and this defense could really be in trouble.  That is unless the fellows up front can amass one heck of a pass-rush and also stop the run. At this point that looks like our best hope for the season’s success on defense.  But why have to count on that? One could hope that one of the underlings down the depth chart can step-up at CB, but you cannot count on that happening either.

We have all been waiting for Keyuo Craver to step up and get serious, but if his 4-game suspension for substance abuse last season is an indicator, you cannot count on him doing so.  If the substance that was rumored to have been used is in-fact the culprit, that wacky-tobacky isn't exactly conducive to focus and motivation.

We have heard people say (mostly me saying it) that Mickey Loomis prides himself on bargain hunting and getting the most for Tom Benson's money. I admire that in Mr. Loomis.  The team needs to be wise with spending. However, when there is an obvious need for that one player that you think can make the difference between another early round playoff exit and a Super Bowl run, you have to go after him. If that player is available and you have 11 million+ in salary cap room as well an extra second-rounder next season, it may be time to make that one higher dollar acquisition.  I am not talking extravagantly big, but a bit more than the Saints are used to doling out.

See where I am headed here?

Right!

I am talking about disgruntled Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie, who has gained permission to seek a trade with other teams.  He is sure to command a pretty significant bonus and guaranteed money to sign and the Packers are asking for a first-round pick for him.   The Saints have reportedly offered the Packers a third-round pick.

That Figures!

Why?

Bargaining 101 dictates that you start low and not meet in the middle. Just stay low, and maybe inch up a tad.  That "meet in the middle" thing would be called "negotiating", which Saints fans are all so unfamiliar with when it comes to high-profile free agents.

It is my hope that the Saints will at least up the ante to a number two pick and try to get a deal done before some other team swoops in and grabs McKenzie. If McKenzie goes to another team, it severely limits the Saints options for upgrading the position this coming season. I am also hoping that Mr. Benson is willing to shell out a reasonable signing bonus to get it done, even if it hurts just a little to do so. 

Call me crazy, but this is a season where I see the Saints having enough talent to make a run for the big dance if they can just gel and get that one key ingredient of quality and depth at cornerback. Hey, I am not completely sold on the linebacker corps either. However, there is at least quality depth there. If Cie Grant, who hasn't had any significant time on the field is all that the Saints hype him up to be and rookie 2nd round pick Courtney Watson can contribute, I can see this group working out. Still, there is no arguing the need at CB.

People point to New England and say, “Look, they got back to the Super Bowl without spending much during the off-season”.   Wrong!  Without off-season signings like that of Rodney Harrison and Ted Washington, would that team still have made it to the big dance?

People also point to the Redskins stating that they sign all of those big names yet do diddly-squat.  Well, we aren't talking about filling the team with chemistry defeating egomaniacs every year that can never spend enough time together in order to know one another as a group much less go from system to system every time the Dan Snyder thinks he can upgrade the coaching position.  We are talking about adding ONE solitary piece to the puzzle that could make that difference this coming season.

Don't get me wrong, the looming question on McKenzie is whether his off-season money demands and adversarial situation with the Packers raise questions about how much of a future distraction he might be to the next team to enlist his services.   Since the Saints have shown enough interest in McKenzie to make an offer, I am sure that they have already done their due-diligence, and those are only business concerns. His play on the field is high-quality and he has not shown to have had any problems in the locker room.

Certainly a young and proven corner who is thought of as a top 5 corner by several expert analysts is worthy of a second round draft-pick. A future second-rounder may or may not pan out and cannot help you this season, right?  If this were a rebuilding situation, I would think about it. But in this case, I see it as not only a season of opportunity, but it also just may be a make or break year for the current staff.

As to the contract demands that will likely be fairly high, bargain-hunting is a good thing. I say that bargain hunting has also left us significantly exposed as a little too weak at one position in my mind.  It doesn't always work. It is time for this team to show someone the money.

Then again, there are rumors floating out there that the Saints have already offered a 2nd round pick for McKenzie.  If so, then props to Loomis and company. They would then have done about all that one could expect as reasonable to acquire McKenzie short of adding a player to the deal.

Sunday, June 06, 2004
FOOTBALL 101: The 4-3 Defense (Part Two)
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:57 pm CST
In Part One, I introduced you to some of the basic terms relating to the execution of the 4-3 defense. Now I’ll take you to the heart of it, starting with the first of three principles discussed in Part One.


GAP CONTROL
No matter which defensive front you are running, gap control is the first principle--the foremost foundation for any kind of defensive success. The Saints, as well as most teams, run a 1-Gap scheme in order to execute this principle. What this means is that each defender in the front seven is responsible for his primary gap above all else.

The largest burden of gap control lies on the shoulders of the defensive linemen. If a lineman is taken out of his gap the whole defense is affected. Responsibilities are thrown to the wind as a frantic struggle commences to prevent the big play. This is why it is important for D-linemen to shade into their gaps. Shading helps them to combat the hook block, which is designed specifically to take them out of their gap.

Linebackers are assigned gaps as well. But their gap assignments simply serve as a starting point. Nine times out of 10, a linebacker will not make the tackle on a running play through his gap. If an offense plans to run at a linebacker, they will first run a blocker at him. But I will get to this later.

In the UNDER version of the 4-3 defense, the weak-side (WILL) linebacker is the stack linebacker. He is stacked behind the Eagle DT and the Eagle DE. His responsibility is the A-gap, between the offensive center and offensive guard. However, most of his tackles will not be on runs through this particular gap.

The bubble (flow) linebacker is the middle (MIKE) lineabacker. He is usually head up over the strong-side guard. With the 1-technique DT shaded in the strong-side A-gap, the MIKE’s primary gap becomes the strong-side B-Gap. While the MIKE is an uncovered linebacker over an offensive guard, it is his responsibility to react quickly enough and flow to the ball to stay unblocked. Keep in mind that offensive linemen are paid to block linebackers and should never lose that battle. So your MIKE must be quick enough to get across the face of the guard/center without being engaged. This is the reasoning behind the Saints prospective strategy of lining Cie Grant (or Courtney Watson) up a little deeper than usual, aiding him in getting across the face of the lineman.

The strong-side (SAM) linebacker is the 9-technique. He is lined up toe-to-toe with the tight-end (with outside leverage) and is responsible for the largest gap of all, D-gap. More specifically, his job is containment against the outside run first and foremost. Against the inside run, the SAM’s duty is to squeeze C-gap down to either bounce the runner outside or push him back into a covered gap.

The simple philosophy behind a gap-control defense is to fill every gap and have your free man make the tackle. But if such a strategy was the end-all, then football would be nothing more than a one-on-one battle between a safety and a running back. So we must take this information and understand that gap control is only the beginning of defensive success.


REDIRECTION
The most successful defenses know where an offense is going. The defense does not know this because it is aware of the play, but rather because it knows that it will dictate where the ball is run. The 4-3 UNDER (we will assume that the Eagle designation is understood) defense stresses the importance of first controlling the strong side of an offense. This is the side where the offense has the most (and usually the strongest) run-blockers. By controlling the strong-side of the offense, a defense can effectively redirect a running play back to the weak-side. An athletic, sure-tackling WILL linebacker can thrive in this style of defense.





Let’s keep in mind that every defense has a weakness. In the case of the 4-3 UNDER, the weakness is the weak side. Usually a defense that is well-prepared can anticipate a weak side run before the snap (via film preparation). The most conventional way to combat an obvious weak side run is to call a stunt which changes the gap responsibilities of the front seven. An anticipated weak side run usually result in a loss of yards. An unforeseen weak side run usually results in a four-to-five yard gain.





However, a well-disguised counter or trap play to the weak side can result in a gain of 10 or more yards, depending on the strength of the runner. The trap is arguably the most dangerous of the basic running plays that an offense can execute. A well executed weak-side trap can bait defenders into taking themselves out of a play. It relies on deception as much as it does on execution. Even if a well-disciplined WILL reads the down block and takes on the pulling guard in the backfield, it is up to the MIKE and the free man to make the play. If a MIKE or safety is peaking into the backfield instead of reading their primary keys, they have already taken themselves out of the play without even being blocked.

The second most dangerous of the basic weak-side runs is the isolation, or ISO, run. It is easier to recognize than the trap but is a faster developing and more physical run. On this play, the runningback will be led through B-gap behind the fullback, directly at the WILL linebacker. To properly disrupt this run, the WILL must exhibit both aggressiveness, quick anticipation, and fundamental discipline. If he takes on the fullback inside-out (on his inside shoulder), the MIKE now has to run around the WILL and chase the running back downfield. If the WILL takes on the play outside-in (the fullbacks outside shoulder), he has now redirected the run directly to the MIKE linebacker.





If a defense can dictate where an offense is going to run by maintaining gap control and fundamental discipline, it has now won half the battle. But winning half the battle will only win half the game… and that’s being generous.


PURSUIT
This final element of defensive success is where games are won and loss. Runningbacks are paid to win individual battles (break tackles). This is why it is important for teams to gang tackle. We have heard the age-old cliché “11 men to the ball.” But this adage is not one that should be taken so lightly.

When linemen and linebackers win their individual battles, the defense will be set up to succeed. But players must go beyond taking care of their exclusive responsibilities. This is called finishing. Pursuit is far less technical than the above two elements. It breaks down to heart, will, and desire.

I cannot conclude my short explanation of pursuit without discussing a player who I feel epitomizes finishing at a position not known for such a quality: Brian Young. Young’s fundamentals allow him to win his individual battles and maintain gap integrity, and his high motor and intensity allow him to finish on plays where most defensive tackles throw in the towel. This style of play is contagious and a defense with 11 players like Young should break into the top-10 rankings in no time.


KEYS FOR SAINTS
The Saints will be running more of a UNDER style of the 4-3 this season. The elements for success are at hand, but for the Saints to gain a firm grasp on defensive excellence, certain key goals must be achieved.

1. If Cie could be like MIKE. Even if it is not Cie Grant, someone needs to step up at the middle linebacker position. Furthermore, this player must be comfortable within the given scheme and trust in their abilities to perform.

2. Young apPeasement. Brian Young and John Pease must influence the rest of the young defensive linemen to the point of consistency. These two men will make or break the success of our defensive line. Needless to say that Saints fans should be optimistic in this area.

3. Georgia needs to produce more than peaches. Jonathon Sullivan and Charles Grant are two of the most talented players on the defense and must turn potential into consistent production. Where Brian Young and Darren Howard embody consistence, these two young players can personify dominance along the line.

4. TeBucking the trend. The entire defense, especially Tebucky Jones, must tackle better. Tebucky spent most of his time in the hole last season, or the deep middle of the field. This season, the Saints will utilize the Sky call more, designating Jones as the free man. For him to succeed in the box, Tebucky must learn to tackle better.

5. SAM I am. Whoever steps up as the starting SAM linebacker must consistently force tight containment and establish a physical presence on the strong side in order to dictate where opponents can and cannot run.

6. Trust thy brother. As soon as continuity and mutual trust is established between all 11 defenders, success and consistency will come. One heartbeat always resounds the loudest.

Thursday, June 03, 2004
FOOTBALL 101: The 4-3 Defense (Part One)
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:48 pm CST
It doesn’t matter whether you are in high school, college, or the pros. You have to have a defensive philosophy that you believe in.


These are the words of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Kiffin, perhaps the most integral piece in Tampa Bay’s championship season, is one of the pioneers of the modern 4-3 defense. His formula has bred defensive success since he joined the Buccaneers in 1996 and has shown that consistency and excellence can be found in the 4-3 system. The broader philosophy of Kiffin and others is simple: rely on consistent principles and focus on key fundamentals that transcend any system. More specifically, the principles of gap control, redirection and most importantly, pursuit.

In Part One of this installment of Football 101, I will introduce to you the most commonly used terms in reference to the primary variations of the 4-3 defense. Keep in mind that the terminology may vary from coach to coach. As the subject can become very broad very quickly, I will focus only on how the 4-3 is designed to combat the run.


TERMINOLOGY
Hook Block: The most common and most dangerous run blocking technique, a hook block relies on an offensive lineman using leverage and power to seal a defender away from a running play. Utilizing a 1-Gap front is the most effective way to protect defensive linemen against the hook block. The wider the defender is shaded, the harder it is for the offensive lineman to execute the block.

Drive Block: This run blocking technique relies strictly on the power of the offensive lineman to drive a defender off of the line of scrimmage and away from the play at hand. The drive block is most commonly used in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

Down Block: Most commonly employed by the secondary blocker in a double-team, the down block is a hard inside block usually away from an offensive lineman’s nearest threat. Down blocks are also used to open up trap lanes for pulling linemen.

Cut/Chop Block: Legally speaking, a cut/chop block is simply a block executed below the waist of the assigned defender. The block is designed to neutralize the defender, starting with his legs.

Trap Block: A trap block is a pull designed to seal (trap) a defender on the first or second level in a running play. It is usually used in combination with a down block.

Reach Block: A reach block relies on the quickness and speed of an offensive lineman to chase and neutralize a defender in pursuit, usually taking advantage of hesitation on part of the defender or his pre-existing momentum.

Hole: Refers to the middle third (1/3) of a defense. The hole is always covered by a strong or free safety depending on where the secondary is racked.

Free Man: Unblocked defender in run support.

Eagle: A term used to designate an eighth man to any standard 4-3 front by rolling a safety into the box. The designation is usually called in the huddle and designates the call-side DT and DE as the Eagle defenders.

UNDER: A standard 4-3 front, similar in philosophy to the standard 3-4. It shifts the front seven to the tight-end (strong) side and balances the formation by racking the secondary to the split-end (weak) side.

OVER: Stems from the UNDER front and is designed to combat an obvious weak-side run. It employs stemming rather than stunting (read below).

Stem: Lining up in a disguised formation or coverage defensively. A stemmed formation/coverage uses a pre-snap shift into proper alignment, usually confusing an offense and sometimes forcing them into an audible, time-out, or “Delay of Game” penalty.

Stunt: Versus the run, a pre-snap designation assigning one or more defensive linemen to slant into a gap typically assigned to another defender.

“Stack” Linebacker: A Linebacker that is “covered up” in his alignment, meaning he is stacked over one or more defensive linemen.

“Flow/Bubble” Linebacker: An uncovered linebacker who must exercise quick reaction instincts and beat his offensive linemen through speed and finesse.

9-Technique: Linebacker (or End) who is lined up outside-shade of the tight-end, in a “toe-to-toe” alignment. Exclusively the SAM linebacker in base OVER and UNDER fronts.

“Sky”: A pre-snap designation that racks the secondary to the weak-side and assigns the free safety as the eighth man in run support.

“Bandit”: A pre-snap designation that racks the secondary to the strong-side and assigns the strong safety as the eighth man in run support.


In Part Two of my analysis, I will bring to light the philosophy and kinetics behind the 4-3 defense through both textual and graphical breakdown. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or concerns regarding Part One.

Monday, May 17, 2004
Mike Detillier's early look at the top 25 Junior prospects for the 2005 draft.
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:15 am CST
Top Rated Juniors for the 2004 College Football Season.


We all know that juniors make a huge impact in every draft. Last season 15 juniors were selected in the opening round and 8 went in Round 2. It's an early glimpse, but here are my top impact juniors for the 2004 college football season.

1. Mike Williams- Wide Receiver- USC- Trojan big-play end is still in "court/eligibility-limbo", but there is no question that he is the most dominant receiver not playing in the NFL today.

2. Rodrique Wright- Defensive Tackle Texas- Can't dance like his uncle, former K.C. Chiefs WR. Elmo Wright, but he is a huge man who dominates the inside for the Longhorns.

3. Aaron Rodgers- Quarterback California- Former junior college standout who really came on strong during the season. Rodgers is smart, very accurate and he has a tremendous mentor in Bears' head coach Jeff Tedford.

4. Justin Miller- Cornerback Clemson- True shutdown cornerback who has great foot speed and 1st rate ball reaction skills.

5. Matt Leinart- Quarterback USC- Big lefty, who is super smart, accurate and he has a great understanding of the game.

6. Andrew Whitworth- Offensive Tackle LSU- Whitworth has great size, quick feet and in my opinion is the best left tackle to ever don an LSU jersey.

7. Eric Winston- Offensive Tackle Miami (Fla.)- Former tight end, who has grown into a high quality left tackle and a dominant pass protector.

8. Darryl Blackstock- Outside Linebacker Virginia- Blackstock is a real terror coming off the edge as a pass rusher. Has the speed and range to develop into one of the top defensive players in college football this season.

9. A. J. Hawk- Outside Linebacker Ohio State- Has been overshadowed by upper-classmen in Columbus, but he is a real force at outside linebacker due to his size, speed and quick play recognition skills.

10. Jonathan Scott- Offensive Tackle Texas- Mammoth left tackle who has opened up some gaping holes for RB. Cedric Benson to run through.

11. Haloti Ngata- Defensive Tackle Oregon- Ngata was regarded as the top prep DT. in the nation when he came out of Highland High School in Utah and he has lived up to his prep clippings. Run-stuffer deluxe, who has rare speed and quickness for a big man if his weight is down.

12. Mathias Kiwanuka- Defensive End Boston College- Tall, lanky pass rush specialist who can really bring some big-time heat off the edge.

13. Chad Greenway- Outside Linebacker Iowa- Chad has come back strong from reconstructive knee surgery. Big-play edge man, who seems to be all over the field. Keep a close eye on this young man, he's a real prime-time performer.

14. Brad Smith- Quarterback Missouri- Still developing better mechanics and sharpening his passing accuracy, but he has a whip for an arm and tremendous escape ability skills.

15. Marion Barber III- Halfback Minnesota- Brutal inside runner, who has a nose for the goalline and very good openfield running skills for a big man.

16. Leon Williams- Middle Linebacker Miami (Fla.)- Takes over Jonathan Vilma's "Mike" man spot, and he is getting rave reviews for his spring play. This young man is big, fast and he is like a magnet to the football.

17. Eric Bassey- Cornerback Oklahoma- Former college strong safety who is ready to emerge as a big-time cornerback due to his speed and his overall coverage skills.

18. Thomas Davis- Outside Linebacker Georgia- No matter where they line him up he comes up with one big play after another. Reminds me of a young version of Donnie Edwards when he was at UCLA..

19. Chris Henry- Wide Receiver West Virginia- Was recruited out of the Louisiana prep ranks by Rich Rodriguez and he is on the verge of a breakout career. His great size and sprinter-type speed makes him quite an offensive weapon.

20. T.A. McLendon- Halfback North Carolina State- Has fought through some injuries, but when healthy he is super productive, very instinctive and he has a knack for breaking would-be tackles.

21. Abdul Hodge- Middle Linebacker Iowa- If Greenway is Iowa's Mr. Outside at linebacker, Hodge is Mr. Inside. Smart, very instinctive and he has outstanding athletic gifts to patrol the field.

22. Michael Huff- Cornerback Texas- Has played both strong safety and cornerback for the Longhorns and you have to really love his size and his outstanding recovery speed.

23. Orien Harris- Defensive Tackle Miami (Fla.)- Orien is starting to dominate along the D-line like his brother, Kwame (S.F. 49ers) did at Stanford at offensive tackle. Harris has excellent size and strength and he has a super quick initial step off the snap.

24. Ernest Shazor- Free Safety- Michigan- Was regarded as the top football player in the state of Michigan as a prep senior and he has never lost a step at the college level. Shazor comes up quickly to support against the run and he has very good pass coverage skills.

25. Javon Nanton- Defensive End Miami (Fla.) Former walk-on who has great foot speed coming off the corner as a pass rusher. Still developing his overall game, but what an athlete.

Saturday, May 15, 2004
Bayou Bulletin: Spotlight 2 of 6 - Devery Henderson
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:55 am CST

It’s the end of the world. I didn’t really mean that, I just wanted to get your attention.

Thus, the draftee spotlight continues this week, as we take a look at former LSU wide-receiver Devery Henderson, drafted by the Saints in the second round. Put on your fun goggles, because it’s time to take another trip down the wonderful road of NOT serious!

You know, it’s really hard to find new and interesting information about draftees, especially after every football fan from every corner of the state has already evaluated them. That’s why I like to just blatantly make things up. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to play Wouldn’t it be cool!

Wouldn’t it be cool if Devery Henderson had some kind of internal cloaking device? You know, something that made him completely invisible on the field? It could be anything, really…a strange alien implantation from some kind of abduction…a side effect of eating radioactive goo…even a superpower granted to him by Zoltan the Adequate. Anything that made him just disappear so that he could run around the field unnoticed by defenders.

I mean, just picture it in your head. The snap…Brooks drops back in the pocket…the rush is on, and then he slings his arm forward, sending the ball soaring down to…nobody? But wait…what’s that? Oh my goodness, the ball is just floating down the field by itself! It’s just gliding down the field… the twenty…the ten…touchdown! And right then, Devery Henderson de-cloaks, football in hand. The ball is spiked, and it’s six points for New Orleans.

I suppose Aaron would need some kind of high-tech goggles to be able to actually see Devery, because you can’t really just throw the ball to the middle of nowhere without knowing whether or not the guy fell down or ran a different route. I’m sure they’d be able to figure something out though, maybe Aaron can get cybernetic heat-detecting implants in his eyes. Or something like Geordie LaForge has. Come to think of it…that would look pretty darn cool.


There would be other benefits to having an invisible player, too. Coach Haslett could secretly send him in on defense to break up pass plays, or sneak him into the other team’s huddle to find out what they’re about to do. If Devery has quick fingers, he could tie the other quarterback’s shoelaces together right before he takes the snap. Or stealthily replace the other team’s Gatorade with Diet Tab. We could call him 00Dev.

As far as a receiving standpoint though, I think it’s great. I’m not sure many players would turn down a chance to start 00Devery Henderson, because what you’ve essentially got is a secret weapon of Batman proportions. The only problem with this is that I definitely see how some of the smaller issues can come back to haunt a player like this. For example…if he catches the ball, how do you know his feet are inbounds? This is one of the many little snags that could hinder a player of Devery’s caliber. I suppose they could just have him wear those sneakers with the blinking red lights whenever you step, so at least they could get a general idea of where his feet were in instant replay. It would probably be rough on the challenge system, too, simply because the refs can’t see every little detail of his foot positioning in their little booth-o-golds. But if you stuff all of those insignificant details, like fairness, to the side, I don’t think anyone can really argue with this pick.

So there you go, Saints fans. Things just keep getting better and better for the black and gold. Be sure to tune in next week when we take a look at ‘Elementary, my dear Courtney Watson.’ No, I am never going to call him that again…but doesn’t it sound just like something Chris Berman would say?

Until next time.

Lee Hebert (The Bayou Bullet)


This week’s Q&A;:

Q- So, like what do you think of the whole Manning situation? And do you look at Archie different? – Vicki

I’ve actually been sitting here for about 45 minutes trying to figure out how I feel about this. It’s a much more complex situation than meets the eye, simply because there are so many sides to it. There’s the business side, which is that you’re ideally supposed to go to the team that drafts you. Then there’s the human side, which is the fact that this whole situation is about a father who wants the best for his son. And then there’s the ethical side…were the Chargers wrong for going public with this, since Archie approached them quietly and in confidence about it?

I think this is one of those situations that has no right answer. It’s business vs. human nature vs. ethics, and whichever one of those you align yourself with the most is the side you’re going to take. As for me personally, I’ve tried my best to see it from Archie’s perspective – a man who was trying to get the best for his son, but ended up directing a lot of negative press towards both of them instead. Because he’s a father, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for having good intentions. After all, I might have done the same thing. But as far as what’s right? Your guess is as good as mine.

Q- What up, Bayou Bullet? Do you smell a trade with all of the DE’s the Saints now have on their roster? Perhaps a trade for a LB or a CB? – Gabe

Hey Gabe, not too much on this end; only me staying up far past the hours of sanity. I really have no one but myself to blame for being dog tired every morning.

I for one would be surprised if the Saints didn’t pick up someone new for the secondary, but I don’t know that the influx of DE’s is necessarily reflective of that. If you follow the “what’s winning now” template for success, it’s all about having a powerful – and deep – defensive line. Just look at who’s been in the Superbowl in the past few years…Tampa Bay, Carolina, New England, and Philadelphia’s been knocking on the door. All of these teams not only have strength, but they have depth too. I tend to believe that the influx of DE’s is simply adding depth to the position, which I think is an excellent move (if that’s what they’re doing).

But I do think that we’re bound to see someone new come in soon. As for who, I really can’t say. There are a lot of names circulating out there (like Woodson and McKenzie for example), but I don’t know if it’s the right time to make predictions just yet.

We’ll have to keep an eye on Safety Brent Hafford, too, the rookie free agent that we just signed. Hopefully he ends up being something good for the secondary.

Q-Is it true that it thunders because Jim Haslett is angry? – Luke

If that’s the case, man, he must’ve been ticked this past weekend. Thanks for flooding my yard, JIM!


Keep those questions coming…next time it could be you! Send all questions, comments, or suggestions to thebayoubullet@hotmail.com under the subject “Bayou Bulletin.”

Monday, May 03, 2004
FOOTBALL 101: Two Backs, Four Backs, Five Backs-a-Nickel!
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:52 am CST

If contradiction was ever a word without validation, the NFL is the arena where such an instance has become the norm. Terms like contract, security, and future have gone from mainstays to red flag clichés. More than ever, the free-agency era NFL is a business (an ugly one at that).

And while the emergence of free-agency and salary cap limitations has affected the NFL off the field, it has also made its mark on the field. The game of football at the pro level, until maybe 10 years ago, was not a league of trends and copycats. It was simply a Darwinistic society where the fittest survived. Dynasties such as the 49ers, Cowboys, and Steelers of their eras thrived and dominated. Big-business philanthropists would view such a long, extended era as the glory days. No teams are more grateful for the emergence of free agency than small-market franchises.

Now-days teams seem to change face at the flip of a coin. The league-wide formula “du jour” has become that of the previous Super Bowl winner. Ironically enough, it is this collective mentality that prevents copy-cat teams from reaching the Super Bowl the next season. Such short-sightedness on the part of front offices and coaches is what fuels the continuation of this process.

So if trends come and go like the summer solstice, what logical consistency has or will emerge any time soon?

The answer can be found in the most prevalent trend over the last five years, broadly defined as speed. It started with the offensive emergence of the St. Louis Rams. They introduced the Super Bowl to the spread offense and the NFL to the effects of speed on that side of the ball. The Rams of ‘99 dared teams to stop them and teams responded with more speed, this time on defense.

Positions such as cornerback and defensive end have become a premium because they are usually the fastest positions in their respective corps. Traditional middle linebackers have taken a backseat to converted outside linebackers who excel in sideline-to-sideline pursuit rather than straight-ahead run stuffing. Fading are the positions of fullback and the blocking tight end. In-the-box safeties are becoming less and less sought after in favor of rangie, oversized cornerbacks.

But the defensive position that has thrived the most from the speed trend is that of the cornerback. More specifically, the nickel-back.

For the unacquainted, “nickel-back” refers to the third cornerback on a team's depth chart usually used to combat multiple (meaning more than two) wide receiver looks from an offense. Where a starting-caliber nickel was once a defensive luxury it has now become a requirement for success.

What Warrants the Nickel Package?
Traditionally a defense will use its “nickel” package to match up against an offense’s “spread” package. Nickel-backs were once referred to as third down corners because an offense would not dare spread the field before a third and long situation. Yet in recent years many teams have resided to giving one-back, multiple receiver looks from the onset of a series.

Matters become further complicated when an offense is adept at running the ball out of their spread formation. In order for a defense to have an extra cornerback on the field, they must take a player off. Teams usually look to their front seven to do so, removing a linebacker or, in some sub-packages, a defensive lineman.

So what’s the big deal, Dan?

Well, here is the answer. When an offense has a back who is fast enough to stretch a run and explosive enough to square his shoulders in the hole, a defense will miss that two-down linebacker very quickly. Defenses have responded by seeking out speedier safeties and every-down linebackers in an effort to combat the “spread” offenses without leaving their base packages. Yet these aforementioned players are as rare as a true shut-down cornerback. Such circumstances have changed the criteria for what a nickel-back must bring to the table.


What Makes A Nickel Shine?
While nickel-backs have not yet become “specialists,” they are quickly approaching that status. For now, however, they are those corners who by happenstance lack the attributes, usually physically, to perform in a starting role. Nickel-backs tend to be undersized (5’10 and below) cornerbacks. They are quicker than fast and more-often-than-not lack the speed (or size) to match up against parameter receivers.

But some players can thrive in the nickel role and be a true asset to a team, as Terrell Buckley was to the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots (2001-2002). Teams love a nickel-back who is physical in spite of his size deficiencies. Nickel-backs traditionally play in the slot (area between the line and the outside receiver/corner) and are the defensive back within closest proximity to the trenches. This area requires a physical demeanor. A nickel-back who is a strong tackler and adept as a blitzer adds a luxurious dimension to a defensive sub-package.

More importantly, a nickel-back must be physical because it is his duty to shrink the field through which the inside receiver can operate. A nickel-back does not have the luxury of a perimeter corner who knows before the snap whether to use outside or inside leverage. If an outside cornerback has safety help over the top, he will usually try to force his man to run an inside route (away from the sidelines). If he is on an island (meaning he is isolated on his mark with no safety help), the cornerback will try to force the receiver toward the sidelines. As for the nickel-back, it is his responsibility to determine where to leverage the receiver based on where he commits. It is this reaction-requirement and lack of orchestration which dictates the nature of the nickel-back in man-to-man coverage: he must be physical enough to disrupt routes, quick enough to stay with double moves, and instinctive enough to recognize routes as they unfold.


Scenarios
Scenario A: It is a third-and-seven situation. The offense--which we will call Black Team--huddles with standard spread personnel (one back, one tight end, and three wide receivers). The defense--Gold Team--replaces a linebacker with their nickel-back. The two teams break huddle and line up.

The defensive play called is Eagle Cover-1 Bandit. This would indicate that there will be a strong-safety blitz and the defense will be in “man/free” coverage, meaning man throughout aside from the free-safety. Our nickel-back lines up in press position on the slot receiver, who is sent in pre-snap motion. Black team is using the motion in an effort to create cushion between the slot receiver and our nickel, allowing their receiver a clean break.

They are successful and the slot receiver breaks hard and clean outside at the snap of the ball. Our nickel-back engages him at three yards compensating the clean break with a hard downfield angle. Unfortunately, this causes him to overcompensate, an occurrence which our slot receiver was counting on. The receiver takes our nickel-back nine yards downfield before breaking. He uses our nickel-back's momentum against him as the receiver breaks inside on a button hook, utilizing a slight push-off to disrupt our nickel-back’s balance.

This play will have one of two results: 1) a completion resulting in a third-down conversion or worse; 2) an interception or pass breakup. The outcome will hinge on the recovery quickness, balance, and ability to diagnose and anticipate on the part or our nickel-back.

Scenario B: Our two teams come out in the same packages except this time the down and distance is second-and-13. The defensive play that Gold team calls in the huddle is Fox Cover-0 Joker Fire. This indicates a bracket man-to-man coverage throughout (bracket indicating that the defensive backs man-to-man assignments will be determined by the post-snap commitments of the offense). Joker implicates our nickel-back as the blitz man, with Fire signaling an outside (D-gap) blitz.

The scenario stops here as the outcomes will hinge largely on our nickel-back’s actions as well as those of the entire defense. Black team’s quarterback will be reading everything from our nickel-back’s eyes to his alignment. Best-case scenario, our nickel-back disguises his blitz and remains unaccounted for. He is given a free path at the quarterback's blindside, resulting in a sack, fumble, interception, or incompletion. Worst-case scenario, our nickel-back is too deliberate before the snap and the 0 Coverage is exposed, resulting in a large gain or touchdown.

Scenario C: The down, distance, and formations remain the same. The defensive play called by Gold team is Eagle Cover-2 Slide. This indicates a disguised version of a standard Cover-2 zone defense, giving our nickel back curl-to-flat responsibility against the pass.

Upon the snap, our nickel-back reads a standard level-three drop by the quarterback, indicating pass without play-action. Suddenly the quarterback drops the level of the ball down and hands it the lone runningback. Our nickel-back now has containment responsibility against the run. If he allows the runner to the sideline, this play could go for long yardage.

The linebackers fill their inside gaps and the run is bounced outside. The ball carrier uses his speed to avoid a defensive end in pursuit and turns the corner. The only defender between the runner and miles of open field is our nickel-back.

Depending on how adept our nickel-back is as an open-field tackler, this play will either end in the backfield or in the end-zone. He must be able to diagnose the intentions of the runner, break-down, and tackle him low with both his pads and his arms.


A Newfound Appreciation
While nickel-backs remain largely unappreciated around the league, their role in a defense can sometimes make or break seasons. Not only must they be competent as a regular role player each and every Sunday, but a nickel-back must also be ready to step into the role of a starter as soon as injuries mount. These unheralded warriors contribute as much to the quality of a defense as they do to the depth. So the next time you see an opposing offense forced into a fourth down situation, remember to give the nickel-back a proverbial pat on the back.


TCU Dan's next installment of Football 101 will be a result of popular demand. Feel free to e-mail him with any suggestions.

Thursday, April 29, 2004
Mike Detillier's early look at the top 45 Senior prospects for the 2005 draft.
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:52 am CST

We are just a few days removed from the 2004 draft, but it's never too early to look for the best and brightest for 2005. Here's my take on the top "senior-only" players for 2005.

1. Derrick Johnson-Outside Linebacker Texas
Playmaker deluxe. Has the physical skills to be the most dominant linebacker since Lavar Arrington and Brian Urlacher came out of college.

2. Antrel Rolle-Cornerback Miami (Fla.)
Outstanding one-on-one cover man, who shut down WR. Larry Fitzgerald last season.

3. Shaun Cody- Defensive End USC
Highly coveted prep recruit, who has lived up to the billing. Makes the move from tackle to end this season and that spot is best suited for his quickness and pass rush abilities.

4. Marcus Spears- Defensive End LSU
Former TE. and basketball standout, who is on the verge of a breakout career. Has the perfect combination of size, speed and quickness. Reportedly ran a sub (4.7) 40-yard dash time at over 290 pounds at LSU's scouts day.

5. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams- Halfback Auburn
Outstanding cut-back style runner, who has excellent openfield moves and quickness. He's not super fast, but he makes up for it with great field vision and determination.

6. Marlin Jackson-Cornerback Michigan
Has played both cornerback and safety for the Wolverines, but his ball awareness skills and foot speed are best suited for the cornerback spot in the pros.

7. Anttaj Hawthorne- Defensive Tackle Wisconsin
This 6-3, 300-pound Badger is just not your typical run-stuffer in the middle, but he is also a very active penetrator and pass rusher from the inside.

8. Crophonso Thorpe- Wide Receiver Florida State
Thorpe is rail-thin at 178 pounds, but he has great foot speed and he is a big-play waiting to happen every time he touches the football.

9. Chris Canty- Defensive End Virginia
Like Spears, Canty is another former TE./basketball standout ready to emerge as a big-time defensive threat . His 6-6 ½ frame and outstanding agility make him quite a target for QB's to get around.

10. Corey Webster-Cornerback LSU
Former high school QB., who has honed down his coverage skills so well under Nick Saban in Tigertown that he is now one of the premier cover-men in college football.


11. Andrew Walter- Quarterback Arizona State
Had a disappointing junior campaign at ASU, but he has the size, arm strength, escape ability and accuracy the pros covet.

12. Dan Cody- Defensive End Oklahoma
Tommie Harris got most of the ink last season, but it was Cody who had the better year in 2003. Cody is cut out of the same mold as Seattle's Grant Wistrom and the Bengals' Justin Smith.

13. Jason Anderson-Wide Receiver Wake Forest
He's been hidden a bit from the average fan at WF, but believe me with his speed, size and natural catching skills, he won't be a secret for very long.

14. Wesley Britt-Offensive Tackle Alabama
He's coming off a serious leg injury, but he is a double-tough competitor who excels as a run blocker. If he upgrades his pass protection skills and is healthy, Britt will be picked in the upper-half of the 1st round in 2005.

15. Darrent Williams- Cornerback Oklahoma State
Most of the accolades go to the Sooner DB's, but this Cowboy is some kind of special cover man. Darrent has excellent man-to-man coverage skills and his make-up recovery speed is top-flight.

16. Mark Clayton- Wide Receiver Oklahoma
M.C. is not real big, but he was as dangerous as any receiver in the country last season. His "Run After Catch" skills are outstanding.

17. David Pollack- Defensive End Georgia
Pollack will be downgraded due to his lack of ideal size (6-2, 265), but there isn't a player in the country that plays the game with more passion and football skill. His foot speed and ability to quickly turn the corner make him special.

18. Cedric Benson-Halfback Texas
Former baseball standout, who is a punishing inside runner. He is quick to hit the hole and he will fight for every inch of ground after first contact.

19. Alex Barron- Offensive Tackle Florida State
Barron thought seriously about coming out early for the 2004 draft, but he made the right choice to stay at school another season. At 6-6, 315 pounds, he is quite a physical talent and now he can fine-tune his overall skills as a technician.

20. Jammal Brown- Offensive Tackle Oklahoma
Power-packed tackle who moves very well for a 325 pounder. His run blocking skills are very good and with some refinement work as a pass protector QB. Jason White will have another big season in Norman.

21. Geoff McArthur- Wide Receiver California
Silky, smooth receiver, who seems to always be open. Excellent route runner, who has an extra gear to kick into after the catch.


22. Kevin Burnett- Outside Linebacker Tennessee
Had a major knee injury at the start of the 2002 season, but he's back and healthy now and ready to turn up the heat. At 6-3, 235 pounds he has the size the pros covet and the foot speed opponents fear.

23. Antonio Perkins- Cornerback Oklahoma
Perkins is not only a quality cover cornerback, but he is also one of the most feared return men in college football.

24. Ben Wilkerson- Offensive Center LSU
Wilkerson had back problems in 2003, but he's healthy now and ready to dominate play from the middle again. This Tiger standout has the size, foot speed, intelligence and technical skills most teams just dream about in a center.

25. Donte Nicholson- Safety Oklahoma
Former junior college standout safety who has size, great range and the unique ability to turn up all over the field. Has the strength and quick diagnostic skills to excel as a run defender and the speed and quickness to be quite effective against the pass.

26. Kyle Orton-Quarterback Purdue
Was considered one of the elite QB's in the nation when he came out of Southeast Polk High School in Iowa and he is now starting to play like one of them. Orton is an accurate pocket passer, who has steadily improved each season for the Boilermakers.

27. David Baas- Offensive Guard Michigan
Very athletic offensive guard, who dominates his opponent and he plays the game with a long mean streak.

28. Fred Gibson- Wide Receiver Georgia
This former basketball standout struggled with injuries last season. Tall, very fast end, who needs to get stronger and learn to look the ball in better.

29. Braylon Edwards- Wide Receiver Michigan
Braylon's dad, Stanley, played pro football for 11 NFL seasons so he knows what it takes to play in the big leagues. Edwards has excellent size and he plays a lot faster than he times on the track.


30. Michael Munoz- Offensive Tackle Tennessee
Michael's not the dominant left tackle his dad, Anthony, was at USC, but he's a tough hard-nosed competitor, who is technically sound and a real roadgrader as a run blocker. Like dad, teams will want to check out his surgically repaired knee.


31. Justin Tuck- Defensive End Notre Dame
Tuck is a former prep linebacker who exploded for 19 tackles for losses and 13 ½ QB. sacks in 2003, despite fighting through numerous injuries. Justin has a super quick initial burst off the snap and he has better pass rush skills than his cousin, Adalius Thomas.

32. Kirk Morrison- Inside Linebacker San Diego State
Morrison would have been a top 45 pick if he had decided to come out early. Kirk has excellent foot speed, quick diagnostic skills and he has great range out on the field.

33. Mike Patterson-Defensive Tackle USC
Patterson's only 6-0, but he has superb inside penetration moves and very good pass rush skills. "Baby Sapp" has a relentless motor and excellent football instincts.

34. Ronnie Brown-Halfback Auburn
Shares the carries with "Cadillac" Williams, but he is a tough, very physical runner who has an extra gear to kick into out in the openfield.

35. Dan Orlovsky- Quarterback Connecticut
Strong-armed passer, who has developed good touch and accuracy skills.

36. Michael Boley- Outside Linebacker Southern Mississippi
Former prep RB., who is now putting his outstanding speed and quickness to use at linebacker. Boley covers the field like a blanket.

37. Elton Brown- Offensive Guard Virginia
The "Big-E" is a dynamite run blocker, who has unique quickness for a big man.

38. Jamaal Brimmer- Strong Safety UNLV
Brimmer is a heavy-duty hitter, who is like a magnet to the football.

39. Travis Daniels-Cornerback LSU
Travis is LSU's defensive version of Devery Henderson in 2004. Daniels has played both safety and cornerback and he has a rare combination of excellent size, outstanding foot speed and top-flight pass coverage skills.

40. LeRoy Hill- Inside/Outside Linebacker Clemson
His 6-0 ½, 220-pound frame does not register prototype NFL numbers at the "Mike" linebacker spot, but he is super quick, instinctive and he packs quite a shot with his tackles.

41. Vince Carter- Offensive Center Oklahoma
Very athletic center, who has excellent foot speed and he is a top-flight technician.

42. Alex Smith- Tight End Stanford
Tremendous athlete who has great size, (6-5, 250) and outstanding receiving skills.

43. Jami Hightower-Offensive Tackle Texas A&M;
Quality left tackle, who has excellent agility, quick feet and 1st rate pass blocking skills.

44. Bryant McFadden-Cornerback Florida State
McFadden was regarded as the top prep cornerback in the country when he came out of McArthur High School in Florida. Now, he is starting to play up to those lofty regards.

45. George Gause- Defensive End South Carolina
G.G. has played both DE. and outside LB. for the Gamecocks. Wherever they line him up, he is a constant "pressure" man on opposing QB's..

Tuesday, April 27, 2004
The Bayou Bulletin: Spotlight 1 of 6: Will Smith (Satire)
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:16 pm CST
The Bayou Bulletin: Spotlight 1 of 6: Will Smith

The 2004 NFL Draft is officially over! Done! Finished! Pack up the kids and pick the clothes up from school! The New Orleans Saints picked up six players in this year’s draft: Will Smith, Devery Henderson, Courtney Watson, Rodney Leisle, Mike Karney, and Colby Bockwoldt. These strapping young men will be the newest additions to the Saints roster, having fulfilled their hopes and dreams to officially become players in the National Football League.

The sad part is, from here on out, it’s going to get very, very, boring. The draft is over. Free agents will float hither and dither, but until preseason comes along, there’s not too much to look at. I mean come, I’m in football mode now and it’s what, April?

But never fear, my black and gold comrades! To alleviate the painful lull of the off-season, I shall sacrifice countless minutes to provide you with a weekly, in-depth view of each of our draft pickups! And who better to start with than the top pick of New Orleans, Ohio State DE Will Smith, the 18th overall pick in the draft. So what’s the deal with this guy? Why him, out of all the available players? I know that’s a question asked about every player drafted, so that’s the question I’ll go ahead and answer.

Smith is a very special player because of several key attributes. I have no doubt these attributes are why he was selected, so I will take the time to evaluate each of them. If you read this carefully, maybe even six or seven times, you’ll come to understand their usefulness.

First and foremost, Smith has “feet”. These feet are located at the bottom of his legs. There is a very important thing that these feet allow Smith to do – move. If you break out the history books and look up the players in the NFL Hall of Fame, you’ll find that every single one of them had the ability to move - sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards and sometimes side to side. For ease of understanding, I’ll provide an example of movement:

This ability to move will give Smith an edge when making a run for the quarterback, which would be a luxury Smith would not have if not for feet. But it doesn’t stop there, with feet, he can also follow targets, such as rushers or fumbles. This will enable him to be where the action is, something everyone but punters hope for. So for those of you who like to go to training camp and observe, keep an eye out on this guy and take a moment to look for his feet. When you see them, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Secondly, Smith has “hands”. Hands can be useful for several things, but none more importantly than grabbing. In the NFL, the best way to tackle a player is to grab him and then throw him to the ground. This is made possible not only by Smith’s hands, but also by his fingers. On each hand, he has five of these fingers. They have the ability to bend inward, meaning that when wrapped around an object, they can grip it very tightly. These will further enhance his ability to grab and tackle, something important to defensive players.

Hands are also useful for catching the football. Some of the greatest receivers to ever play the game - Lynn Swann, Jerry Rice, James Lofton, all had hands, too. When used on defense, these hands could assist Smith with tipped footballs or interceptions.

Another characteristic about Smith is the fact that he has “eyes”. These eyes will allow him to “see”. With this advantage, he will be able to direct the movements of his feet and hands with a higher degree of accuracy, thus making him a more complete football player. They are also good for making direct eye contact, something important during communication. Without good communication, good football is near impossible. However, one thing that Smith, as a rookie, will have to keep in mind is that in order to utilize the benefits of these eyes, they must remain open.

I have no doubts that our front office took notice of these feet, hands, and eyes and used them in their decision to draft Will Smith in the 1st round. I cannot argue that logic, so I therefore must concede that this was an excellent pick. With observation skills like that, the Saints will only have bright days to look forward to.

And that wraps up my spotlight evaluation of Will Smith – a man with every tool necessary to be a top-notch defensive end! But it most certainly does not wrap up my evaluation of our 2004 draft picks. Be sure to tune in next week when I take a look at Devery Henderson, the WR out of LSU (who also happens to have feet, hands, and eyes - notice a trend here?).

Until then, Hebert out.

Lee Hebert (The Bayou Bullet)

NOTE: I’m going to be starting something new with the Bayou Bulletin! Each and every week, I will take a moment to answer some of your questions! So just send me an email, ask away, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see your name in text! If nobody sends me any questions, then I’ll just make up some of my own and answer them, so I won’t look like a big loser.

Be sure to title ALL questions/comments/suggestions with the subject: ‘Bayou Bulletin.’

The Case for Will Smith
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:55 pm CST

Dear Saints Fan,

It didn’t take long.

The second-guessing began for Saints Fans only a few gasps after Paul Tagliabue announced, “With the 18th pick in the fist round, the Saint’s select Will Smith, defensive end from Ohio State.”

With well intended concern, the first reaction from fans was, “What are they thinking!’

The Saints finished the 2003 season near the bottom of the league in two important defensive categories; 27th in the league against the run and 28th in average yards allowed per completion. A start was made to address those deficiencies by signing veteran cornerback Jason Craft and defensive tackle Bryan Young during the first wave of free agency. But the popular thinking remained that the Saints had to use their first pick in the draft on a linebacker, cornerback or defensive tackle.

Despite being the first player taken at his position, disgruntled fans argue that Smith does not fill an immediate need on a roster that already features Darren Howard, Charles Grant and an up-and-coming Melvin Williams. No doubt, defensive end is one of the strongest areas on the team. But when the Saints were on the clock, choosing Smith was the best option.

The top rated cornerbacks, D'Angelo Hall (1/8 Atlanta) and Dunta Robinson (1/10 Houston) were already gone. The next corners selected were Chris Gamble (1/28 Carolina); Ahmad Carroll (1/25 Green Bay) and Ricardo Colclough (2/38 Pittsburgh). Trading down for one of them was a possibility, but the end result would have been the acquisition of a lesser player rather than a blue chip prospect.

The same result was destined at other need positions.

Jonathan Vilma, the inside linebacker that most draftniks had placed in the Saints first round bullpen was also off he board, having gone to the Jets with the twelfth pick. Saints GM Mickey Loomis acknowledged an attempt to trade up to the eleventh spot with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers wouldn’t budge. The next middle linebacker taken was Daryl Smith, who lasted until the second round (2/39 Jacksonville).

Denver pulled another possible Saints prospect off the board when the Broncos picked outside linebacker DJ Williams with the 17th selection, immediately before the Saints were on the clock at 18.

The next outside linebacker chosen was Carlos Dansby, by Arizona (2/33). That began a second round run on the position with Teddy Lehman (2/37 Detroit) and Dontarrious Thomas (2/48-Minnesota) gone before the Saints opted for receiver Devery Henderson (2/50). The Saints then elected to take the third inside linebacker in the draft, Courtney Watson, with their second pick in the second round (2/60).

The Saints had the opportunity to address the middle of the defensive line by drafting either University of Miami defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (1/21), or University of Texas defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs (1/23) instead of Smith. There may have been some debate in the war room over that option, but ultimately Smith emerged as the best prospect. According to Mickey Loomis, the Saints could have handed in their card on Smith within the first minute they were on the clock.

No one has complained about Smith as a player. On the basis of his pass rushing ability alone, the Saints should have better pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which translates into less pressure on the secondary.

Smith is a versatile frontline defender who can line up in a three point stance or upright. He has been scouted by NFL analyst and Saints Report contributor Mike Detillier as an every down player. He not only rushes the passer effectively from the inside, the edge and from “space,” but can also drop back in coverage, is a strong open field tackler and is more than adequate against the run.

Teams are always looking for talented players, but the rare combination of talent and versatility is what makes the selection of Smith over the remaining available prospects a no-brainer.

Versatility is the key to creating mismatches in the NFL. The addition of Smith will allow the defensive coaches to develop even more schemes to take advantage of opposing offenses, which will improve the entire defense in the process.

Smith is expected to contribute this year, taking his place in the rotation with the Howard, Grant and Williams. He undoubtedly fills a “need” for the Saints, if the goal of the draft was to improve the defense.

The Saints completed a six player draft selecting defensive tackle Rodney Leisle and fullback Mike Karney in the fifth round and outside linebacker Colby Bockwoldt in the seventh. Loomis traded the Saints third round pick to Washington for the Redskin’s second choice in 2005. The Saints fourth round pick went to New England to complete last year’s trade for Tebucky Jones.

As much as anything else, the Saints must count on improvement from several current players. Donte Stallworth, Boo Williams, Aaron Brooks, Jon Stinchcomb, Montrae Holland, LeCharles Bentley, Melvin Williams, Jonathan Sullivan, Charles Grant, Tebucky Jones and Cie Grant are on the list of those who must play better for the Saints to end a three year playoff draught.

Loomis and Haslett began the player evaluation process shortly after Tom Benson boogied off the Super Dome turf to close the 2003 season. Following the first wave of free agency and the draft they will continue that process, in anticipation of future transactions designed to transform the Saints into legitimate championship contenders in 2004 and beyond.

Until Next Time,

The Editor

Sunday, April 25, 2004
DRAFTING CLASS: Saints Fill Primary Need
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 9:02 pm CST

In one of the most unconventional drafts in recent history, the New Orleans Saints’ approach proved most perplexing. With primary needs at cornerback, linebacker, and defensive tackle, the Saints only chose to address one of these positions on the first day. Instead they spent their first pick on a position considered one of the team’s only surpluses, passed on a premier linebacker via trade, and twice passed on a chance to grab falling stars at the cornerback position. Oh yea, and they traded away their last first-day pick to relinquish a fifth round pick and grab a second rounder next year.

Yet through all of their puzzling decisions, at the end of the day the Saints not only grabbed impact players at value positions, but addressed the character concerns that have plagued this team for the past three years.


THE DRAFT
#18: Will Smith, DE, Ohio State: Resulting from an uncharacteristic passing on defensive linemen early, the Saints were left with no valuable players at need positions. But rather than trade down and grab a need player later in the first round, the Saints chose to grab an impact player in defensive end Will Smith. While the Saints were already deep at DE with high picks Darren Howard and Charles Grant slated as starters, as well as very solid backups in Willie Whitehead and Melvin Williams, the deciding factor in selecting Smith was his admirable character.
The Breakdown: The best pass rusher in the draft, Will Smith showcased both excellent college production (10.5 sacks in 2003) and great workout numbers (4.58 40 yard dash). Despite being slightly undersized (266 pounds), Smith is very strong and maximizes the size that he possesses. And while he excels at rushing the passer, Smith is no slouch against the run. He shows good leverage at the point of attack and is instinctive in his run/pass recognition. Smith is athletic in the open field and fluid in pursuit, showing little wasted motion when changing directions. Smith plays much bigger than he actually is, using his strength and technique to disengage blocks. He is a force against the pass and shows the ability to set up the offensive tackle and use one of his many moves (great spin, rip, and club moves) to slip past them. Smith’s many strengths include his burst, agility, closing speed, polished technique, pursuit, and upper body strenght. But by far his biggest attribute is his character.
Risk: It is hard to find any downside to the selection of Will Smith with the 18th pick. The Saints would have preferred DJ Williams or Jon Vilma, but Smith’s pure value makes up for missing out on an impact linebacker. This selection will also undoubtedly effect the Darren Howard negotiations.
Reward: Not enough can be said about the upside of the selection of Will Smith. His value at the 18th pick cannot be measured in words. The coaching staff will find a way to get Smith on the field and he will surely have an impact, instantly improving the New Orleans sack production. He is a high character guy and fits the Saints’ new criteria for locker-room leadership.

#50: Devery Henderson, WR, Louisiana State: Despite being in position to pick linebacker Dontarrious Thomas or one of many quality cornerbacks at the 48th pick, the Saints opted to trade out of the pick with the knowledge that Minnesota, too, had targeted Thomas. The motivation behind what seemed to be a questionable decision lay partially in the Saints’ quest to relinquish the fifth round pick lost in the Jason Craft trade, but mostly in the opportunity to land a premier athlete and talented receiver in Devery Henderson. Henderson, who will come in with a chip on his shoulder, will bring speed (holds the second fastest 60-meter dash time in LSU history) and quality depth to a receiving corps littered in 2003 by injury and uncertainty. His stellar Senior Bowl performance single-handedly dropped premier cornerback Derrick Strait’s stock to the third round.
The Breakdown: While relatively new to the receiver position, Henderson will benefit coming from an LSU program with a good track record at converting runningbacks into quality wide receivers (Josh Reed). He will provide an instant project for new receiver coach Jimmy Robinson to invest in personally. Despite being arguably the fastest receiver of his class, Henderson is still raw in his route running and pass catching. While he is very natural in the deep game, Henderson has a tendency to break stride and double catch on the shorter quicker routes, hindering his ability to produce after the catch. He will need repetitions to gain zone instincts and more of a feel for the game. It is his inexperience in this aspect that will likely prevent him from supplanting Jerome Pathon as the slot (#3) receiver. Henderson will, however, provide a dangerous deep threat and situational receiver, as well as quality depth and an insurance policy for the oft-injured Stallworth.
Risk: At this point, Henderson is mostly a situational receiver. His instincts as a receiver are raw, which causes him to be more deliberate in and out of his routes, as well as in his pass catching in the short/intermediate game. Luckily he is coachable and should quickly improve in these areas.
Reward: Henderson’s quality presence will make the WR position one of the most competitive in training camp. His potential ceiling is one of the highest in the draft and his coachability will allow him to maximize it. Another great value pick and high-character player acquired by the Saints.

#60: Courtney Watson, LB, Notre Dame: The Saints, again, passed on an assortment of premier cornerbacks for a player who was a slight reach in Watson. And while Courtney Watson may be a reach as a pure draft prospect, his character and work ethic present qualities that could make him a steal as a NFL player in the long run.
The Breakdown: Courtney Watson is an example of a prospect who was underrated due to Notre Dame’s struggles. Considered by some to be a poor man’s Jonathon Vilma, Watson is a player who possesses a good all-around game while not particularly excelling in any one area. As a prospect, he brings a combination of college production (led ND in tackles, including 14 against USC in 2003) and good workout numbers (4.54 40 yard dash). Watson is an experienced and polished inside linebacker, starting for Notre Dame since his sophomore year. He is underrated in coverage and with coaching could become a true three-down linebacker. Watson has great ball skills (four interceptions as a junior), and if he refines his technique in zone and man coverage, he can become a playmaker in the NFL. Against the run he is active and instinctive, showing good use of his hands to disengage at the point of attack and avoid cut blocks. And while he shows good technique in taking on blocks, he is more finesse than one would like at the MIKE position. Watson knows how to keep his feet and stay low, and he rarely over-pursues, showing good angles and adjusting on the fly. He will immediately challenge for a significant role at both the MIKE and WILL positions.
Risk: Watson is a reach as a pure prospect. While his experience is in the middle, the Saints are projecting him primarily at the WILL where his talents may be misused. His potential ceiling is not high, and while Watson is polished, he is not ready to assume a starting role and will, at most, push Cie Grant and Derrick Rodgers for playing time.
Reward: Watson is another extremely high character guy, a quality which the Saints obviously prioritized as a key need. He is a solid prospect who’s game is somewhat reminiscent of Edgerton Hartwell. Watson knows how to maximize a good d-line and with the direction the Saints seem to be going, Watson could become a very productive player for years to come.

#139: Rodney Leisle, DT, UCLA: Rodney Leisle presented great value in the fifth round. Upon acquiring this pick from the Redskins, the Saints had originally targeted FB Mike Karney. But with Leisle on the board, he was too much to pass up. Leisle, originally projected as a sure-fire first-day prospect, fell as a result of a perplexing draft at DT and concerns surrounding his durability.
The Breakdown: Leisle, considered by most to be a “football junkie,” is a versatile player with a great understanding of the game. He is very polished from a technique standpoint and has the size to play in either a 1-gap or 2-gap scheme. This versatility makes him an asset in the Saints scheme, where Leisle could fill both the one and three technique positions in the tackle rotation, as he has the ability to penetrate and hold up against double-teams. Leisle is not a “project” player, as he is very technically sound and knows how to get low and use good leverage at the point of a attack. He has a strong, powerful lower body and makes great use of his hands, but his arms are short and he needs to bulk up a little more. While he does not bring much as a pass-rusher, Leisle is relentless and has a nice assortment of moves. He is fast off the ball and is good but not dominant at the point of attack. Leisle is not a great athlete, but he is a high-motor, high-character guy who could prove to be a steal in the fifth round.
Risk: Leisle stock dropped because of durability concerns. His potential ceiling is low and he does not bring much presence as a pass rusher. He has neither standout athleticism or dominant size.
Reward: Leisle will instantly challenge for a spot in the Saints’ rotation at DT. He has a big body with room to grow and is not a project player, which is a rarity in the fifth round. He is versatile and will be a solid player on running downs. His style of play is reminiscent of another current Saints player, Brian Young. Rodney Leisle is a high-character guy who hangs his hat on toughness, preparation, and hard work.

#156: Mike Karney, FB, Arizona State: Karney is a player I liked from the beginning. He was an underrated prospect and in my opinion, the best fullback in the draft. He played at Arizona State where he was underused but shined at the East/West Shrine game. The Saints targeted Karney once they had acquired the Redskins’ fifth round pick, and after drafting Leisle were immediately on the phone looking for a way to trade up for him.
The Breakdown: Karney showcased his ability at the East/West Shrine game, possessing the best hands of any back or tight end on hand. A very thick, strong player, Karney makes up for what he lacks in straight-line speed with above-average agility and decent burst. As a receiver, he maximizes his run-after-the-catch ability by catching the ball away from his body and on the run. He is tough to tackle in the open field and knows how to maintain momentum and balance. As a lead-blocker, Karney is dominant in isolation plays (reminiscent of Terrell Smith). He proved to be a well-kept secret and will be an instant contributor on the New Orleans offense.
Risk: Very little-to-no risk to speak of. The Saints had to give up a sixth and seventh round pick for this acquisition.
Reward: Karney presented great value in the fifth round and fills a void left behind by departed blocking specialist Terrell Smith. He will instantly challenge veteran Sam Gash for the starting fullback position. He is exactly what the Saints, as well as Saints fans, were yearning for at the fullback position: a player adept both at blocking and receiving.

#240: Cody Bockwoldt, LB, BYU: Bockwoldt presents as good of value as one can expect to find late in the seventh round. He was acquired via a compensatory draft pick awarded to the Saints earlier in the off season.
The Breakdown: Bockwoldt is an intriguing prospect with good straight-line speed and some untapped potential as a pass rusher. While he was a productive playmaking linebacker at BYU, Bockwoldt tends to not play up to his stopwatch time (4.55) and shows some stiffness in his lateral movement. He lacks strength and despite good intelligence, tends to misdiagnose plays and get out of position. Just as Bockwoldt has trouble translating his workout speed onto the field, it is likely he will have trouble translating college production into NFL production.
Risk: Not much risk to speak of with any seventh round pick. Bockwoldt is, at least, bound for the practice squad and, at most, a special teams contributor. I personally was higher on USF product Maurice Jones as a LB.
Reward: Rating draft prospects is an inexact science and with a player like Bockwoldt, you never know what you may be getting.

TCU Dan’s FINAL RATING: B
The Saints addressed a serious need in the character department while grabbing some intriguing, impact players at positions of value. They avoided any serious reaches and made the most of what they were given on many first-day situations. However, I seriously question their decision to trade out of the third round, their last first-day pick, with some premier prospects available, most notably USC cornerback Will Poole. This decision was likely based on the emphasis placed on character from the onset of the draft as well as the Saints confidence that no available cornerback could immediately challenge any of the current corners on the roster. The Saints took the New England Patriots’ approach for draft-day success, opting to trade down on the first day and wait for players to fall to them. Despite a good draft, the Saints will still have to consider improvement via free agency for the remainder of the off season.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The fact that the Saints passed on cornerbacks such as Derrick Strait, Will Poole, and Joey Thomas increases the possibility that they are looking to negotiate a veteran trade. While most fans want to immediately speculate on the situations in Oakland with Charles Woodson and New England with Ty Law, my gut feeling is that the key player, if any, would be Mike McKenzie of Green Bay. Adding another wrinkle to the speculation is Green Bay’s glaring need at defensive end and the fact that they did not address it on draft day. Green Bay would like to make KBG a situational, third-down pass rusher to keep him fresh. Following the selection of Will Smith, the Saints currently have a surplus at the DE position and could face a tough road with franchised player Darren Howard. McKenzie has expressed his disgust with the Packers publicly and influenced Green Bay to draft two corners on the first day (Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas). McKenzie would do exactly what the Saints’ brass said no cornerback available in the second and third rounds would do: challenge the top of our CB depth chart. However, the Saints are comfortable enough to enter the 2004 season with the corners already on the roster, just as they are comfortable enough to enter the season with a surplus at the defensive end position.

Speaking of the DE position, do not think that the drafting of Will Smith in the first round had anything to do with the Darren Howard negotiations, just as the drafting of Deuce McAllister three years ago had nothing to do with Ricky Williams. However, expect the Will Smith pick to ultimately affect the fate of Darren Howard, just as the Deuce McAllister pick ultimately affected the fate of Ricky Williams. Howard is not likely to be as flexible in contract negotiations right after the Saints select a premier player at his position. The Saints would like to keep the issue quiet. Darren Howard is a classy player and will likely not show any public disgust. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howard in a different uniform next season. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him in black and gold.

The first round of the 2004 draft was one of the most hectic and unpredictable in recent memory. Aside from the 10 trades that took place round one, the top 20 picks proved to be very uncharacteristic and ultimately landed the Saints with DE Will Smith. While the run on receivers was to be expected, the lack of an early run on defensive linemen was a huge surprise. Some of the most valuable picks of the draft will prove to be among the defensive linemen taken. Any other year, players like Will Smith, Tommie Harris, and Vince Wilfork would be a premium on draft day. I guess it goes back to the theory of cycling and recycling in the NFL.

I really like the Devery Henderson pick in the second round. Despite having a chance at Dontarrious Thomas, the Saints followed their prevailing strategy of drafting the best player available, so long as he filled at least a minor need. Henderson may be a year away from pushing for a starting job, but what he will bring to the offense and the return game will give the Saints extra depth and something to think about when it comes time for the roster to take its final shape. Do not speculate that picking Henderson will spell the end of Pathon, Stallworth, or any other Saints’ receiver. At least not this year. The Saints’ lack of depth at receiver was exposed last season and they want to garner as many good receivers as they can possibly can. The odd man out in this equation could ultimately be Talman Gardner. Unless he shows some serious development during the off-season, chances are he’ll be hitting the waiver wire sooner than expected.

Even though I said that I consider the Courtney Watson pick a slight reach from a draft-perspective, I really like him as a football player in the NFL. Watson may not possess the pure potential and upside of a Dontarrious Thomas or Daryl Smith, but he is a football player who is very coachable. Watson is a guy who feeds off of the players around him, and the other players also feed off of him. The key to cohesiveness--and ultimately unitary success--in the NFL is mutual on-field relationships like this. At Notre Dame, Watson didn’t have much to feed or feed off of. With the talent the Saints have been acquiring along the d-line, I look for Watson to have a bright future in black and gold.


In closing, I find it interesting that the Saints set out to address the CB and LB positions early. Yet only one of which was addressed in the draft and not with a sure-fire impact player. What this means is that the Saints have remaining needs to fill, even after the closing of the draft. Whether the Saints have enough confidence to fill these from within has yet to be seen, but with free agent Ian Gold still on the market and players like Woodson, Law, and McKenzie on the trading block, it will be interesting to see if the Saints’ brass continues to remain reactive rather than proactive for the remainder of the off-season. It is possible to find success in either method, I just hope that the Saints identify which approach is the best for their ball club.

Monday, April 19, 2004
Steak or Beans? Draft Day Menu Has It All.
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:10 pm CST

Dear Saints Fan,

It's a strange thing, this game of football, and never any more bizarre than in the weeks leading up to the draft. Smokescreens, lying and posturing are the most accurate descriptions of the tidbits we have been devouring recently from "sources within organizations" across the league. This is especially true for those who hunger for word on the Saints' intentions, as Mickey Loomis and Jim Haslett continue to play a shell game with the media and fans.

Before the 2003 Draft was completed, twenty-two moves were made as teams jockeyed for position to select a particular player or acquire more picks. With the same sort of frenzy possible again this year, the Saints choice at eighteen is very much up in the air.

While most observers agree that the team should target defense early and often, serious consideration will have to be given to taking the highest rated player left on the board when the Saints turn their card over to the Commissioner in the first round. Assuming, of course, the Saints stay at eighteen.

In today's NFL, a position of strength on a roster one year could be the next year's weakness. Free agency, injuries, age and the ever-escalating contracts that must be fit under the salary cap result in significant player attrition from one season to the next.

Every season is a rebuilding year. Consequently, there is seldom a position on any team that doesn't benefit from the addition of a top rated prospect to develop into an eventual starter. This dictates a draft day philosophy of taking the best available player in the first round, and then attempting to fill holes thereafter. With a little luck, the highest graded player also fills a need.

When the Saints are on the clock in round one, if the available players are graded closely enough to warrant a "need" pick, Loomis will likely select a defensive player. But if an offensive player falls to the Saints who they have rated significantly higher than the remaining prospects, don't fret if Loomis selects that player rather than reaching for a rookie who has a lesser chance of making it in the NFL.

To further complicate the process, there are probably some six to ten players the Saints have labeled as "can't miss" this year. Loomis has shown in the past that he won't blink at trading up for the right player. However, it is more likely that the Saints would consider trading down this year since the most glaring need, cornerback, was addressed to some extent in free agency with the acquisition of Jason Craft.

The media consensus at this time is that the Saints have their first round sights set on Miami inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Should Vilma be off the board, and there are no other prospects that the Saints have graded high enough to warrant the use of the 18th pick, Loomis could attempt to deal down. The likelihood of this scenario might be enhanced if there is a quarterback or running back left that another team is willing to trade up to acquire.

The draft is a game of hits and misses, despite the scrutiny involved with evaluating a prospect's ability to play the pro game. Reputations are built and jobs are at stake for the people who make the off-season moves designed to insure success once the games begin.

No bigger deal was ever consummated, or had such a widespread impact in New Orleans, than the draft day trade with Washington that secured Ricky Williams. On April 18, 1999 the front-page headline of the Times Picayune read "SAINT RICKY!" The banner on the Sports Section screamed "GIFT FROM ABOVE." The Saints had pulled off a deal that had Saints Fans believing that a new era had begun for their beleaguered franchise.

Since then, the front office and coaching staff that drafted Williams was fired, and Ricky was traded to Miami by the new regime. The only constant before, during and after that time has been a franchise in search of a formula to become Super Bowl champions.

The basic recipe for success is simple-find the right players and put them in a position to win. But shopping for the ingredients and creating a winner has been an elusive process for the better part of the Saint's history. All the while, Saints Fans are paying four-star prices for a menu that has historically featured red beans and rice instead of steak and potatoes.

The 2003 season marked the third consecutive year the Saints failed to qualify for the playoffs. The bottom-line for Saints Fans adds up to nothing less than serious contention for a Championship ring in the year ahead. The quest continues Saturday, when the Saints parlay their draft picks into players.

As usual this time of year, our appetite for football has us optimistic about a new menu of players. But if Saints Fans are force fed another underachieving team in 2004, the call for change will extend beyond the "groceries" to the shoppers and the chefs.

Until Next Time,

The Editor

Monday, April 05, 2004
METEOROLOGY IS EASIER THAN SAINTOLOGY: A Look at the Saints' Draft
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:55 am CST
If predicting the draft is like predicting the weather, then predicting the Saints’ draft is like predicting an earthquake. For all the criticism this Saints’ front office takes from its fans, one thing we cannot criticize is their poker face. For this reason, only one method can be chosen for predicting the Saints draft: deductive logic.


TRENDS AND TENDENCIES
As an amateur or experienced draft analyst, one must first take into account trends and tendencies of both history and the respective team being analyzed (in this case, the Saints).

By gaining perspective on who will potentially be drafted before the Saints, one can gain a better idea of who they will in turn draft themselves.

First you must start out with the concept of value. Which position is this year’s cornucopia--this year’s richest and deepest fountain of talent? The clear-cut and consensus winner is the wide receiver position. The 2004 NFL draft could go down in history as seeing the most potential laden and NFL-ready WR prospects taken in the first and second rounds of the draft. With underclassmen such as Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Williams (pending hearing) as well as physical phenom Roy Williams stealing the top ten spotlight, the path will likely be paved for quality players at other positions to fall further down the boards.

It is almost guaranteed that at least five--likely six--wide receivers could be taken before the Saints pick at 18. If one of the top four or five are not taken by the Saints’ pick, they will strongly consider drafting a WR strictly off of the value they will be acquiring (the draft is at least five-deep with top 10 talent at receiver). However, this is unlikely given the Saints’ needs. The sole benefit of the deep front-end of the receiver class as far as the Saints are concerned will be the players who fall further down the charts toward the 18th pick of the first round.

The position second to the receiver with the highest draft-day premium is that of defensive line. The NFL is largely a league reliant on processes of cycling, in that rich talent comes into the NFL at a position and is reacquired again and again through free agency. This process directly affects the draft by affecting the standard in both rating and drafting players at their respective positions. For example, the cornerback free agent class of this off season represents one side of the recycling process. Top cornerbacks within a draft or two of each other hit the free-agent market both because of, and in-spite of their own talent. Further elaborating, one corner demands a certain contract which their former team thinks would be better served given to a potential free agent at the same position. Therefore you have a mass shuffling of starting caliber CB’s in free agency. A lot of corners have been and will continue to be overpaid as the off season continues, while others will be overlooked monetarily. Same faces, different names.

If the CB position represents one side of the cycling spectrum, then D-line represents the other. The past three drafts have seen an increasing premium placed on the position, with last year’s draft peaking with seven defensive linemen taken in the first round. The reason behind this is the current rarity of finding young, quality, two-way defensive linemen (particularly tackles) in free agency. Teams are very quick to hold on to their free-agent defensive linemen. Unlike cornerback, D-line is a position that requires molding and grooming, not to mention the catering of a system. While a quality, athletic cornerback can fit in almost anywhere, a defensive linemen is largely reliant on a particular system, and certain systems are largely reliant on particular linemen. Hence the mutual benefit between linemen and the respective teams which draft them.

This draft could see last years number of d-linemen drafted in the first round equaled, though likely not exceeded. And while d-line is a position where the Saints could get deeper, it likely will not be addressed in the first round, thereby dropping more talent wayward toward the Saints’ first-round pick.


NEEDS
The second aspect that must be considered is the Saints’ positional needs. Taking into account my above thoughts regarding trends and tendencies, it is clear that the Saints (for the most part) bucked that trend this off season. The current state of the NFL positional cycle would have suggested that the Saints addressed their need at CB in free agency and waited to address defensive tackle in the draft. The Saints did the opposite, acquiring DT Brian Young in free agency and targeting the CB position as a primary draft need.

The 2004 NFL draft has no clear-cut top-ranked CB. Therefore the Saints have to be open-minded in both the courting process and their expectations for who they will and will not take. DeAngelo Hall represents the best combination of upside and immediate playmaking ability in this year’s CB class. With his recent workouts, scouts have Hall going anywhere from #5 to #20. He will likely be the first corner taken. If the Saints want him, they will have to trade up but must not do so prematurely. Ideally, the FO could begin negotiating a draft-day trade with a top-15 team immediately but must wait until Hall clears the top ten as he is a reach any further up.

Of the other top-tier prospects, Dunta Robinson makes the most sense and is the most NFL-ready cornerback in the draft. Chris Gamble is a player which the Saints should avoid in the first round. Despite his athleticism and upside, Gamble will take at least a year before becoming an impact starter (I will elaborate on this later).

The Saints must also consider trading down in the draft. If a player they prefer is not available at #18, they could conceivably trade down into the mid/early 20’s and draft a player like Derrick Strait or Ahmad Carrol while gaining draft picks and flexibility at the same time.

The second position need-wise to CB is linebacker. The lack quality free agent linebackers and current draft-investments on the Saints’ roster have left this position to be filled through the 2004 draft. The best linebacker of the draft is uncontested in most minds: Jonathon Vilma. Vilma’s size--or lack thereof--could be the best thing going for the Saints on draft day. He could easily drop to the 18th pick and will have a greater impact on his respective team than his physically impressive counterpart, D.J. Williams.

Past Vilma, there is a drop-off in linebacker talent but a greater consistency in the depth. Auburn linebacker Dontarrius Thomas is the total package and could easily slip into the late first round like Nick Barnett did last year. He has the athleticism, size, and instincts to play any of the linebacker positions and would be great value if the Saints traded down in the first round or up in the second.

Other prospects such as Daryl Smith and Teddy Lehman represent great value in the second round as either could have an instant impact in any defensive scheme. The Saints will likely invest a first day pick in a linebacker, and likely that pick will be in the top two rounds.


DECEPTION
The Saints have become both famous and infamous for their smoke-screen leading up and into the 2003 draft. Analysts and fans alike had the Saints taking a cornerback in the first round, especially once they traded up to the 6th overall pick of the draft. Instead of taking CB Marcus Trufant, the Saints went the other direction discussed in this article and drafted Georgia DT Jonathan Sullivan.

(In unrelated news, an earthquake shook Tokyo, Japan immediately following the announcement of the Jonathan Sullivan being drafted by the New Orleans Saints. The aftershock of the quake was felt in New York, preventing the Minnesota Vikings from reaching the podium with the seventh pick of the 2003 NFL draft.)

This off season has been no different. Analysts and scouts have said all along that they will not fall for the same deceptive techniques utilized by Jim Haslett and the Saints’ front office. Yet they have been falling for these smokescreens the entire off season, starting with the trade rumors surrounding various members of the Saints WR corps. From the rumors of Joe Horn and Michael Lewis going to Washington to those of Donte Stallworth heading to Oakland, the media has bit rumor upon rumor. And while none of these trades will go through, the lingering thought of the Saints’ disappointment with their current stable of receivers (and their "inadequate blocking") will affect the psyche of any team drafting before and after the Saints. Where there is smoke, there is always a fire, but perhaps this smoke is nothing but another cover for the Saints’ true intentions.

Example:
If you are the Bengals sitting at the 17th pick, waiting to draft a top corner, will you be concerned about the Saints negotiating a leap-frog trade? Of course not since WR Reggie Williams is still on the board at 15. Why would the Saints jump to the 16th pick when they can land a replacement for one of their disappointing receivers without giving up any further compensation?

Cincinnati, you’ve just been smoke-screened.

Of course, this aspect of analysis is primarily speculation, but it gives an insight to how the art of deception is not just a draft-day lie, but rather an ongoing process throughout the off season with the idea of setting your closest observers up only to knock them down on draft day.


FINAL THOUGHTS
I have opted for a Q&A; session for this portion of the article:

Dan,

I really respect your opinions, and I have a question. What are your thoughts on Gamble? Seems he may fall to us. Would he be worth it?

Also, what are your thoughts on guys like Poole, Strait, etc? And as far as the LB's go, which guys would be good fits for us? I'd especially like your thoughts on Lehman.

Thanks for your time,
Clayton (Spud)

>>Clayton,

Thank you for the kind words. I love SR.com and it’s great to get feedback.

I am not a fan of Gamble primarily because I am against drafting a project player. I think the Saints lack playmakers on defense and need someone who could step in right away and have an impact. If Gamble were the only top-three CB left, Vilma was gone and no players of extreme value had dropped hard, I would rather trade down into the 20's and take a guy like Strait or Carrol. Gamble has great size, adequate speed, and incredible athleticism and upside. He is a potential playmaker who has great ball skills and concentration due to his time spent playing WR. However, he is not a very instinctive defensive player and is slower mentally than you'd like. I worry about the time it would take to not only continue to teach him a relatively new defensive position, but to teach him an entire NFL defense at the same time? I am an advocate of drafting an impact player in the first round and Gamble still seems to be a year away (at the least).

I am not a fan of Will Poole either. He has some tools but given his workouts as well as the questions surrounding how much he benefited from the talent around him, I just don't see him as a safe pick before the third round. He just gives me an uneasy feeling and if we took him in the second over other players I would be upset. I love Derrick Strait, and feel that he will be a playmaker wherever and whenever he is drafted. No corner in the draft is as fundamentally sound as he, nor plays the short-intermediate passing game as well (15-20 yards). He has excellent instincts, anticipation, and ball skills. He takes some heat for his 40 time, but it's not like he ran a 4.6. He got sub-4.5 times at his pro-day and that is definitely adequate. His weakness lies in his recovery speed, but his technique and strength in jamming helps compensate for what he may perceivably lack. He is very aggressive and physical against the run. I hear some people saying that Strait is destined for the cover-2, but I strongly disagree. Despite slightly above-average speed for a corner, his awareness in man coverage will help him fit in anywhere. He understands football and has a feel for the game.

Saying Strait is nothing more than a zone corner falls in the same book, in my mind, as saying Vilma can only play the weak-side because of his size. Both of these guys are the most head-strong players at their respective positions and will have an impact wherever they go, wherever they play. I'd love Strait in the first, especially if we could trade down into the low-20's and still grab him (will have to draft him ahead of the Rams at LEAST).

As for the LB's, I am obviously in love with Vilma. I think he will be hands-down the best linebacker from this class. I'd love for him to come here and play the weakside or the middle... he would instantly improve this defense.

There will still be excellent talent in the 2nd round. The guys I want to stay away from are Karlos Dansby (better fit for the 3-4 where he would have a defined role), Michael Boulware (seems to be a poor man's Boss Bailey and is not physical enough... don't want him unless he fell to the 3rd or 4th), and Rod Davis (too one-dimensional). The guy I like the most otherwise is Dontarrius Thomas. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go in the late first round, ala Nick Barnett last year. He would be a perfect fit for our defense and can play any of the linebacker positions. I think he could beat out Hodge and Allen at the SAM, but I would hope his future would be in the middle or on the weak-side. I would love to either trade down and take Thomas late in the 1st or early in the 2nd (would probably have to trade up in the 2nd).

Daryl Smith is another guy I love. He has a great mean-streak and plays physical, but sometimes doesn't seem physical enough for his particular style of play. You can tell he lacks some lower-body strength. However he could instantly start in the middle and have an impact. Great player and I think will be a steal who could even fall to our second 2nd round pick (unlikely... would take him w/ the first 2nd round pick).

I also like Lehman a great deal. While he plays aggressive, he doesn't play mean enough sometimes. Seems to be very controlled which both helps and hurts him. Rather than attacking, he will pick his shots and sometimes wait on a play as to prevent the big play. This is good and bad, because it keeps teams from breaking the big one but he misses out on some big-play opportunities for himself. Lehman is an every-down player, and contrary to most scouts I believe his future could be in the middle. He reminds me a lot of Urlacher... they have the same style of play. I would love Lehman in the second round and I think he could instantly step in and start.

My preference on CB and LB.

CB: Hall, Robinson, Strait, Carrol
LB: Vilma, Thomas, Lehman, Smith

Hope this helps you, Clayton.

-Daniel<<

TCUDan,

I love your articles for Saintsreport.com! I hear you’re on board with the OTC crew now! You guys are going places… any idea when you’ll have your first article out?

As for the Saints, not much seems to be different personnel-wise. Which group (WR, d-line, etc.) do you see being the most improved next year?

Also, how much impact will Boo Williams have on the Saints offense.

Keep up the good work man!

Aimless-Saint

>>Aimless,

Thank you for the kind words. You really have to give all the credit to Furcal (Larry), SaintGreg (Greg), and bozoka45 (Andrew) for the OTC site. They do an excellent job with the interviews and all-around with the site. I’m honored to be a part of what they are doing and should have an article up within the week.

The d-line will, by far, be the most improved group next season. With the continuing growth of Sullivan, Grant and Howard, coupled with the hiring of Pease and addition of a blue-collar, high motor guy in Brian Young, this unit could potentially dominate the competition. It will be the key to our defense. Success on the front-end has a ripple effect throughout the entire defense. As the d-line improves, you will see greater consistency reflected by the linebackers and the defensive backs.

As for Boo Williams, I can easily see him putting up pro-bowl numbers next season. He creates tons of mismatch problems for opposing defenses. He is a force over the middle and despite splitting time with Conwell, the only thing that can hinder Boo is himself.

Look for great things next season from Boo Williams.

-Daniel<<

Dan,

Love your analysis! You express knowledge beyond your years. From one student of the game to another, I am genuinely impressed with your work.

Despite his open concern with the fate of the Mike position, Haslett continues to support Cie Grant as “the answer.” What is possessing Haslett and Winston Moss to put our faith in an inexperienced project at one of the most integral defensive positions? Do they see something that I don’t?

Obviously the Saints will look to draft a linebacker early. Do you see them grabbing a potential Mike. Is it true that the defensive system centers more around the Will?

Also, what are your thoughts on Craig Nall. I see that ya’ll prepped together in Alexandria. He lit up NFL Europe last year and I was wondering if you think he has a strong chance as the eventual successor to Favre.

Thanks for your articles and your posts on the website.

-Luke

P.S. Good luck with the back hair thing!

>>Luke,

Thank you for the kind words. Encouragement is one thing that you can never get enough of.

I am as uneasy about the current state of the MIKE position as you are. I think the support of Cie Grant is partially to build some confidence and partially because he is ahead of where James Allen and Sedrick Hodge were on the learning curve at this time in their development. Grant is a hard worker and possesses some great reaction instincts and up-field aggressiveness that would make him ideal for the weakside. However, he is a player that Haslett has invested in personally and wants to succeed on the inside. Despite his inexperience, I think he has a much better chance at being successful than Hodge or Allen.

I don’t think anyone on the current roster will deter the Saints from looking at LB early.

As for the defensive scheme centering around the WILL, this is both true and false. The Saints play a pretty traditional version of the 4-3 OVER, which basically centers around a playmaker on the inside (WILL is essentially an inside ‘backer on most base formations). The focus of the defense is largely dependent on who is in front of the LB’s and how their roles are defined. Your primary playmaker can be the WILL or MIKE… I think the important thing for the Saints is to find a playmaker at one of the two positions.

As for Craig, I never actually prepped WITH him as he was a senior when I was in eighth grade. The Packers were (and may still be) trying to negotiate a trade for Tim Couch. I think regardless of who they bring in, there will be open competition in Packer camp after Favre retires. Craig is a very smart player and was overlooked at LSU and is overlooked by most league-wide scouts. However the Packers remain very high on him and he had an excellent showing in NFL Europe last off season (led all QB’s statistically). He has a great opportunity in Green Bay but it will be an uphill battle. Regardless I think he has the tools to start in the NFL.

As for your back hair comment, perhaps I should stay away from the EE board for a while. You guys are vultures over there.

Thanks again Luke. I hope I was helpful.

-Daniel<<

If you have a question you would like to have answered, feel free to PM TCUDan or e-mail me at any time.

Monday, March 08, 2004
In the beginning ... of Saints free agency
By
Lightningbug - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:51 am CST

On the first day, the Saints created The Worrier.
Like re-signing the players you'd like to keep is not a thing you'd worry about otherwise.,

New Orleans inks Fakhir Brown on Wednesday. He's an average corner who plays above average for the Saints -- and somebody, sure, who needed New Orleans as much as it needed him.

Still, the fourth-year veteran played in all 16 games for the Saints last season, notching 29 tackles - matching his highest total ever.

New Orleans then also signs Derrick Rodgers, a linebacker that coaches think will play a key role next season.

Acquired from the Miami Dolphins for a couple of magic beans -- the seventh-round draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft -- Rodgers posted a career-high 107 tackles in his first season with the Saints to rank second on the club.

By the way, The Worrier was the same guy who, later on Wednesday, also said: 'Well, they signed those guys -- but who else? Running back Aaron Stecker is injury prone.'

Stecker, 28, was one of the more hotly pursued middle-level free agents on the opening day of the market. He was -- along with, get this: Rams DT Brian Young -- one of ESPN.com's top 'sleepers' in free agency.
Dusk falls on the first day.

On the second day, the Saints created The Back Tracker.
The guy who said: 'Well, they are signing some of their players, but not the key guys. They aren't being aggressive enough."

Does Fred Thomas ring a bell?

The best cover corner that New Orleans has had since 2000, Thomas' Thursday signing (after being hotly pursued by the NFC's runner up in Philly) opens the door for a flood of free agent visits to New Orleans -- primarily at defensive tackle.

But first, to review: Last year, Thomas had a team-high four interceptions and posted a career-best 99 tackles.

The club seems to have settled on replacing Dale Carter at the other corner in the coming draft. That's perhaps expected, given that Carter is scheduled to receive a base salary of $2.9 million this season and is due a $1 million roster bonus in July. He will be 35 in November, while fellow CB Ashley Ambrose will be 34 in September.

Later that day, the Saints welcome St. Louis DT Brian Young -- who had 35 tackles last season, two sacks and two forced fumbles as a starter in 12 games. Despite starting 31 games since 2000 - and tying a franchise record with five fumble recoveries last season - he was a salary-cap victim.

He leaves without a deal. But he comes back. Like Fred McAfee, he comes back.

On the third day, the Saints created Free Agency Blindness.
The guy who said: 'Hey, why didn't we go for Portis?'

A common malady among fans, it causes them to fail in the realization that everybody loses free agents -- except, so far, the Saints ... even while other teams are being raided.

WR Joe Horn (who extended his contract by three years last June), TE Boo Williams and -- the new guy -- WR Germaine Crowell were all nailed down before the signing period began and they dropped like stones across most radar screens.

To review: Williams, eligible to be a restricted free agent, started the last six games of 2003 and led the team in catches with 29 for 347 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, he had a career-high 41 receptions for 436 yards and five TDs, the highest totals for a Saints tight end since 1998.

Crowell, meanwhile, has seen his career marred by injuries. But a considered, one-year deal is appropriate for a player whose best season in Detroit (1999) found him catching 81 passes for 1,338 yards and seven touchdowns.

And Joe? Well, 900-something yards might be disappointing for Horn, but it ain't disappointing for half the teams out there.

In fact, FB Terrelle Smith is the only priority the club mentioned before March 3 that remains unsigned -- outside, of course, of DE Darren Howard, who has been given the franchise tag.

Dark clouds roil up on the end of this day, as backup TE Walter Rasby threatens to leave for Washington, where he played from 2000-01. Walter Rasby, I say.
Not Deuce McAllister. Not Horn. Not LeCharles Bentley.
Walter Rasby. Who caught six passes for 55 yards last season.

On the fourth day, the Saints created The Impatient Conspiracy Theorist.
The guy who said: Buy your Astros tickets now.

New Orleans was complacent. New Orleans was stupid. New Orleans was finished before the draft, before the roster cutdowns, before training camps.

Reason: As several of the many who were considering offers ... then proceeded to consider their offers ... no signings came.

We were left to smaller tasks on Saturday ... Yard work. Painting the baseboards. Arguing over DeAngelo Hall's ability to start out of college.

Why not bash New Orleans for being unable to sign standout DE Darren Howard? It was, you know, the first time in six years that the Saints used the franchise designation.

The move came one day before the NFL's deadline to declare franchise or transition players -- and after club officials unsuccessfully tried to sign their best defender to a long-term contract at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
What's up with that?

A franchise tag restricts Howard's ability to sign with another team during free agency. Still any team can offer Howard a contract -- though the Saints have the right to match the offer. If the Saints declined to match, Howard's new team would owe them two first-round draft picks as compensation.

Compensation? Everybody else did a better job at this, right?

It happens. The Colts had to franchise QB Peyton Manning while talks continued in front of his eye-popping contract signing. Seattle's Pro Bowl tackle

Walter Jones has been franchised three times.

Baltimore corner Chris McAllister and St. Louis tackle Orlando Pace have been tagged twice.

Heck, Washington tagged Champ Bailey and he was still traded to Denver.

And so, there were smaller intrigues ... Harvey Hornet pleaded for mercy from those who tired of his darkly pragmatic approach to criticism. Dre asked whose opinion was most valued -- and got a fitting response from Chairman_LMAO: A posted photos of a bunch of bananas.

Of course, this is better than Sunday, where we spent about an hour trying to discern if the Saints had signed Brian Young (disruptive, overachieving tackle) or Bryant Young (not the guy that the Saints signed).

On the fifth day, the Saints created the Big-Signing Amnesiac.
The guy who said: 'Sure I was calling Loomis names that would make my grandmother's hair fall out on Saturday ... but it's SUNDAY ... and we signed Brian Young!'

But, are you sure it isn't BRYANT Young, dude? He SUCKS!

A fifth-round draft choice by the Rams in 2000, this Young elbowed his way into a starting position with St. Louis and never gave it up -- despite some storied intrusions from first-round draft choices Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett. He has started 31 games for the Rams -- and, with his signing on Sunday, is expected to do the same with the Saints.

New Orleans, fifth from the bottom in rushing yards allowed last season, had made signing a tackle of Young's demeanor and reputation one of its primary directives in this free-agency period. That they achieved that, along with signing Thomas, should make the end of this creative week all the more entertaining.

See, on the sixth day, the Saints ... might do just about anything.

We really don't know. And that's the twinkling magic of this time of year, when you are never faced with the bitter reality of the actual team taking the field on the seventh day.

Nobody loses in the off-season. Every signing is a stud -- and all of it is just preamble to the grand-daddy of all dream machines every April.

The NFL's mandated cuts now make the late summer its own kind of drama. But between then and now, there is Hall to be argued. And Vilma. And Robinson. And more.
Does anybody feel an NFL Draft in here?

Ah, yes. February is over: Weeds are squirming out in the yard. Bond issues are back on the ballot. People are washing their cars again. And somebody out of college -- the fact that it might be a kid whose real last name is Gamble just kills me -- is going to take the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl.

I just know it.

Monday, February 02, 2004
INSAINT-ity: Preparing for a Crazy Offseason
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:17 pm CST

FINDING THE KEY
With the conclusion of the Superbowl, the 2003 NFL season is all but a distant memory. Staff and personnel of all 32 teams must focus onward toward the 2004 season. But in order to look forward, one must first look backward. After all, the past is the key to the present, and in this case the future.


WHERE OH WHERE TO START
How bout from the top? For the New Orleans Saints, there is not much more change to be expected. Only two coaches did not receive contract renewals. Defensive line coach Sam Clancy and wide receiver coach Hubbard Alexander were both allowed to walk. While Clancy and Alexander were favorites among the players, they obviously were not held to such high esteem by Jim Haslett and the decision-makers. The reasoning probably lies in the fact that they were too friendly with their pupils. Their vacated positions were quickly filled by John Pease (did not coach in 2003) and Jimmy Robinson (New York Giants).

I understand the reasoning behind the decisions, but I do not agree. Clancy and Alexander were two of the more successful assistant coaches in New Orleans over the past few years with the development of players such as Darren Howard and Charles Grant, not to mention the emergence of Joe Horn. Clancy’s problem seemed to lie not in developing young talent, but motivating established veterans (i.e. Grady Jackson and Norman Hand) whereas Alexander had no problem getting the most out of his vets (Joe Horn, Willie Jackson). It is hard to say if the slump Donte Stallworth experienced this season was a result of Alexander’s inadequacies as a coach or his own immaturity. When you look at the development of guys like Michael and Derrick Lewis, it is hard to accuse Alexander of not being able to develop young talent. The bottom line is that too many balls were dropped this season, both literally and figuratively, leaving little to justify renewing Alexander’s contract in the collective consciousness of the Saints’ front office. But the question still nags in our minds: if Alexander and Clancy’s results did not justify contract renewal, then how did linebackers coach Winston Moss justify his?


OFFENSE: SEARCHING FOR CONSISTENCY
Little to no significant changes are to be expected on the offensive side of the ball. When a team is young and talented on either side of the ball, pinpointing a reason for underachievement is like predicting the weather. You have to divide it down into ratios and percentages. Which players were your consistent players? Of your inconsistent players, how often did they show flashes of brilliance? Ultimately, the offensive deficiencies of the 2003 New Orleans Saints have been chalked up to youth and immaturity, and rightfully so. The only significant change to be expected is at center, where Kendyl Jacox (not LeCharles Bentley) will most likely take over at center, with Montrae Holland filling his position at left guard. It is yet to be seen if Jerry Fontenot will return for another season as a Saint.
Tight end Boo Williams was locked up for the next three years recently and is the favorite among Saints fans to win the starting tight end job in 2004.

Primary Need(s): Experience
Key Free Agents:
Jerry Fontenot (C): Just shy of being a 15 year veteran, Fontenot proved this season that he still has what it takes to be a starter. But with the plethora of youthful O-line talent at the Saints’ disposal, it is unlikely Fontenot will be asked back as a starter.
Spencer Folau (OT/OG): Provided much-needed depth down the stretch before his knee injury. Was beat out by Victor Riley for the starting RT position, which Riley justified throughout the season. Is a versatile player but will most likely look for a starting position elsewhere.
Terrell Smith (FB): Linebackers may not fear his receiving ability, but they definitely do not take his blocking lightly. Perhaps the most consistent offensive player, Smith took care of his business on every down. Deuce McAllister would probably be willing to pay Smith’s signing bonus himself.


DEFENSE: SEARCHING FOR UNITY
When talking about the New Orleans Saints defense two words comes to mind: “roller coaster”. While the unit was much improved when compared to last year’s group (18th overall instead of 27th), they still failed to stop the run. The problems ranged from lack of talent and experience to lack of health. The interior defensive line was young and inexperienced, leaving them to be manhandled. The only thing consistent about the New Orleans DT’s is that they consistently found themselves in the seemingly ever-exposed laps of the linebacking corps. The linebackers, while we’re on the subject, suffered from season long case of “bad-angle-itis,” which can be somewhat attributed of having to navigate around 600 pounds of beef in their faces. They lack speed in the middle and power on the outsides. Obviously this area will be addressed this off-season.
On a positive note, the back end of the Saints defense seemed to hold up well throughout the season. An infusion of youth at cornerback should help improve a consistent unit (the key word being unit). The Saints defense must strive to become unitary, and from there they will develop consistency.

Primary Need(s): CB, LB, DT
Key Free Agents:
Darren Howard (DE): Howard is at the top of the priority list for the Saints’ off season. Despite his injury, he will be asking for top-10 money, and the Saints will be willing to pay it. The situation is good for both parties, so expect to see Howard back in black and gold for 2004.
Fred Thomas (CB): The best Saints cornerback over the past three years, Thomas remains overlooked around the league and even in New Orleans. Despite being undersized, Thomas is a fearless hitter and is like glue in coverage. He is a favorite of Haslett and with the big name corners looking to test the free agent waters, I would expect Thomas to return as a Saint after briefly exploring his options.
Derrick Rodgers (OLB): Rodgers was serviceable as a starter but cannot be relied upon as a playmaker. He could come back next season as he is a New Orleans native and was the most consistent of the group. The saints are looking to upgrade the linebacking corps, so a starting position won’t be a given.
Charles Woodson (CB, Raiders): Woodson seems hell-bent on getting out of Oakland and Haslett would love to have him in black and gold. Oakland won’t pay him what he wants as they have drafted corners in the first round the past two years in anticipation of Woodson’s departure. And while McAllister and Bailey are likely to be franchised, Woodson will almost certainly be an untethered free agent. The Saints will make a serious play for Woodson, but it is likely he will land elsewhere.
Ahmed Plummer (CB, 49ers): One of the younger, more talented free agent corners, Plummer is not in the same class as Bailey, Woodson, and McAllister, but is easily a starter who has not reached his full potential. He possesses a great combination of size and speed and is adept at both man and zone coverage, while not particularly excelling in either category. Plummer is likely to make the trek over to New Orleans in the off-season.
Fernando Bryant (CB, Jaguars): Bryant is young, underrated, and will likely be a fallback option if the Saints cannot land Woodson or Plummer. Bryant is the closest thing to Fred Thomas aside from Freddy himself. He is an undersized corner who excels in man-to-man coverage and does not mind getting his nose dirty against the run. He does not bring in many interceptions because most teams choose to pick on Jason Craft, Bryant’s counterpart.
Al Wilson (MLB, Broncos): The cream of the linebacking crop this off-season, Wilson will probably be lightly courted by the Saints and opt to sign elsewhere. Look for the Saints to sign a second-tier linebacker and address the need early in the draft.
Robaire Smith (DT, Titans): One of the better two-gap tackles in the league today, Smith is on the wish list of just about every Saints fan. The front office knows that they need veteran presence and experience at the defensive tackle position, and Smith would immediately solidify the unit against the run. Johnathon Sullivan needs a solid, experienced player next to him so he can develop into the disruptive force the Saints had in mind when the drafted him. Look for the Saints to make a serious play for Smith that could last throughout the better part of the free agency period.


WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE
Look for Big Years from These 5 Players:
Joe Horn (WR): While fighting through inconsistency and dropsies, Horn suffered his first sub-1000 yard season since donning black and gold. Horn took the release of his mentor and position coach in Hubbard Alexander personally. Look for Horn to recommit himself as he does every year and get back to putting up pro-bowl numbers.
Aaron Brooks (QB): Brooks situation hardly epitomizes what many would recognize as “ideal.” After finishing with a career high passer rating (89) and a career low interception total (8), Brooks can only expect for the Jake talk to heat up. Unfortunately he has no control over the opinions of his so-called fan base. Look for Aaron to further improve his numbers next year with experience and consistency at receiver (and a new-found target in Boo Williams) and addressing ball security in the off-season.
Deuce McAllister (RB): After recording a historic nine straight 100-yard games, McAllister’s production fell off late in the season as a result of wear and tear on his own body as well as an injury-plagued Terrell Smith. The scary thing is that McAllister is only going to get better as long as he stays healthy. Look for McAllister to continue to expand his role in the passing game while remaining a consistent 1700 yard rusher.
Boo Williams (TE): After cracking the lineup at midseason Boo put up the best numbers by a Saints’ tight end since Cam Cleeland’s rookie season. He has improved as a blocker and causes tremendous matchup problems down the middle of the field. Williams could easily find a roster spot in Hawaii next season.
Charles Grant (DE): Started hot and then cooled off as the season progressed. An improved interior line will keep the double teams off of him from time to time. While not as disruptive as Darren Howard, Grant is the most athletic of the Saints d-linemen and is a mean hitter. He embraces the physical part of the game and could be the sack leader in New Orleans for years to come.

5 Players Who Need to Step Up:
Donte Stallworth (WR): Incurred the wrath of the fans and coaches as he spent more time in the training room than on the field. But when he was on the field he changed the way teams defended the Saints. Stallworth’s talent has not faultered but his maturity must improve. Usually star receivers emerge in their third year, so Stallworth’s time has come. His ability to not only elude and evade, but quite simply break tackles is second to none among receivers. He is among the top in the league when it comes to “threat after the catch” if he can stay on the field.
Tebucky Jones (FS): Looked lost for the better part of the season and showed a glaring deficiency when it comes to tackling. Did not justify his contract by any means and was hardly a playmaker. Tebucky needs to not only learn to tackle, but learn to take angles as well. He finally showed that he had arms in the season finale, not only wrapping up in his tackles but snagging an interception in the red zone as well. Hopefully he will pick up where he left off in the off season.
Keyou Craver (CB): Showed his worth on special teams this season by stepping in for the injured Michael Lewis, but still needs to prove himself as a defender. Is not a huge liability as the Saints only invested a 4th round pick in him, but Craver is entering his restricted free agent year and will have to improve his on-field production if he expects a worth-while tender. Lacks great speed in man to man coverage and experience in zone coverage, but is a great natural athlete possessing excellent agility and the best vertical leap of any player on the Saints roster. With the Saints looking to the free agency and early draft to bring in talented cornerbacks, Craver could either find himself the odd man out or simply “the man” if he can live up to his potential.
Sedrick Hodge (OLB): Has shown overall improvement in his game but has hardly lived up to his physical potential. Is not the most instinctive player and seems to have trouble mastering the intricacies of the position. Finds his way to the ball but still doesn’t make enough plays. Hodge is a player that is hard to read and will enter next season as the starter. Let’s just hope the light clicks on.
Johnathon Sullivan (DT): Being the 6th overall pick of the 2003 draft, Sullivan is not allotted as much time to develop as most of the other first year players. He suffered early from being paired next to a lazy Grady Jackson and suffered late from being paired next to youthful yet inexperienced tackles in Kenny Smith and Kendrick Allen. Sullivan made strides in his game throughout the year and his production mirrored that of other highly touted rookie DT’s in the past. Ultimately, the Saints improvement against the run will hinge on Sullivan’s development.


FINAL THOUGHTS
Whether you love or hate Aaron Brooks, Jake Delhomme, the Saints or the Panthers, you have to give Jake his due, plain and simple. Had Jake stayed in New Orleans I don’t think the situation would be any better, as New Orleans would now be dealing with a QB controversy and most likely the same record that they ended the 2003 season with. Jake landed in a better situation in Carolina, on a team which saved their best ball for the playoffs. He found a home with the Panthers and I wish him the best, but I am still glad that Aaron Brooks is our quarterback.

I found it interesting reading the reports of Jim Haslett having extensive conversations with Oklahoma cornerback Derrick Strait. The thing I love about Strait is that what you see is what you get. I look at the other CB’s entering the draft, and there are guys like Chris Gamble (OSU) and DeAngelo Hall (Va. Tech) who are great athletes, but still raw, developmental players. Then you have guys like Dunta Robinson (SCU) and Will Poole (USC) who are rated below the above three, but are expected to put up big workout numbers. Give me a guy like Derrick Strait, someone who is has middle of the road speed and athleticism (when compared to the top 5 corners) but is technically sound and gives 100% in every aspect of the game. To me, he is the safest bet in this year’s cornerback class. He reminds me of a more humble Chris McAllister.

Speaking of cornerbacks, Keith Smith of McNeese State is going to end up being a steal for someone in the mold of Charles Tillman. The only question surrounding Smith is the level of his competition. I would be thrilled if the Saints grabbed Smith with their second pick of the second round.

While we’re on the subject of the draft, I think it is easy to recognize who the best linebacker in the draft is. Johnathon Vilma is going to make some franchise very pleased. Not only is he super athletic and physical, he plays with an intensity that is unrivaled among draft prospects. The knock on Vilma is his size. Does anyone remember what the knock on Ray Lewis, Takeo Spikes, Keith Brooking, and Brian Urlacher was when they entered the draft? Let’s face it, any draft report you read on a highly touted MLB prospect is going to read “May be too small for the middle. Could move outside.” Vilma is going to be a great middle linebacker in the NFL.

Last but not least, some readers may or may not be wondering why Cie Grant is not on my list of players who need to step up. The reason I didn’t include Cie is because he was a third round pick a year ago and was a very raw, project player. If he is starting material by next season I would be pleasantly surprised. I will say this: with the immediate need the Saints have at linebacker, Cie Grant better make sure he doesn’t go unnoticed. Otherwise, he could fall by the wayside to a first-round draft pick or big name free agent, if not both. I think his future is ultimately at the weakside linebacker position rather than in the middle.


WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
When a team escapes the endless cycle of personnel turnover, it usually escapes the endless cycle of mediocrity. The Saints seem to be emerging from the early rotation of purging and ingesting player after player, off-season after off-season. The biggest proponent for the success of this young team is time and experience. Aside from parity, that is about all one can count on in the NFL.

Thursday, January 29, 2004
Mike Detillier's 2004 Mock Draft
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:59 pm CST

1. San Diego Chargers- Eli Manning-QB. Mississippi
2. Oakland Raiders- Larry Fitzgerald-WR. Pittsburgh
3. Arizona Cardinals- Ben Roethlisberger-QB. Miami (Ohio)
4. New York Giants- Robert Gallery-OT. Iowa
5. Washington Redskins- Kellen Winlsow II-TE. Miami (Fla.)
6. Detroit Lions- Sean Taylor-S. Miami (Fla.)
7. Atlanta Falcons- Tommie Harris-DT. Oklahoma
8. Cleveland Browns- Shawn Andrews-OT. Arkansas
9. Jacksonville Jaguars- Roy Williams-WR. Texas
10. Houston Texans- Kenechi Udeze-DE. USC
11. Pittsburgh Steelers- Dunta Robinson-CB. South Carolina
12. New York Jets- D.J. Williams-OLB. Miami (Fla.)
13. Buffalo Bills- Will Smith-DE. Ohio State
14. Chicago Bears- Vince Wilfork-DT. Miami (Fla.)
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Michael Clayton-WR. LSU
16. San Francisco 49ers- Reggie Williams-WR. Washington
17. Cincinnati Bengals- Chris Gamble-CB. Ohio State
18. New Orleans Saints- DeAngelo Hall-CB. Virginia Tech
19. Minnesota Vikings- Karlos Dansby-OLB. Auburn
20. Miami Dolphins- Philip Rivers-QB. North Carolina State
21. New England Patriots- Steven Jackson-RB. Oregon State
22. Dallas Cowboys- Kevin Jones-RB. Virginia Tech
23. Seattle Seahawks- Randy Starks-DT. Maryland
24. Denver Broncos- Will Poole-CB. USC
25. Green Bay Packers- J.P. Losman-QB. Tulane
26. St. Louis Rams- Derrick Strait-CB. Oklahoma
27. Tennessee Titans- Vernon Carey-OG./OT. Miami (Fla.)
28. Philadelphia Eagles- Michael Jenkins-WR. Ohio State
29. Indianapolis Colts- Jonathan Vilma-LB. Miami (Fla.)
30. Kansas City Chiefs- Dwan Edwards-DT. Oregon State
31. Carolina Panthers- Ben Troupe-TE. Florida
32. New England Patriots- Jake Grove-OC. Virginia Tech
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Jake vs. Aaron
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:27 am CST

I wanted to use the phrase “let’s beat a dead horse” as the title of this article, but since Jake Delhomme is fond of the ponies, I’ll refrain from using it. Since Delhomme has led the Carolina Panthers to the promised land in his first year as a starter, it seems that the only thing on Saints’ fans minds is how the Saints let another one get away. After 37 years of following frustrating football, how could you think of anything else? Unless Aaron Brooks leads the Saints to a Super Bowl, the Black and Gold faithful will always be tormented with the question of “what if Jake would have been our quarterback?”

Unfortunately, the ultimate reason for Delhomme’s departure from New Orleans was the result of bad management decisions by the current regime. This controversy began when Randy Mueller was fired. How you may ask? Mueller didn’t want to sign Brooks to a long-term deal going into the 2002 season. Instead, he was willing to let Brooks play out his last year on his original contract, and let his play on the field determine his value for his next contract. Mueller got the axe, and Brooks held out of training camp, refusing to report until he was paid like an upper-echelon quarterback. Jim Haslett and Mickey Loomis caved in, and gave Brooks what he wanted, sealing the fate of Delhomme. Once Brooks signed that contract, Haslett was married to Brooks.

Let’s face it; Aaron Brooks is unquestionably more physically gifted than Jake Delhomme. But, as it seems with several other personnel decisions that Haslett/Loomis have made, they tend to become more enamored by athletes than by football players. While I can understand why they started Brooks over Delhomme at the start of the 2002 season, it just boggles the mind as to why they started Brooks over Delhomme at the end of the 2002 season.

Jim Haslett told the media over and over that Brooks was not hurt during the last part of the season, yet as we all know now, Brooks was hurt. When asked why Delhomme wasn’t put into the Carolina game last year, when it was obvious that Brooks was struggling throwing the ball, Haslett stated, “He’s the general. He’s the boss. Usually during a war, you don’t take the general out and give him a break and let the sergeant run it.” Which is true, unless the general gets too hurt to do his job effectively. Of course, there is no telling how far the Saints would have gone with Delhomme at the helm last season, but when you figure that the Saints beat three of the five remaining playoff teams last season, including the Super Bowl champions twice, you got to believe they would have had a good shot at going all the way.

Is this Aaron’s fault? No, and true Saints’ fans should rally around this kid, because like it or not, he’s going to be the starter at least one more season and Delhomme isn’t coming back anytime soon. I don’t think it is fair to Brooks to constantly compare him to Delhomme simply for the fact that Delhomme is obviously playing for a better-run franchise. Kerry Collins, a former Saint quarterback, made it to the Super Bowl three years ago, but I don’t know anyone who would take Collins over Brooks. The bottom line is if Aaron Brooks were the quarterback in Carolina and Jake Delhomme was the quarterback in New Orleans, Carolina would still be in the Super Bowl this season.

At this point, as hard as it may seem, the ultimate question is can Jim Haslett and Mickey Loomis put together a team and are they capable of making the right decisions to make a run at the championship next season. Judging from the past, the answer is no. Let’s just hope that the future is different.

GOOD LUCK JAKE!

Friday, January 16, 2004
The Bayou Bulletin: A Hope for the Future
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:38 pm CST

“The Bayou Bulletin: A Hope for the Future”

Well my fellow Saints fans…it’s been another year.  Another come and go, home in the postseason, good but not-quite-there-yet year.  So we sit at home, watching the likes of players like Peyton Manning, Priest Holmes, Torry Holt, and Julius Peppers as they weave their way through the postseason.  Some have lost along the way and some are still kicking, but there’s one thing that they all have in common.  Their teams made it that far, and ours didn’t.  Again. You can chalk it up to different things.  Poor officiating, mental errors that cost us the game, or simply getting outplayed on various Sundays.  But for whatever
reason, the Saints are home yet again. 

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel? An overwhelming, resounding…yes.  And it’s called…the 2004 NFL Draft. Now here comes the meat of this article.  You’d better pour yourself some coffee and sit down, because when you read this, you’re liable to pass out.  It’s genius. And the best part is, it’s been completely overlooked by the rest of the NFL.  Except of course, by me.  And hopefully, by the New Orleans Saints.  But it’s so utterly amazing that it’s going to put us at the top of the division, and the NFL. 

Tampa thinks their defense is hot?  Just wait, their defense won’t even be in the same league as ours.  Atlanta thinks they have something special in Michael Vick?  Wait till they get a load of the guy we’re about to get our hands on.  Carolina’s got this delusional dream about actually being a powerhouse?  Well next year, that dream is going to come crashing down. 


Why? 

What is it that’s going to make us so special in 2004 and beyond? It’s one player.  One player who would completely change the way this team, and this organization, is perceived.  No, I’m not talking about Eli Manning, or Jason White, or Mark Clayton, or any of those headline makers.  I’m talking about someone who’s slipped under the radar, someone who hasn’t even
been noticed.  An individual the likes of which the NFL has never seen.  A playmaker who can go in for offense or for defense, for any position, on any down.  The ultimate force to be reckoned with on the football field. 

Ladies and gentlemen…I am talking about Mega Man.


Mega Man, AKA the Blue Bomber, can change the face of New Orleans.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if the Saints can pull this deal off, they can take the Superbowl for as long as they want it.  New Orleans will be a dynasty, and there’s not a darn thing any other team in the NFL can do to stop it.  We as fans can just kick back, sip our Tab, and watch the fireworks.

For those of you who still aren’t sure if Mega Man is what we need to make the upgrade from good to unstoppable, here are a few considerations for you to ponder:

1)      He never gets tired. He never slows down, he never stops. He can just run all day long, for as long as it takes. Even if he's injured. In fact, the only way to even remotely slow him down is to kill him, but then he just respawns all over again. 

2) He's a downhill runner. Think about it, every time you see him run, he’s plowing straight ahead. There’s no need to worry about him wasting time dancing in the backfield, he’s just going one direction –forward. 

3) He's got a cannon of an arm - literally. How many players have a blaster mounted to their hand? It doesn't matter who you are, if you try to get past him, you're going to get lit up. There's no defense against that. 

4) He's constant. There's no need to worry about him forgetting the fundamentals. When he jumps, his arms always go up – perfect for a pass rusher. When he runs forward, that stiff arm is always pointed straight ahead. He never trips or slips. And when he's doubling as a scrambling QB, he has the slide down to an
art. He also has a lot of experience. How many other players today routinely beat eight diabolical robots?

5) And finally, I've saved the best for last. Every time he beats a player, he gets their power. Eventually he's going to play every other team in the NFL, and guess what? Eventually he'll have the combined power of every player in the league, to use at his disposal. You can't even pretend to hang with that.


Without a doubt, the drafting of Mega Man would forever live as a turning point in our organization.  And better yet…he never gets old.  He just goes on and on and on.  He can be the new staple of our organization, not just for a few years, but forever.  I’m honestly shocked that more media attention hasn’t been given to him yet.  A player of that caliber should be making headlines everywhere he goes, yet we’ve heard nothing.  But that’s all part of Mega Man’s style.  He’s not a talker.  He just does what he does, quietly, and then he moves on, not taking the attention for himself.  When was the last time you saw Mega Man do a celebration dance?  Never.  That’s just the kind of player he is, and that’s why he doesn’t get the media attention.

This next part goes out to Jim Haslett, if he’s out there and reading this (and I hope he is).  Jim…you’ve got to do this.  Talk to whomever it takes, sign whatever deal it takes, but make this deal happen – please.  I know it’s hard to identify future talent in the draft because college football and professional football are two completely different animals.  Some college stars fall flat on their face in the NFL, and some no-names end up becoming Hall of Famers.  But you’ve got to listen to me and take my word for it…Mega Man is going to be something special in this league someday.  I’d hate to see him in a Falcons uniform, or with the Philadelphia Eagles, or even…ugh…with the Cowboys.  Talk about a nightmare that would be.  I have faith in the Saints organization.  And I know that when they realize this guy is out there, and that no other teams are gunning for him…they’re going to make a beeline towards him.  And if it happens…this is going to be a fun era in New Orleans Saints history. Things are about to change, guys.  I can feel it.  Can you feel it? I can’t wait for the 2004 Draft.

Lee Hebert
AKA The Bayou Bullet

***For a Mega Man Saints background, click on the images.

Thursday, January 08, 2004
Off-Season Analysis: CB's
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:36 am CST
A Jive Perspective on the CB's

CORNERBACKS

The saving grace of this unit was Fred Thomas. Without him they wouldn't have won 4 games little alone break even, but Thomas didn't even enter the season as the starter. He was demoted because Haslett needed to showcase his new free agent find CB Ashley Ambrose and thus justify Haslett's off-season spent spinning his wheels. This is just one example of Haslett's ego getting in the way of team goals.


KEEPERS

1. Fred Thomas- Thomas is the best CB on this team, but never seems to get the respect he deserves. In this league you need at least three starting caliber CB's and Thomas is the perfect guy for a strong rotation of matchups possibilities. He has GREAT speed, is the best tackler on this team, and is always in position to make the play. Bottom line if they let Thomas get away then Saints fans should hold a candlelight vigil until he returns home. Great guy and an even better player.

2. Ashley Ambrose- Ambrose is a serviceable backup CB, but his age has really shown on the field and because he has lost a couple steps he tends to gamble to make up for his shortcomings. Its a tough call to dismiss the charismatic Ambrose (and everyone would miss those "Take me to Funkytown because I'm having a seizure" dances), but because of how his bonus money is set up it would be more expensive cap wise to replace him with another veteran of similar ability. So in the interest of saving some cap dollars- it would be smart to hang onto the savvy vet, but a "No Dance" clause should be structured into his deal... Not tomorrow, but right now... this minute. No Mas on the Dancerino!


GONERS

1. Dale Carter- Carter has starting ability, but really it comes down to one simple formula... "Money spent" minus "time spent on field" equals not enough return for the investment. Age and that cap number should send him packing.

2. Fakhir Brown- Brown is a good special teamer, a good CB, and a good guy, but with his minimum bumping up and the fact that the team could get another CB to fill his role for half the money... Its hard to imagine him making the roster, but you can't help rooting for the guy. He has truly proven the critics wrong time and again. Hopefully he can prove us all wrong one more time.

3. Ke"You Holding?" Craver - Keyou is a good special teamer, but has never shown the ability to be a starter. His speed is only average as are most of his attributes. Also his mid-season suspension could cost him a spot. Another thing to consider is the fact his veteran minimum is higher this year so a rookie could come in do his same job for half the money. Cruel facts, but it is a business.


FREE AGENTS

1-A. Charles Woodson- Woodson could be a perennial defensive MVP with the right supporting cast. He has great size, great speed, and is a vocal player that isn't afraid to call a spade a spade. His mid-season tirade blasting then Raider's Head Coach Bill Callahan seems to be the sticking point for some GM's, but with other veterans like Tim Brown coming forward with similar statements it leads one to believe that Woodson just wants to win... So sign a winner and win... Its not rocket surgery.

1-B. Shawn Springs- Springs is a big corner with great speed. He has pro-bowl ability, but could be a reasonable signing because his injury problems will scare a lot of teams. If he stays healthy and the Saints were able to secure both Springs and Woodson. Then this secondary would instantly rank among the best. Great player, but bad hamstrings.

3. Ahmed Plummer- A very steady CB that is good at everything, but isn't a gamebreaker. His speed is average, but Plummer seems to stay in position well enough to make a play. He is one of the many 49er free agents that could hit the open market. So he very well could be one of the few free agent CB's that won't be tagged.


DRAFT

1. CB Joey Thomas 6'1" 180 4.4 Montana St.- Thomas is a very cocky player that wants to be the best ever... who doesn't like that in a CB? He has exceptional size, good speed, quick hands, good hips, hard worker, and is a film room nut that is always trying to improve. It is really surprising that his name isn't being mentioned among the first round prospects because he shuts down half the field every time he lines up, but his attitude could have something to do with that. Thomas began college at Oregon St., but they wanted him to move to FS. Thomas wanted nothing to do with FS and transferred to Montana St. That incident, in some scouts eye's, has tarnished his reputation as a team player, but regardless of his cocky demeanor he has the tools to be a very good starter in the NFL and Thomas will be a steal for someone.

2. FS/CB Arnold Parker 6'2" 210 4.3 Utah- Parker is a very muscular DB with sensational speed. He has wonderful size and is willing to take one for the team. At CB Parker is good, but he can't turn extremely well and telegraphs his stance too much before the snap. All of which can be corrected with experience and good coaching. He has played FS for most of his career, but because of a team need he moved to CB. In the NFL his position is likely FS or even SS in the Saints scheme, but he has the physical ability to line up anywhere. To top it off he has the ability to be a tremendous special teams player.


OVERALL

The CB's were hung out to dry because of the lack of a pass rush, but a lack of foresight in personnel decisions forced less talented players to the forefront... Deja vu you say? Well every season the Saints go into the year with a lot of question marks at this position, but the front office seems content to bet the team's record on "If's" and "Maybe's". Its time for a change and hopefully the Saints will walk away with an elite CB, or two, from the vast amount that could hit free agency.


This is a look at what could be next years lineup...

CB- Charles Woodson
CB- Shawn Springs
3. Fred Thomas
4. Ashley Ambrose
5. Joey Thomas

Thursday, January 01, 2004
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Wanted... Again
By
JoshuaBranning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:18 pm CST
LINEBACKERS

The LB's, as a whole, were an undisciplined, inattentive, and overmatched weakness that cost the Saints games. Still we stand put every off-season waiting on "If's" and "Maybe's" to develop miraculously. The truly disturbing part of this problem is that there are some talented players on this roster that have simply not progressed at all. This falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaches... Not just LB coach Winston Moss, but all the way to the top where Haslett resides.


KEEPERS

1. Sedrick Hodge 6'2"245- Hodge is a good LB with a lot of tools. He has great speed and is terrific in coverage, but his run support is only average at best. He hasn't progressed at all since his days in North Carolina, just like all of the other young LB's on the roster. Because the details of the game seem to be afterthoughts for the whole group.

2. James Allen 6'2" 240- Lots of ability... Great speed and can rush the passer or drop back in coverage. There are questions about his ability to mentally grasp the scheme. He has the talent to be a very good player, but once again the young LB's are not developing into high quality starters. So Allen should stick as a backup/special teamer, but isn't in a position to become the player he can be.

3. Cie Grant 6'0" 225- Grant was brought in to be the new breed of MLB, but that extra weight has kept him on the sidelines for most of the year. He has college starting experience playing CB, FS, SS, and LB, but the smart move would be to slide Grant to WLB to take advantage of his speed and coverage ability. The Broncos did this with WLB Ian Gold and he has become an exceptional player.


GONERS

1. Darrin Smith 6'1" 235- Has officially hit the wall as a player. Smith is intelligent, articulate, and a super locker room guy, but the time has come. He has done everything a professional athlete could hope to accomplish and I wish him the best of luck.

2. Orlando Ruff 6'3" 250- Ruff is extremely stiff and his run stuffing abilities were exaggerated by a coaching staff feeling the now lukewarm heat. Ruff also committed several special teams penalties during the year, but will be brought back to training camp. Hopefully the unit will be talented enough to afford Ruff a chance to catch on with another team early.

3. Derrick Rodgers 6'0" 230- Tremendous tools, good locker room guy, and is someone who certainly could be upgraded, but if he is brought back for one more year no one should complain. He could be a Great pass rusher, but he was never put in a position to attack and showcase his true talents. Really good player.

4. Roger Knight 6'0" 245- Strictly a special teamer... Doesn't appear to have the potential to develop into a starter.


FREE AGENTS

MLB

1. MLB Randall Godfrey 6'2" 245 Seahawks- Jim Haslett called him a washed up two down LB, but Godfrey was head and shoulders better than what we have. He was also a great locker room presence for Seattle and that is where his true value resides. Because Godfrey might be slowing down, but three years ago he was, by some scouts accounts, the best MLB in football. To bring that kind of leadership and ability to this unit would be tremendous.

2. MLB Derek Smith 6'2" 245 49ers (Possible Cap Casualty)- Smith could be on the way out because of the 49ers cap problems and their younger LB's are ready to blossom. He has very good range, great instincts, and is a very likeable workmanlike player that younger players seem to love. His leadership would be a great addition.


OLB

1.WLB Ian "Crash Test" Gold 6'0" 220 Broncos- Gold is one of my favorite players in the league. He came to Denver an extremely undersized rush end, but developed into a vastly underrated all around LB. Gold's enthusiasm is contagious and his "Ear's penned back" mentality is a wonderful thing to watch. The only negative to Gold is that he tore a knee this year, but should be ready for camp because of his great genetics that have allowed him to recover at a record pace. If he was completely healthy I doubt the Saints would spend the amount of money needed to sign him, but because of the amount of young depth we have on this roster and Gold's never say die mentality the risk isn't so great that you don't take a chance on having a great leader and a great player.

2. WLB Julian Peterson 6'3" 235 49ers- Peterson is the most versatile player in the league. He has started for the 49ers at OLB, SS, DE, and CB. He also has a star quality that a team can market around. He has GREAT speed, good instincts, and is a very good all around LB with big-play ability. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers handle the off-season because having WR Terrell Owens, CB Ahmed Plummer, and LB Peterson hitting the open market at the same time puts the team in a rough situation. Something has to give and they can't keep all three.


DRAFT

MLB

1. MLB/OLB D.J. Williams 6'1" 240 4.5 Miami- Williams is one of the best athletes in the entire draft. He has tremendous range, great acceleration, and very good instincts. Has great hips for a man his size that should allow him to cover TE's and even some WR's. D.J. is also a very sure tackler because of how well he squares up. The bottom line is Williams has the look of a future All-Pro and would be a tremendous addition.

1-B. MLB Jonathan Vilma 6'1" 220 4.5 Miami- Vilma is a playmaker... Sure people can use words like short, light, and undersized to make the mighty proclamation that he'll never make an impact in the NFL, but in a cover two defense the MLB doesn't have to be huge overstuffed athlete... They just have to be fast, active, and put themselves in the right position. Vilma can do all this and more. Also another spot where Vilma truly stands out is his willingness to lead by example. He is a film room staple, gym rat, and a coaches best friend when it comes to playing hard and demanding more out of his teammates. He is just a terrific talent that is being labeled as too small, but should still be at the least a late second round prospect.


OLB

1. OLB Josh Buhl 5'11" 215 4.4 KSU (Forty is on KSU's fast track so probably is actually a 4.5 guy) - Buhl has terrific sideline to sideline range, a nose for the ball, great speed, terrific hips for coverage, and sensational instincts... So why is he currently listed as a second day prospect? He comes in at a massively mouse sized 5'11" 215 and thats on KSU lasagne day. And some scouts seem to dismiss anyone who doesn't fit the prototypical model of an NFL LB without actually watching a playmaker at work. Buhl's other negative is that he has trouble shedding blockers so teams try to run directly at him, but with continued progression on how to use his quick hands to escape would be blockers could allow him to overcome that in the pro's. Bluntly put- Buhl, at the least, will be a really talented special teamer that squares up extremely well on every tackle... For that alone he would be an extremely welcome addition.

2. OLB/MLB Bryan Hickman 6-3 230 4.5 KSU- Hickman is extremely bright. He is also one of the better coverage LB's available in the draft and appears to have the ability to play inside or out. Despite having a great size/speed ratio he isn't getting much respect and is being billed as a Fifth rounder, but by draft day he should jump into the third round where someone will land a steal. If somehow the Saints could walk away with both Hickman and Josh Buhl, the two have played together for nearly a decade, the team would have a dynamic duo to build a championship defense around. Great player.


OVERALL

The current LB situation is one of the worst in the league and a complete overhaul is needed, but that has been known for the last three seasons under Haslett. Still we have the very same holes we had last off-season and the year before. Mediocrity seems to be the order of the day, but hopefully with some injected veteran leadership at MLB and a young playmaker at WLB the LB's will gain confidence and begin to understand what it is to dominate a team.


This is a look at what could be next year's LB's corps...

SLB- Sedrick Hodge
MLB- Randall Godfrey
WLB- Ian Gold
4. D.J. Williams
5. Cie Grant
6. James Allen
7. Josh Buhl

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Is Nero Fiddling as Rome Burns?
By
Dan Indest - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:36 pm CST

What the heck could Saints owner Tom Benson possibly have been thinking when he took to the Superdome floor to do the “Benson Boogie” after the team’s victory over Dallas last Sunday?

What was there to celebrate after yet another season of mediocrity?

Just last Tuesday, in a meeting with the staff, Mr. Benson chastised the group for “underachieving” this year. Did the season-ending win over the Cowboys, in a game that meant little to either team, so impress the “emperor” that everything is now hunky-dory? Take a closer look Mr. Benson, and I’m sure you will see the flames rising amidst your empire.

After an amazing run to the playoffs in 2000, the present regime and coaching staff has pieced together so-so 7-9, 9-7, and 8-8 seasons, and no trips to the playoffs. The original promise of a three-year turnaround is becoming much fresher in most fans’ minds while the much ballyhooed “only playoff win in team history” is quickly fading from their memories. You can only play the “Hakim dropped the ball” card so many times.

Fans see other teams turn things around quickly and wonder why the same cannot be done with their beloved Saints. In this era of free agency, as players come and go with such frequency, quality coaching is the single most important factor for a team’s success. Jim Haslett has had four years to show that he is the man for the job, but he has failed. This season, he got everything he wanted. Training camp was moved to Metairie and a new indoor practice facility was constructed. Yet the team still looked ill prepared in pre-season, which in turn led to a stumbling 1-4 start in the regular season. The entire staff must go.

Tom Benson’s dancing endorsement of the present staff will come back to bite him in the near future. Many longtime fans are beginning to grumble. They will voice their displeasure by not renewing their season tickets, as they perceive the owners inaction as a commitment to mediocrity. What Mr. Benson fails to realize is that the avid supporters of the Saints have set loftier goals for the team than the owner himself. They want a championship.

Surprise us all, Mr. Benson. Set a loftier goal. Clean house. It's not too late to change your mind.

Thursday, December 25, 2003
Top College Players for the 2004 Draft.
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:31 am CST
UPDATED 1/12/04

2004 NFL Draft

Top
Offensive Players at each Position

** Junior indication. Players that have already declared their intentions to come out for the 2004 draft.

Quarterbacks
Ben Roethisberger- 6-5, 240 Miami (Ohio) **
Eli Manning- 6-4, 220 Mississippi
J.P. Losman- 6-3, 218 Tulane
Cody Pickett- 6-3, 220 Washington
Philip Rivers- 6-5, 230 North Carolina State
Josh Harris- 6-1 ½, 224 Bowling Green
Jon Navarre- 6-5 ½, 235 Michigan

Halfbacks
Steven Jackson- 6-0, 232 Oregon State **
Kevin Jones- 5-11 ½, 220 Virginia Tech **
Mewelde Moore- 5-10 ½, 210 Tulane
Chris Perry- 6-1, 225 Michigan
Greg Jones- 6-1 ½, 245 Florida State
Julius Jones- 5-10, 218 Notre Dame
Quincy Wilson- 5-9, 220 West Virginia
Michael Turner- 5-10 ½, 225 Northern Illinois
Cedric Cobbs- 6-0, 222 Arkansas

Fullbacks
Mike Karney- 5-11, 255 Arizona State
Travis Wilson- 6-3 ½, 245 Kansas State
Mark Pierce- 5-11 ½, 242 Arkansas **
Troy Fleming- 6-1, 228 Tennessee
Luke Lawton- 5-11, 235 McNeese State

Wide Receiver
Roy Williams- 6-3, 210 Texas
Michael Clayton- 6-3, 200 LSU **
Reggie Williams- 6-3, 222 Washington **
Rashaun Woods- 6-2, 198 Oklahoma State
Lee Evans- 5-11, 195 Wisconsin
James Newson- 6-1, 212 Oregon State
Michael Jenkins- 6-4, 215 Ohio State
Bernard Berrian- 6-1, 178 Fresno State
Devery Henderson- 5-11, 195 LSU

Tight Ends
Kellen Winslow II- 6-3, 248 Miami (Fla.) **
Ben Troupe- 6-4, 265 Florida
Ben Watson- 6-3, 255 Georgia
Ben Hartsock- 6-4, 260 Ohio State
Chris Cooley- 6-3, 250 Utah State
Kris Wilson- 6-2, 240 Pittsburgh
Jason Peters- 6-4, 325 Arkansas **
Ben Utecht- 6-5, 255 Minnesota

Offensive Guards
Vernon Carey- 6-3, 330 Miami (Fla.)
Justin Smiley- 6-4, 305 Alabama **
Stephen Peterman- 6-3, 330 LSU
Sean Locklear- 6-3, 305 North Carolina State
Shane Olivea- 6-3, 335 Ohio State
Alex Stepanovich- 6-3 ½, 300 Ohio State
Jacob Bell- 6-4, 290 Miami (Ohio)

Offensive Tackles
Robert Gallery- 6-7, 315 Iowa
Shawn Andrews- 6-4, 360 Arkansas **
Jacob Rogers- 6-5 ½, 305 USC
Nat Dorsey- 6-6, 330 Georgia Tech **
Travelle Wharton- 6-3 ½, 315 South Carolina
Max Starks- 6-7, 340 Florida
Atlas Herrion- 6-4, 310 Alabama
Tony Pape- 6-6, 305 Michigan

Offensive Centers
Jake Grove- 6-3, 305 Virginia Tech
Nick Leckey- 6-3, 315 Kansas State
Scott Wells- 6-2, 302 Tennessee
Nick Seitze- 6-4, 290 Kentucky
Nick Hardwick- 6-3, 290 Purdue


Top Defensive Players by Position
** Junior Indication

Defensive Ends
Will Smith- 6-3, 265 Ohio State
Kenechi Udeze- 6-4, 285 USC **
Antwan Odom- 6-4, 275 Alabama **
Shaun Phillips- 6-3, 260 Purdue
Roderick Green- 6-2 ½, 245 Central Missouri
Darrion Scott- 6-3, 280 Ohio State
Isaac Hilton- 6-3, 250 Hampton
Dave Ball- 6-4 ½, 275 UCLA
Bobby McCray- 6-6, 255 Florida
Bo Schobel- 6-5, 270 TCU

Defensive Tackles
Tommie Harris- 6-3, 288 Oklahoma **
Vince Wilfork- 6-3, 340 Miami (Fla.) **
Marcus Tubbs- 6-3, 325 Texas
Chad Lavalais- 6-1 ½, 295 LSU
Rodney Leisle- 6-3, 290 UCLA
Dwan Edwards- 6-2 ½, 310 Oregon State
DeMarco McNeil- 6-1, 305 Auburn
Darnell Dockett- 6-2, 285 Florida State
Tommy Kelly- 6-5, 295 Mississippi State
Igor Olshansky- 6-5, 310 Oregon **
Tim Anderson- 6-3, 315 Ohio State
Isaac Sopoaga- 6-3, 315 Hawaii
Brandon Kennedy- 5-10, 330 North Texas

Inside Linebackers
Jonathan Vilma- 6-0, 222 Miami (Fla.)
Teddy Lehman- 6-1, 240 Oklahoma
Courtney Watson- 6-0 ½, 240 Notre Dame
Niko Koutouvides- 6-2, 235 Purdue
Jonathan Harrell- 6-1, 228 Northern Iowa
Rod Davis- 6-1 ½, 245 Southern Mississippi
Richard Seigler- 6-2, 235 Oregon State

Outside Linebackers
D.J. Williams- 6-1, 244 Miami (Fla.)
Karlos Dansby- 6-3 ½, 235 Auburn
Dontarrious Thomas- 6-2, 235 Auburn
Keyaron Fox- 6-2 ½, 235 Georgia Tech
Michael Boulware- 6-2 ¼, 228 Florida State
Daryl Smith- 6-2, 235 Georgia Tech
Greg Richmond- 6-1 ½, 245 Oklahoma State
Maurice Jones- 6-1, 240 South Florida
Kendyll Pope- 6-1, 220 Florida State

Cornerbacks
Dunta Robinson- 5-11, 185 South Carolina
Chris Gamble- 6-2, 188 Ohio State **
DeAngelo Hall- 5-11, 198 Virginia Tech **
Derrick Strait- 5-10 ½, 192 Oklahoma
Will Poole- 5-11, 195 USC
Nathan Vasher- 5-9 ¼, 184 Texas
Ricardo Colclough- 5-10 ¾, 188 Tusculum (Tennessee)
Keith Smith- 5-11, 185 McNeese State
Joey Thomas- 6-0 ½, 190 Montana State
Greg Brooks- 5-10 ½, 180 Southern Mississippi

Safeties
Sean Taylor- 6-3, 225 Miami (Fla.) **
Stuart Schweigert- 6-1 ¼, 212 Purdue
Sean Jones- 6-2, 215 Georgia **
Bob Sanders- 5-8 ½, 200 Iowa
Will Allen- 6-1, 190 Ohio State
J.R. Reed- 5-10, 192 South Florida
Etric Pruitt- 5-11 ¾, 195 Southern Mississippi
Brandon Everage- 5-11 ½, 195 Oklahoma
Rashad Washington- 6-2, 215 Kansas State
Jason Shivers- 6-1, 195 Arizona State **
Guss Scott- 5-10, 195 Florida


Top 29 Players For the 2004 Draft

1. Ben Roethlisberger- Miami (Ohio) **
2. Eli Manning- QB. Mississippi
3. Roy Williams- WR. Texas
4. Robert Gallery- OT. Iowa
5. Sean Taylor-S. Miami (Fla.) **
6. D.J. Williams- OLB. Miami (Fla.)
7. Tommie Harris-DT. Oklahoma **
8. Kellen Winslow II- TE. Miami (Fla.) **
9. Will Smith- DE. Ohio State
10. Shawn Andrews- OT. Arkansas **
11. Kenechi Udeze-DE. USC **
12. Dunta Robinson-CB. South Carolina
13. Steven Jackson-RB. Oregon State
14. Vince Wilfork-DT. Miami (Fla.) **
15. Chris Gamble-CB. Ohio State **
16. Karlos Dansby-OLB. Auburn
17. Michael Clayton-WR. LSU **
18. DeAngelo Hall-CB. Virginia Tech **
19. Reggie Williams-WR. Washington **
20. J.P. Losman-QB. Tulane
21. Derrick Strait-CB. Oklahoma
22. Vernon Carey-OG. Miami (Fla.)
23. Ben Troupe- TE. Florida
24. Kevin Jones-RB. Virginia Tech **
25. Jacob Rogers-OT. USC
26. Jonathan Vilma-MLB. Miami (Fla.)
27. Jake Grove-OC. Virginia Tech
28. Rashaun Woods-WR. Oklahoma State
29. Will Poole-CB. USC

Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: Defensive Line Fixed on a Dime
By
JoshuaBranning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:58 pm CST

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

All the years of investing high picks along the trenches has finally paid off and the unit is just one player short of being an elite group. So with a little luck in free agency, and continued great coaching from Sam Clancy, the Saints could rank among the best in the NFL next season.


KEEPERS

1. DT Jonathan Sullivan 6'3" 315- Sullivan has some tremendous tools and could be a heck of a NT type because he can play the run so well, but don't think he can't rush the passer because he is pretty quick off the snap. His play has picked up significantly over the last five games of the year and he has the look of a long time starter in the league.

2. DT/DE Willie Whitehead 6'3" 285- What was once an undersized DE is now an undersized DT and he continues to prove all the critics wrong with his unmatchable work ethic. Whitehead is a classic overachiever, but don't discredit his ability to jump the snap with a great burst. Overall the Saints were lucky that he came on board again for a relatively small amount because his versatility and willingness to take one for the team is perfect. Great player!

3. DE/DT Kenny Smith 6'4" 295- All-Pro one play... All-Most the next. He has the tools to be great, but the consistency is still consistently missing. The Saints will just tender him for one final year and see what happens. Either way he is decent depth and his versatility is a plus.


GONERS

4. DT Kenderick Allen 6'6" 325- Allen is on the bubble, but definitely has a chance to make it. He has great size and a lot of raw tools to work with. He played a lot more snaps than expected and did a good job. Overall he has NFL talent and as long as that motor stays in high gear he has a good chance to be on someone's roster next season.

5. DT Howard Green 6'2" 325- The local boy is a longshot to make this team, but he has great size for NT and will probably land somewhere in the league.


FREE AGENTS

1. DT Cornelius Griffin 6'3" 305 Giants- Griffin has the most potential upside of any free agent DT on the market. He has one of the most natural spin moves that you will ever see from a big guy. Has terrific bounce off the snap and a nose for the football. In New York he doesn't play a classic 3 technique, though he's perfectly suited for it, he plays in a hybrid "half gap" type of scheme. Which requires a lot of pre-snap reads. If he is set free on opponents using the three technique scheme, that the Saints use, then he will dominate teams.

2. DT Robaire Smith 6'3" 305 Titans- Smith was an underachiever going all the way back to college, but really picked it up this year. He was a borderline dominant talent in some games, but guys that have a history of dogging it and then pick it up in their money year are always HUGE risks. So personally... the risk seems to large, but he is a talent and he fits the mold of a Haslett player.


DRAFT

1. DT Isaac Sapoaga 6'3" 315 4.8 Hawaii- Sapoaga is possibly the most athletic DL in this draft. He is blessed with a huge pair of legs that provide him with one of the most solid bases in the NFL. Aside from the tree trunks he calls legs- Sapoaga can really get after the QB, but he will need a lot of refinement to be a dominate pass rusher in the NFL. He is also very strong against the run tying up two OL on almost every play. Right now he is rated as a mid-rounder, but don't buy it. By the time the draft rolls around their is a very good chance he will be a very secure second rounder... Tremendous potential.

2. DT Brandon Kennedy 5'10"(Looks more like 5'8"-5'9") 315 5.0 North Texas- Kennedy is one of the most talked about prospects in the draft and with good reason. He is a very disruptive force that uses that low center of gravity to root under the taller OL, but Kennedy's strength is also his weakness because scouts are questioning his ability to close off passing lanes. At the very least he will be a great rotation guy and for a mid-rounder the value is top notch.


DEFENSIVE ENDS

1. DE Charles Grant 6'3"285- Man child no more... Grant is simply "The Man." He can play the run as well as any DE in the league and is beginning to pick up the intricacies of pass rushing. Once he acquires a bit more experience he will be the most complete DE in the league and quite possibly the best period. Grant is simply a superstar in the making.

2. DE Darren Howard 6'3" 285- Howard is a free agent, but should definitely be a high priority for the front office. He is a good pass rusher and is very good against the run, but he is so much better at Base End and conversely Grant is a lot more comfortable at rush end. So why haven't the coaching staff bit the bullet and flip-flopped the talented duo? Possibly to make sure they could lock up Howard long term before taking him out of the spotlight. So once he is extended their is a very good chance Howard will return home to Base End where he registered double digit sacks his rookie year and Grant will switch to Rush End where he was Player of the Week during Howard's injury.

3. DE Melvin Williams 6'2" 270- Williams had an impressive pre-season despite the fact he wasn't even supposed to be healthy enough to play until his second year. His remarkably quick recovery, even the Saints doctors were surprised, will allow the team to go into this season with a #3 DE with some experience instead of an inexperienced player with injury question marks. So Williams paired with DE/DT Willie Whitehead give the Saints solid depth on the edges.


OVERALL

Position Coach Sam Clancy has done a great job molding the young talent in his unit, though that can't be said about many of the other coaches on this team, and is the type of leader that players respond to. So with his continued support of his guys and another impact DT in free agency there is no reason this team cannot be dominant in the trenches next season. This is what what the final lineup could look like next year...

DE- Charles Grant
DT- Cornelius Griffin
DT- Jonathan Sullivan
DE- Darren Howard
5. DT/DE Willie Whitehead
6. DE Melvin Williams
7. DT Isaac Sapoagoa
8. DE/DT Kenny Smith
9. DT Kenderick Allen (If an extra DL is kept.)


Happy Holidays!!!

Saturday, December 13, 2003
WEEK 15-SAINTS vs. GIANTS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:12 pm CST
IN REVIEW

What else can be said about Aaron Brooks’ shoddy performance last week against the Bucs? Last week’s game was a perfect microcosm of Brooks’ career: 28 minutes of breathtaking passes followed by two minutes of absolute horror and then 30 minutes of lethargic football. Brooks continues to ride the fine line of .500 football, which just doesn’t cut it if there are any dreams of a championship. Once again, Saints’ fans are scratching their heads in December, wondering out loud if things would be different had Jim Haslett made a change at quarterback. It’s those types of decisions, (or non-decisions) which will be Haslett’s biggest downfall.

WEEK 15: N.Y. Giants

Another injury-riddled team visits the Superdome this Sunday. Former Saint Kerry Collins will not play, as well as WR Ike Hilliard and TE Jeremy Shockey. DE Michael Strahan leads the Giants’ defense with 14 sacks. Head Coach Jim Fassel is on the hot seat, and most likely will be fired at the end of the season.

KEY MATCHUPS

DE Michael Strahan vs. RT Victor Riley-Strahan will be gunning for Aaron Brooks and his right arm in hopes to create turnovers. Strahan is one of the best.

RB Deuce McAllister vs. Giants’ front seven-Everyone knows that the key to stopping the Saints is to stop Deuce and let Brooks beat himself. Let’s see if the Giants can do that.

QB Aaron Brooks vs. QB Todd Bouman-You can bet the boo-birds will be out in full force Sunday night when Brooks takes the field. The most popular player on the team is always the backup quarterback. Watch how fast everyone will be screaming for Brooks to get back in the game the first time Bouman messes up.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 7

Here is another game that the Saints SHOULD win. However, nothing is as it ever seems with the Saints. Brooks throws an interception early, which inflames the sell-out crowd. After a few unsuccessful offensive series, Bouman replaces Brooks. Bouman throws a touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth, and suffers no turnovers. Deuce gets 140 on the ground and a touchdown. Charles Grant becomes a star by getting 3 ½ sacks on national television. It will be boring, it will be ugly, and it will be close. Saints win, and the quarterback controversy continues. Scott says take the Giants and the seven points, but Saints win…Saints 20, Giants 17.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: St. Louis –6 ½ over Seattle

Last Week: 8-8 (.500)
Season: 82-100-6 (.450)
Lock O’ The Week: 8-5 (.615)

And now for the rest of WEEK 15:

Chi +3 over Min
Cin – 2 ½ over SF
Atl + 7 ½ over Ind
Det +14 over KC
Jax + 7 over NE
Pit +3 over NYJ
Hou +11 over TB
Buf + 6 ½ over Ten
Den – 10 ½ over Cle
Bal –6 ½ over Oak
Was +1 over Dal
Car –6 ½ over Ari
SD +5 over GB
Phi +2 over Mia

Tuesday, December 09, 2003
And so the Broken Record Skips
By
David C. Marshall - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:48 pm CST

The New Orleans Saints. That lovable laughable team that drives its faithful nuts. Bumbling and stumbling its way like a comedy of errors through another season.

Tastes of success have been rare. Uhhh, waiter, I believe there's some soup in my bowl of flies.

They've managed only fleeting peeks over the wall, briefly glimpsing what the rest of the league is doing. That kid that's not quite tall or strong enough -- legs flailing, knuckles white, sweat dripping -- frantically trying to pull himself up and over before once again falling in a crumpled heap.

A broken record, skipping and stuck on the most awful of tunes.

And so they bumble and they stumble. It's all so painfully familiar. Only they seem less and less lovable anymore. Every year, fewer and fewer are laughing.

Not to suggest that fans were ever complacent enough to just accept losing. But, let's face it, Louisianians are as well-known for having fun as anything else. Let a little bad news get us down? Two words -- hurricane party.

Let the good times roll.

Granted, times seldom ever seem to be all that good, I mean really good. Personally, I always thought "so what, let's party" seemed a little more on target. Anyway.

So in a town known for its great food and fun, professional football fans, as they have grown accustomed, are starving and disappointed. And, it seems, increasingly bitter about it.

Bitter that their team just keeps on coming up short. Bitter that this year looks like so many before it. Bitter.

If anything has become predictable, it's the fortunes of the New Orleans Saints.

Some fans will claim to have predicted the eventual downfall of this coaching staff. This QB. This team. Wow! Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. Sharing any other prophecies, Nostradamus?

An ex-girlfriend's dad once told me that Bobby Hebert would never lead the Saints to the Super Bowl. Hmmm, perhaps I should have hit him up for some Lotto numbers?

Maybe, in some bizarre fashion, that's why I cling to hope? Why I'd rather ponder how things could somehow pan out? How the song we hear might one day be different? Predicting failure for this team is like calling the weather in July.

But alas, another December is upon us and all that's left is to await official notice -- mathematically eliminated. When it comes to the New Orleans Saints, only the faces ever really change. Truly, truly, a broken record.

The dark clouds of cynicism are building with fury -- stronger than I can ever remember. "I told you so" statements blow about with gale force. Chest-beating claps like thunder. Disapproval is moving in on Airline Drive like a Category 5.

This could really get ugly.

Hurricane party, anyone?

Thursday, December 04, 2003
WEEK 14-SAINTS vs. BUCCANEERS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:16 am CST
IN REVIEW

It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t promising, but last week’s game in Washington was a victorious one, and that’s all that matters at this point. The Saints brought their record back to .500, which is precisely where they should be. They haven’t played better or worse than what their record shows. Somehow, they manage to start every game lethargically, seemingly sleepwalking all during the first half. It seems this team comes to play every week for one half of football. That’s not going to get it done in December and January (if they make it that far). Deuce McAllister continues to awe players, coaches, and fans with his dominating performances every week, and should get strong consideration for Offensive MVP in the NFL. Is anyone else playing better than Deuce on offense in the NFL right now? My answer is no. If the Saints are going to have a chance to run the table in December, it will be solely on Deuce’s back.

PLAYOFF PICTURE

The playoff picture remains the same as last week. Saints need to win out and the Dallas Cowboys need to lose at least one more game before week 17. The Cowboys have to travel this week to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. There are several other scenarios that can play out and the Saints could still make the postseason, but this seems to be the most realistic. (And much less confusing)

WEEK 14: Tampa Bay

My how the mighty have fallen. Keyshawn Johnson is gone, injuries have mounted on both sides of the ball, and the spirit that sparked this Buccaneer team last season seems to have fallen on dark times. They haven’t protected Brad Johnson well this season, and they still lack a solid running game. Defensively, injuries and free agency have certainly worn down what was once one of the best defensive units in the past three decades. It’s hard to get a read on how Tampa will respond this weekend. They certainly have the motivation to come out and get some revenge on the Saints, who have beaten them the last three times. At the same time, this team may have cashed in the season following last week’s loss to 2-9 Jacksonville, and may lay down if they get behind by two scores early.

KEY MATCHUPS

RB Deuce McAllister vs. Tampa Bay’s front seven-McAllister is on a serious roll, rushing for 173, 184, and 165 yards in the past three games. You can bet the Bucs will be keying in on Deuce and try to force Aaron Brooks to beat them.

TE Boo Williams vs. Bucs’ LBs and Safeties-Boo has become a favorite target for Brooks since Conwell has gone down, and Williams has answered the call. Boo will be the main target again this week, and needs to have a stellar day with the injuries at WR.

Saints’ Special Teams vs. Bucs’ Special Teams-Tampa has never had a kickoff return for a touchdown in the history of its franchise. The Saints have given up two touchdowns this season on kickoff returns. Saints’ special teams have taken a major hit with the injury bug.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 1 ½

Here comes another heart-stopper heading your way New Orleans. The Saints have yet to play better than a .500 team all season long. Once again, this is the time of year that the better teams turn it up a notch, and start playing good football. This is also the time of year that the Saints have nose-dived under Haslett the past two seasons. How will Haslett write the ending to this season? Brooks does his usual sleepwalking in the first half, burning two timeouts in the first quarter when he can’t get the play called, but then wakes up in the second half to throw for 160 yards and a touchdown. Deuce gets 105 tough yards on 30 carries and gets in the end zone on a (gulp) screen pass. Boo Williams catches another touchdown along with 5 passes to lead the team. John Carney kicks two field goals, Martin Gramatica misses one late. Saints squeak by the Bucs, and live to fight another day. Scott says take Tampa and the 1 ½, but Saints win…Saints 20, Bucs 19.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Minnesota – 1 ½ over Seattle

Last Week: 8-6 (.571)
Season: 74-92-6 (.445)
Lock O’ The Week: 7-5 (.583)

And now for the rest of WEEK 14:

Bal –3 ½ over Cin
Det –3 over SD
Chi +7 over GB
Hou +6 over Jax
Wash +3 over NYG
Phi –5 ½ over Dal
Oak + 5 ½ over Pit
Ind + 3 ½ over Ten
Ari + 10 over SF
NYJ +3 over Buf
KC +2 ½ over Den
NE –3 over Mia
Atl +1 over Car
Cle +4 over Stl

Saturday, November 29, 2003
WEEK 13-SAINTS vs. REDSKINS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:38 pm CST
IN REVIEW

Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. That has been the Saints’ biggest downfall this year, and it continued last Sunday against the Eagles. It was a shame to waste such a productive day by the Saints’ MVP, Deuce McAllister, and it’s hard to imagine where the Saints would be without him. Aaron Brooks continues to play like a first-year quarterback, and the defense couldn’t stop the run on first downs. It was good to see Boo Williams step up and play like he did; let’s hope that it is a sign of things to come from Boo.

PLAYOFF PICTURE

With losses by the Cowboys and Packers on Thanksgiving Day, the Saints are still alive in the playoff hunt. There are many different scenarios that can play out and the Saints still make the playoffs, but here is the easiest (and most likely):

1. Saints MUST win rest of their games (puts them at 10-6, 8-4 in the NFC)
2. Cowboys MUST lose at least one more game before facing the Saints in Week 17 (puts them at 10-6, would lose out to the Saints due to head-to-head loss in Week 17)

What about the Packers and 49ers? Even if both teams win out, although their overall record would be 10-6, their NFC record would be 7-5, one game behind the Saints. The Cowboys have to face the Eagles next week in Philadelphia, and then travel to Washington before coming home to face the Giants. Of course, none of this means anything if the Saints don’t run the table and win the rest of their games.

WEEK 13: Washington Redskins

Redskins’ starting quarterback Patrick Ramsey will not start this week due to a foot injury. Tim Hasslebeck, brother of Seahawks’ QB Matt, will get the start for Washington. Also missing from their starting lineup will be tackle Chris Samuels.

Lavar Arrington, Champ Bailey, and Fred Smoot lead the Redskins’ defense. DE Bruce Smith will be looking to break the all-time NFL record in sacks, as he needs just one half a sack to become the all-time leader.

KEY MATCHUPS

T Brandon Winey vs. DE’s Charles Grant and Darren Howard- Patrick Ramsey has been harassed all year long by the pass rush, and Winey takes the place of an injured Chris Samuels. Howard is on fire since coming back from his wrist injury and Grant is slowly becoming a pro-bowl caliber defensive end.

CB Champ Bailey vs. WR Joe Horn- Horn has been injured all year long, yet is still man enough to play through the pain (unlike some other wide receivers we know). Horn was downright mad after last week’s loss because he felt like he wasn’t getting the ball enough. Bailey is one of the NFL’s premier cover cornerbacks.

DE Bruce Smith vs. T Wayne Gandy and Victor Riley- Smith needs just half of a sack to pass Reggie White for the all-time leader in NFL history. It sure would be nice to have Smith break the record next week.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Redskins favored by 1

Every week for the rest of the season is do or die for the Saints. They are facing a slumping team that is starting their backup quarterback, and haven’t shown a decent running game all season. This is a game the Saints SHOULD win. Brooks throws for 190 yards and completes 55% of his passes. Deuce goes for 120 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Joe Horn catches eight passes for 110 yards and two scores. Bruce Smith gets 1 ½ sacks and breaks Reggie White’s record. Saints win in a high scoring affair. Scott says take the Saints and the point…Saints 38, Redskins 27.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Saints +1 over Redskins

Last Week: 7-8-1 (.466)
Season: 66-86-6 (.434)
Lock O’ The Week: 6-5 (.545)

And now for the rest of WEEK 13:

Bal –3 over SF
Phi + 1 ½ over Car
Ari + 4 ½ over Chi
Atl +3 over Hou
NE +4 over Ind
NYG –3 ½ over Buf
Cin +3 over Pit
Min +6 over Stl
Den –3 over Oak
KC –7 over SD
Sea –5 ½ over Cle
TB –3 ½ over Jax
NYJ +1 over Ten

Thursday, November 20, 2003
WEEK 12-SAINTS vs. EAGLES and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:10 pm CST

IN REVIEW

Last week’s game was another classic in the Saints-Falcons storied rivalry. While Deuce McAllister’s two fumbles became the main story line in the media, it was great to see the fans in the Superdome cheer for Deuce when he took the field after the second fumble, recognizing that without him, the Saints would have never been in a position to win the game in the first place. The Saints’ defense played outstanding throughout the game, giving up only two field goals and a cheap touchdown following an Aaron Brooks’ interception deep in Saints’ territory. Michael Lewis played big on offense in place of Joe Horn, and Montre Holland did an admirable job in place of Kendal Jacox. Holland also made one of the biggest plays of the game by causing Falcons’ defensive lineman Ellis Johnson to fumble after recovering the first Deuce fumble. It was enjoyable watching the ball bounce the Saints’ way last Sunday, for Saints fans have all too long watch the breaks go the opposite way.

WEEK 12: Philadelphia Eagles

Donovan McNabb, who was the subject of much criticism early in the year from fans and the media, leads the Eagles. After starting out 0-2, the Eagles have won seven of their last eight. The Eagles’ running game has featured three different backs this season. Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter, and Brian Westbrook have all seen time running the football. The Eagles’ defense has suffered injuries on the line and in the secondary, but they have done a good enough job to win the last five games.

KEY MATCHUPS

Donovan McNabb vs. Saints’ Secondary- McNabb is coming on of late, and has a hot hand. The Saints secondary is a bit banged up with Dale Carter questionable and Jay Bellamy suffering from a sore back. The Eagles’ wide receivers aren’t the greatest, but certainly are good enough to beat you.

Aaron Brooks vs. Eagles’ Secondary- Brooks has not been on fire of late, throwing two interceptions deep in Saints territory last week. He has been indecisive when in the pocket, and tends to lock in on one receiver on third downs. In his defense, the Saints’ wide receivers have not been healthy, and his banged up offensive line has allowed opposing defenses to pressure Brooks on a frequent basis. The Eagles’ secondary is also suffering from injuries as well.

Deuce McAllister vs. the Eagles’ front seven- The key to the game this week will be getting Deuce the ball. He needs to get the running game going early, and Brooks needs to continue to throw him the ball out of the backfield. If Deuce goes for 100+, the Saints will win.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Eagles favored by 5 ½

NFL teams that can run the ball, play good defense, and not commit turnovers are going to win most of the time. The Saints have been running the ball well lately, been playing good defense lately, but have been turning the ball over. If the Saints are going to win the game, they are going to have to win the turnover battle. Aaron Brooks will have to be on his best behavior in the passing game, and control his urge to force the big plays. McAllister’s fumbles last week will not become an epidemic, and he will bounce back with 130 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Brooks completes 55% of his passes despite several drops by the Saints’ fleet-footed, stone-handed wide receivers. Brooks throws for 250 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Saints’ defense keeps it close, but no cigar. Scott says take the Saints and the points, but Eagles win…Eagles 27, Saints 24.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Saints + 5 ½ over Philadelphia

And now for the rest of WEEK 12:

Last Week: 6-9 (.400)
Season: 59-78-5 (.430)
Lock O’ The Week: 6-4 (.600)

Bal –2 ½ over Sea
Ind –3 over Buf
Pit +3 over Cle
Car +3 over Dal
GB over SF
NE –6 over Hou
Min –10 ½ over Det
Jax +4 over NYJ
Stl –8 over Ari
Den – 10 ½ over Chi
Ten –6 over Atl
KC –11 over Oak
Cin –3 over SD
Mia – 6 ½ over Was
TB –5 ½ over NYG

Monday, November 17, 2003
The Bayou Bulletin: Donovan McWHAT?
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:16 pm CST

It’s been done. The grave was dug, but the ladder of escape was lowered. The New Orleans Saints are back at .500 and in second place in the division. For all you negativity-filled namby pambies that said it could never be done, I have two words. Boo. Yah.

So what do we have now? Why, it’s none other than the Philadelphia Eagles. The 7-3, ‘on a roll’ Philadelphia Eagles, led by Donovan McNabb, QB superstar…or is he? Is Donovan really worth all the hype that he’s received over the years? Do poor statistics matter when your team is tied for first place in the division? Is McNabb indeed a worthy leader for this Eagles offense? Or is he, as accused earlier in the season on the infamous Sunday Countdown episode with Rush Limbaugh, a victim of racial hype? As much as it hurts me to say this…I’m afraid that the latter is true. The sad fact of the matter is that yes, the NFL has pushed players like McNabb into the spotlight based only on their ethnic origins. The QB from Philly is simply another example of the dark, hidden truth. The NFL is desperately pushing Irish quarterbacks.

Donovan’s last name is McNabb, and as we all know, anyone with a last name beginning with ‘Mc’ is Irish. This cannot be argued, by anyone, ever. Don’t send me letters arguing, because I’m going to just delete them. Now, using that piece of 100% correct information concerning Irish genealogy, one can easily come up with a list of other Irish quarterbacks. Josh McCown, Mike McMahon, Steve McNair. Counting McNabb, that’s four right there who are currently playing, let alone all the Mc’s of the past, such as Jim McMahon, arguably the best athlete in sporting history, dating back to gladiatorial times.

But there is something interesting about McNabb, something that you can’t help but notice. It’s been more than obvious to anyone who’s watched him play this year that he hasn’t been running on all cylinders. He gets rattled when rushed, throws bonehead interceptions, and has been seen periodically fumbling the ball for no apparent reason. But somehow, someway…he keeps winning. There is no way that mistakes like that should lead to a 7-3 record; it simply shouldn’t be. It defies the laws of statistical physics. So with that in mind…if you look into the situation deep enough, you have no choice but to come to the conclusion that the man is, simply put, extremely lucky – perhaps the luckiest player in all of the NFL. I’m talking about the kind of luck that doesn’t come around often…the kind of luck that shouldn’t exist. It’s the luck of legend. Add onto that the fact that he became the highest paid player in NFL history, and that’s when you finally make the connection – an epiphany that hits you so hard, you can’t help but spit your coffee all over the monitor. He’s Irish…extremely lucky…filthy rich…and wears green...

Donovan McNabb is a leprechaun.

We should have known from the beginning. It still amazes me that more people haven’t realized this, though I have to admit that the sheer simplicity of it is an excellent disguise. Not many people look at Donovan McNabb and think ‘leprechaun.’ Though, as you can see, the evidence is overwhelming.

So now that we’ve gone this route and finally reached this point…the question arises. How do the New Orleans Saints deal with a leprechaun? I looked up “how to kill a leprechaun” on Google, but my search led to few results – none of which seemed feasible. I should have known better though…I mean seriously, how many times have they killed that guy in the Leprechaun movies, only to have him appear in yet another sequel? The fact of the matter is that a leprechaun cannot be killed. So we’re going to have to flat-out outplay him.

Leprechauns have several weaknesses, one of which I am sure New Orleans can take advantage of – their fascination with gold. Lucky for us, the Saints wear black and gold. So you can safely expect passes to be thrown in the direction of our secondary, giving us an interception or two in this game. This would be best aided if we wear our black and gold jerseys, as the gold stands out more in that color scheme than when we wear white. So black and gold = interceptions. If we do that, our pass defense should be fantastic.

You can also find a weakness in your own back yard – the clover. It’s a well-documented fact that, when surrounded by clovers, a leprechaun cannot rest until he finds a four-leafed one. So everyone who’s planning on taking the trip to Philadelphia to make this game, don’t forget to bring clovers. Bring a few if you have to, just make sure you have enough to catch his attention. There’s no way in the world Andy Reid is going to let his QB take a break to go find a four-leafed clover, so that should serve as a big-time mental distraction. The lack of concentration on his part should be overwhelming. The Saints also have a sort of subtle advantage with this, since the fleur de lis on their helmets has three upper ‘leaves.’ They’re not really leaves, but hey…it might be enough to distract the guy. The more distractions – the better.

So the bottom line is…the Saints have this one in the bag. In fact…New Orleans may very well be the most prepared team in the league when it comes to dealing with leprechauns. We’re like leprechaun kryptonite. Expect something along the lines of Saints-35, Eagles-14.

Unless we wear white. Oooooh crap, would that suck.

No leprechauns were harmed in the writing of this article. I did take a peek in one of their Pot’o’Golds, though. Man it stunk.

Lee Hebert

Thursday, November 13, 2003
WEEK 11: Saints vs. Falcons and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:35 pm CST

IN REVIEW

I have no problem admitting I was wrong about the Saints two weeks ago in Tampa. I thought for sure that they were a defeated ball club that would simply go through the motions and get their butts handed to them. Jim Haslett’s teams have tanked the past two seasons after emotional, hard-fought, home losses (St. Louis, 2001, Minnesota, 2002) and suffered another one against Carolina three weeks ago. It was refreshing to see the Saints perform like they did against the Bucs, and with the bye week allowing the players to heal; this team may be primed for a (gulp) late season run to the playoffs. Amazingly, the Saints still hold their destiny in their hands as the road to the playoffs lies in their remaining schedule, with the majority of teams vying for the post-season on it. A 10-6 record should get them in, while a 9-7 record will probably leave them on the outside again. Once again, Saints’ fans, I was wrong about this team. Let’s hope that it wasn’t a mirage.

WEEK 11: Atlanta Falcons

Michael Vick is supposed to start practicing this week, but remains doubtful for the game this Sunday. The Falcons have struggled this season on both sides of the ball. They have a new starting secondary that the Saints did not see a few weeks back. RB Warrick Dunn had a monster game last week against the Giants, and he should get the majority of the workload again this week.

KEY MATCHUPS

Guards Montre Holland and Spencer Folau vs. Falcons D-line-both starting guards LeCharles Bentley and Kendal Jacox are nursing injuries that may force them to miss the game on Sunday. Holland and Folau played in the last series against the Bucs and gave Aaron Brooks enough time to drive the team down the field to victory. If Holland has to play, it will be interesting to see how the rookie manages an entire game.

DE Darren Howard vs. RT Todd Weiner and LT Kevin Shaffer-Howard returns to the field after suffering a wrist injury in week one. He should be a bit rusty after sitting out for nine weeks, but is still talented enough to take some pressure off of Charles Grant.

Saints vs. The new astro-play surface-this will be the first game in the Superdome on the new field. The players and coaches have been raving about it. Let’s hope it will make the Saints a better home team.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 9

From here on out, every week is a must-win situation for the Saints. Four of their last seven games are at home on the new playing field. The Falcons always play the Saints tougher in New Orleans. (Since 1994, the Saints are 2-7 against the Falcons at home). Deuce McAllister usually plays well against the Falcons, and this week will be no exception. Deuce runs for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50+-yard run. Joe Horn catches 4 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Brooks completes 65% of his passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Ernie Conwell catches 6 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Warrick Dunn runs for 120 yards and two touchdowns, and Kurt Kittner will throw for a touchdown, but also throw three interceptions. Saints pull away in the fourth quarter with Deuce. Saints win to get back to .500. Scott says take the Saints and lay the 9 points…Saints 31, Falcons 21

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Minnesota – 4 ½ over Oakland

And now for the rest of WEEK ELEVEN:

Last Week: 5-8-1 (.384)
Season: 53-69-5 (.434)
Lock O’ The Week: 6-3 (.667)

NE –4 over Dal
SF –4 over Pit
GB +4 over TB
Det + 10 ½ over Sea
Ind –6 over NYJ
SD +8 over Den
Ten –10 over Jax
NYG + 3 ½ over Phi
Bal +6 over Mia
Ari +6 over Cle
KC –6 over Cin
Stl –6 over Chi
Was +6 over Car
Hou +7 over Buf

The Bayou Bulletin: Lee’s Guide to Proper Smack-Talk Etiquette
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:27 am CST

I’m sure that by this point everyone has heard about Simeon Rice’s busted guarantee that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would defeat the Carolina Panthers. As we all know, that didn’t happen, and now Simeon Rice looks like a big knucklehead. I realize that this recent event may serve as a damper on the amount of ‘smack talk’ done between teams (or more specifically, their fans) before games. This should not be so. If one follows several basic rules about smack talking, they will find that it can be a fun, rewarding experience.

1) Never, never, never go in the open public to smack talk. People can always trace it back to you if you lose. Rather, choose a grayish medium, such as that of a message board. By using a message board, people don’t actually see you. This can allow you to get away with all kinds of wonderful crap, and not have to face the repercussions of public humiliation. Remember, you can always turn off the computer.

2) Begin visiting the opposing team’s message board approximately one week before the game between your two teams begins. Get there early and establish a name for yourself. One way to do this is to start a new thread with a title along the lines of, ‘You suck we rule,’ or ‘You can’t beat us hahaha.’ You can follow up that title with an opening message that either says the same thing, or something vaguely similar. Perhaps something like, “We’re gonna kill you guys Sunday, you suck we rule!” This particular method will accomplish several things.

a. It will show people how smart you are. When fans of the other team read your post, they will immediately think that in order to make such bold claims, you must be a football genius (like Terry Bradshaw). They will think that your vast football knowledge is rivaled only by your lightning wit, and you will have achieved terminal intimidation.

You may even be able to take this a step further. If you play your cards right and say it the right way (for example, typing in ALL CAPS, or substituting "you" and all variants of "too" with "u" and "2"), you may even bait some poor soul into thinking that you are so wise, you have the ability to predict the future. If you can achieve this, that's great. Your first step should be to immediately message the victim with something along the lines of, "You're right. I can predict the future. And the future says that in three days you will mail me $500. If you do anything to prevent this from happening, the universe will end, and the New Orleans Saints will win every Superbowl from now on."*

b. It will improve your reputation before the actual day of the game…and that’s what you’re trying to do, remember? Believe me, smack talking early and often is the BEST way to improve one's reputation. Not only will you be a household name for dozens of people across the country, but you will also be serving to give yourself publicity in the public eye (at least where forums are concerned). People talk. And if you smack talk the right way, they’ll be talking about you.

c. It will serve as a beacon to all other fans such as you. The only thing better than one serious smack talker is about a dozen serious smack talkers. Like a moth to a flame, they’ll come flying in from every direction. You’d be amazed at how many people have already mastered smack talk etiquette. This will give you all a unified bond of smackness that you can carry throughout the entire week.


3) Make up facts and statistics. State that your quarterback has a rating of 186.52 and that he’s thrown 43 touchdowns with no interceptions. Claim to be the highest scoring offense in NFL history, or the most solid defense since the Superbowl Rams. Trust me, nobody looks that junk up. And if they do, you can always call them a nerd and claim that they have no life.


4) Stick around during the whole week. Be persistent and be insulting. It’s oftentimes good to begin as many threads as possible in the shortest time possible, so that people have no choice but to read your message. Sure you might get banned…but you’ve got multiple email accounts, right? Don’t let up for a second, even if you have to put your job or family on the line. Remember, this is your priority. Act as if you have no life. If you already have no life, all the more better. Oh, and remember…if anyone tells you that you must not have a life since you’re posting so much…you’re always at work. It doesn’t matter if it’s noon or midnight, you’re always typing that from work. That should make them look even more foolish, and you more productive.


If you follow these basic rules, you will be unchallengeable in the realm of smack talking. And the best part? You can't lose. It's a win-win situation. If your team wins, you can come back and rub it in even MORE, making you seem even smarter and more reputable than before. You may even be able to convince those hard-to-convince people that you can in fact see the future. It's a great way to start collecting those five-hundreds.

If you lose, nothing to it! There's no need to come back and say, "I was wrong, time to eat my crow,"** or "We would have won if those pesky refs hadn't cheated for your team all day long."*** All you need to do is log out, create a new username, and come on as a totally anonymous individual. BELIEVE me, nobody will catch on.

So have at it, sports fans! Attack those message boards, and score some smack points for the home team!

Ahh, there’s nothing like sportsmanship. And remember kids, if you take any of this seriously, you’re an idiot! In other words, this is a joke. Don’t do it. Seriously. I’m telling you now, so don’t come crying back to me later when your feelings get hurt. I’m not responsible for anything, cause I’m telling you this now.

Lee Hebert

--------
Proper Smack-Talk Translations
--------

* "U R RITE I CAN PREDCT THE FUTOUR N THE FUTOUR SAYS THAT IN 3 DAZE U WILL MALE ME 5o0 DOLLARS. IF U DO ANYTHING 2 PREVNT THIS FROM HAPENING, THE UNIVERSE WILL END AN THE NEW ORLEANZ SAINTS WILL WIN EVERY SUPERBOL FROM NOW ON."

** "I WUZ WRONG TIME 2 EAT MY COW."

*** "WE WOULD HAVE WON IF THOSE PEKSY RIFS HADNT 4 YOUR TEAM ALL DAY LNG."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
R & R: Bye Week is a Time for Rest & Reflection
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:26 pm CST

The BYE week is finally here, which means it is time for the coaches and players alike to take their proverbial lunch breaks (no Grady Jackson pun intended). Through nine games, the New Orleans Saints have seen their share of ups and downs, collectively and individually.

THE TEAM
Character is a funny thing, in football and in life in general. A team that appeared to not even care for the game of football in week four against the Indianapolis Colts has played with heart and determination over the last four weeks. A head coach that was rumored to have lost his team has come up with scrappy wins through aggressive, though often risky play calling, and a cancer has been eliminated from the locker room before the situation got ugly.

HIGH POINT: Destroying the Falcons on the road 45-17. This game could end up being the turning point of the season.

LOW POINT: Having the week eight matchup against Carolina stolen from them due to horrible officiating.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Defeating the Tampa Bay Bucs for the third straight time in two seasons.


AARON BROOKS
Perhaps the most scrutinized player through this roller coaster ride of a season has been quarterback Aaron Brooks. In actuality, the shortcomings of this team have been a direct result of many things, but Aaron has not been one of them. The rumors of Joe Horn and other players losing confidence in Aaron were completely unfound. This is Aaron's team and if anything, one would expect him to have lost confidence in his receivers early on due to the abundance of drops. And while Aaron continues to be a streaky passer, he has been effective and has done just about everything he can this season to win games for this football team. Maybe we will welcome him with cheers rather than boos when this team recommences against Atlanta in the Super Dome on November 16th.

HIGH POINT: Recording a career high 148.2 passer efficiency rating en route to passing for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns in week seven against Atlanta.

LOW POINT: A lackluster individual and team performance in the 55-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in week four.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Fifteen yard scramble and "okie doke" up the middle of the Tampa Bay defense in week nine; after which, Rhonde Barber was sighted running back to the original line of scrimmage to pick up his jock strap


DEUCE MCALLISTER
The most consistent Saints player this season, Deuce McAllister has performed week in and week out, recording six straight 100-yard rushing games and over 95 yards rushing in two others. While he has not busted as many long runs this season (longest of the season is 37), the added weight has made Deuce more consistent in-between the tackles without losing much speed or quickness. McAllister is still one of the most underrated backs in the NFL, and if the Saints continue winning during the second half of the season, he will be a legitimate candidate for league MVP.

HIGH POINT: Breaking Ricky Williams' franchise record by recording six consecutive 100-yard games in a single season, which Deuce looks to continue.

LOW POINT: Being held to 8 yards on 11 carries in week three against the Titans.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: 37 yard burst into the Tampa Bay secondary, during which Deuce made three of Tampa's "sure-tacklers" look like wet diapers and eventually juked himself out on what was potentially a touchdown run.


JOE HORN
One of the toughest players on this team and in the NFL, Joe Horn continues to assert himself as a leader and a warrior, fighting through injuries on a regular basis and coming up big in clutch situations. Horn struggled early in the season but has been consistent as of late despite playing through a great deal of pain. He is Aaron Brooks' favorite target, as well as his most reliable one. The coaches and the team know that if the Saints are to be in the playoff picture, Joe Horn will front and center.

HIGH POINT: 8-catch, 133-yard performance against Atlanta in week seven.

LOW POINT: Recording only 1 catch for 5 yards against Tennessee in week 3. The catch did, however, continue Joe's streak of 71 straight games with a reception (65 at the time).

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Acrobatic 14-yard touchdown reception in-between defenders against Carolina in week eight. The catch earned Play of the Week honors, and Joe continued playing despite barely being able to jog to the sidelines after hyper-extending his knee on the play.


TIGHT ENDS
This unit is probably the most improved of any Saints unit this season. The collaboration of Ernie Conwell, Boo Williams and Walter Rasby has combined for 40 receptions, 390 yards and 3 touchdowns, all totals topping the results at the season's end last year. While Ernie has had his drops and Boo has made his mistakes, the unit is for the most part consistent and effective in all aspects of the game.

HIGH POINT: Combining for 7 receptions, 73 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta in week seven. All three tight ends were very involved in the passing game as well as the running game.

LOW POINT: Ernie Conwell missing his cut-off block on Julius Peppers on 4th and 1 that would have gotten Deuce a first down in overtime of week eight. The Saints went on to lose to the Panthers.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Boo Williams' heads-up 13-yard catch and run in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter in week nine against Tampa Bay. The reception set up John Carney's game-winning 47-yard field goal.


OFFENSIVE LINE
Smallish and underrated, the Saints' offensive line is deep and has been paving the way for Deuce McAllister's consistent running. Collectively, the Saints' line is equally adept at run blocking and pass protection. It has a balanced blend of young, budding stars such as LeCharles Bentley and seasoned veterans such as Wayne Gandy. The Saints offensive front is considered by many experts to be a top 5 unit, and is easily the most consistent collective on the New Orleans Saints team.

HIGH POINT: Man-handling the spectacular Tampa Bay defensive front for the third time in a row.

LOW POINT: Extremely lackluster performance against the Titans in week three, opening no holes for Deuce to run through and sending Aaron scrambling for his life play after play. Also has yet to run a successful screen play.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: LeCharles Bentley slamming Warren Sapp to the ground and allowing Deuce McAllister to burst 37 yards into the Tampa Bay secondary.


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Banged up and, in some cases, banged out (Grady Jackson), the Saints' D-line is one unit that has seen improvement week after week. This unit, like much of the Saints' team, has been inconsistent for the most part, seeming dominant at times (week two against Houston) and non-existent at others (both Carolina contests). Nevertheless, this unit is extremely young, often having three rookies rotating during a single series. It is an exciting unit with rising stars in Charles Grant and Johnathon Sullivan, a surprising utility man in Willie Whitehead, and a pair of upstart rookies in end Melvin Williams and tackle Kendrick Allen. The unit should improve vastly as soon as Darren Howard returns from his wrist injury.

HIGH POINT: Dominating performances against Tampa Bay and Houston.

LOW POINT: Being manhandled in both contests against the Carolina Panthers.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Willie Whitehead, originally a reserve end/tackle, is tied with Charles Grant for the team lead in sacks with 6.


LINEBACKERS
The New Orleans linebackers are by no-means anything above average. The original starting three consisted of weakside ‘backer Derrick Rodgers, a role player in exile from Miami; middle linebacker Darrin Smith, an aging veteran who gets by more on savvy than physical ability; and strongside ‘backer Sedrick Hodge, an extremely athletic and physical specimen who is not always mentally sound. Hodge, who has all the potential in the world and was beginning to put it all together, was lost in week two against Houston to a broken leg. Since then, a mass shuffling has occurred, the only staple being Orlando Ruff emerging as a consistent starter in the middle. Despite their lack of talent, the unit is deep and has very little drop-off from the starters to the backups. They are playing the run much better this season and despite all their shortcomings, are very scrappy and always give 100%.

HIGH POINT: Shutting down the Tampa Bay running game and even getting in on the pass-rush as Darrin Smith recorded one of the Saints' four sacks.

LOW POINT: Suffering the same fate as the defensive line against Carolina where runningback Stephen Davis had a field day.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: During week two against Houston, Darrin Smith and Derrick Rodgers handed the Saints' defense their first interceptions of the season, one of which Rodgers returned 49 yards for a touchdown.


TEBUCKY JONES
Aside from Aaron Brooks, Tebucky is probably the most heavily scrutinized Saint this season. Awarded one of the highest salaries of any safety in the league by the Saints this off-season, Jones has hardly lived up to his pay or his ability. While he is in large part responsible for the resurgence of the Saints' pass defense due to the fact that teams must account for his speed and presence in the middle of the field, he has hardly been a factor in run support. Many of us have grown tired of his poor tackling technique. When he's hitting he's not wrapping up, and when he's wrapping up he's not hitting. This poor technique is in large part due to the amount of time he spent playing cornerback (throughout college and early in his pro career). And while he played safety the past two years for the patriots, he was used primarily in nickel situations and in essence is still new to the safety position and the nuances of the Saints' scheme. It is too early to judge how the Tebucky Jones project will turn out, but he needs to take it upon himself to get rid of his bad habits and pick up some good ones.

HIGH POINT: Finally began to show flashes in week nine against the Buccaneers, coming up in run support on nearly every play, locating the ball, and even recording some tackles for a change.

LOW POINT: Despite the Saints' winning 45-17, Jones was single-handedly responsible for both Atlanta touchdowns in week seven, taking a horrible angle on Warrick Dunn on his 69-yard touchdown run and being out of position on a Brian Finneran TD reception.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: In week nine against the Tampa bay, Jones read and reacted to a Tampa screen play, single-handedly avoiding blocks and sniffing out Aaron Stecker in the backfield for a loss.


JAY BELLAMY
After suffering one of the most demoralizing off-seasons a player can have, from being demoted to backup duty to having fans heckle him during practice and scream for him to be cut, Jay has responded with authority. He is on pace to record over 100 tackles this season and is thriving in his new strong safety role in the absence of Mel Mitchell. Bellamy has become a leader on defense and despite his physical limitations has always given 100% on the field. Bellamy will make mistakes because he is not the biggest nor the fastest player in the league, but his heart and determination have allowed him to make some key plays this year for the Saints. I, for one, am glad Jay Bellamy is on this team.

HIGH POINT: Recording a team leading 11 solo tackles against Houston in week two and being largely responsible for the defense's success against the run.

LOW POINT: Despite his stellar performance in week two, being faked out of his shoes by quarterback David Carr for a touchdown. Poor Jay probably got heckled more at films the next day than he did during training camp.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Laying a kill shot on tight end Kris Mangum against Carolina in week eight. Mangum was forced to leave the game, and Bellamy's hit made it to Monday Night Countdown's "JACKED UP" session on ESPN.


CORNERBACKS
Sporting a couple of geriatrics in Dale Carter and Ashley Ambrose and an undersized scrapper in Fred Thomas, this unit has had its share of ups and downs. The Saints pass defense has been greatly improved this season, in large part due to its cornerbacks. Carter, when healthy, has the ability to stay glued to his man for an entire game. Thomas, a slight 5'9 (in high heels), leads the Saints in tackles this season. He is a fiery competitor that is nearly impossible to shake and despite his size, tackles like a linebacker. Ambrose, while he has lost a step along with a starting job, is a very smart and heady player who has good ball skills and a slight cockiness about him. Past Ambrose, the Saints have very little depth at corner.

HIGH POINT: Ambrose's two interception performance against Tampa Bay in week nine in which he returned one of the two picks 73 yards for a touchdown.

LOW POINT: Being lit up for 318 yards passing and 6 touchdowns in week four by the Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

MADE THEM SAY WHOA!: Fred Thomas leading the team in tackles this season, often wrapping up and driving down backs and tight ends twice his size as he did in week nine against Tampa Bay.


FINAL THOUGHTS
In light of the Saints cutting Grady Jackson, I opted not to say anything in-depth about his performance this season. While he did lead the Saints' interior line in tackles and sacks, one could tell by watching the games that Grady was overweight and not giving consistent effort. Grady wasn't even the same player that he was in preseason, when I, for one, had thought he had changed his attitude. He obviously hasn't, as evidenced by his remarks to Jim Haslett, and the Saints' front office has made the right decision.

Many fans are starting to get down on Donte Stallworth due to the fact that he has not been on the field lately. Let's not forget that Donte's last reception before his injury was 7-yard slant which he then turned into a 69-yard touchdown in week seven against Atlanta. Some people are questioning his hands, some his desire, some his maturity. Let me tell you that there is a reason Stallworth was picked 13th overall. He is not only a stellar athlete, but he is a stellar young man. One of my buddies who is a senior at Tennessee (year behind Stallworth) knew Donte personally and said he is one of the most upstanding, hardest working individuals one could ever meet. I can assure everyone that Donte wants to be on the field and is doing everything he can to rid himself of his nagging hammies (and quads), but they aren't that easy to get rid of. Sitting him these past two weeks was a precautionary decision made by the coaches and trainers. The last thing they need is for Donte to play with a pulled muscle and end up suffering a much more severe injury. As far as maturity goes, well, there's a difference between maturity and desire. If you remember, Donte declared for the draft after his junior year then tried to go back to college. That in itself was a sign of some immaturity. He is an immature player right now, but I would much rather have him over Jeremy Shockey or Philip Buchanan or any of the other players I hear irrate fans screaming for. Donte is going to be a great player in this league and for this team.

In light of his performance Sunday, I would like to see Michael Lewis utilized in this offense more. He is a very capable receiver and a dangerous weapon. I don't think he can be a full-time #3 receiver because of his size. Slot receivers need to be big targets with great hands that run precise routes. Nevertheless, Michael proved to be very reliable in the passing game Sunday. Let's hear it for the Beer Man!

Last but not least, I have an update for the TMQ fans out there. Following the mysterious exedous of TMQ (aka Greg Easterbrook) from ESPN.com, I talked to the official brother of TMQ, Neil Easterbrook. Neil is an English Lit teacher here at TCU and I am currently enrolled in one of his courses. He filled me in on the situation and the good news is that TMQ LIVES ON! If you enjoy his satirical style and unique perspective, you can find TMQ (currently in exile) at www.FootballOutsiders.com. If you have any further questions please e-mail me.

Monday, November 03, 2003
The Bayou Bulletin: A Well-Deserved Break
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:55 pm CST

We’ve finally made it. The week every NFL team waits for…the week that’s circled on every football player’s calendar, because they know that after all their hard work, they’re finally going to get a break. It doesn’t matter if you’re the defending Superbowl champions, or the poor souls who get the first pick of the draft, this week always brings a smile to your face. You don’t have to put forth one single ounce of effort, and you’re guaranteed not to lose.

Let’s take a look at what this week means to the average football player, position by position. It’s actually somewhat entertaining if you take the time to look at it through their eyes.

The Quarterback. Finally, this is the week that it’s a given you’re not going to screw up! The pressure’s off, take a break…this one’s on the house. There’s no risk of throwing an interception on a critical drive, getting pounded to the ground by some defensive lineman, or calling an audible that doesn’t work like you planned. This is the week that you can sit back and just let everything run its course with complete abandon. Nothing can possibly go wrong.

The Running Back. Your legs have taken you a long way so far in the season…you’ve earned this breather. No need to go running full speed ahead, some light jogging or trotting will be enough to get you through the week. Don’t risk straining yourself.

The Wide Receiver. Unfortunately for you, there won’t be anybody to break away from this week, because nobody’s going to be covering you in the first place. Yeah, I know that’s a bummer, but look on the bright side. You don’t have to worry about fumbling the ball on a hard blow, because you won’t be getting hit.

The Offensive Line. You guys don’t have to worry about anything. Your quarterback is safe this week. Just keep those arms and legs moving, you don’t want to get rusty before the next game.

The Secondary. They say that cornerbacks and safeties always make the highlights, and it’s usually not for the right reasons. Well put your mind at ease, you can’t possibly get burned this week.

The Defensive Line / Linebacking Core. It’s almost going to be like you’re unblockable, but don’t let it get to your head. Nobody’s there to block you. So go smack a few guys around this week, no harm done, and it’ll keep you warmed up for your next opponent.

The Kicker and Punter. Kickers do a lot of kicking every Sunday regardless of how a game pans out, and this week should be no exception. If anything, you should probably kick more. Nobody’s going to block it, so think of it as practice to stay sharp.

The Coaching Staff. It’s almost like you can’t go wrong! That’s because…you can’t go wrong! Don’t worry about calling the wrong play in and getting all the fans angry. This is one week you can’t screw up.

And there you have it, a brief, yet effective rundown of what I’m pretty sure every team would call the easiest week of the season. The truth of the matter is, this is the easiest week of the season…you don’t have to lift a finger because you can’t possibly lose.

So while we’re at it, let’s take a quick peek at the rest of our season. As I take a look at the next game on our schedu--…oh wait…this is our bye week? Oh no, I thought we were playing Atlanta! That’s next week, not this one!

I’m sorry, guys, I read the schedule wrong. Okay, so we’re going to have put forth a little more effort this week than I originally thought, but hey, at least we can’t lose. Come to think of it, this is kind of like two weeks off in a row. Hey, not bad.

Till next time, keep that black and gold polished!

Lee Hebert
- The Bayou Bullet


On a serious note…while we have been here in a rather trouble-free Louisiana, things have not been going so well for our brethren in southern California. As I’m sure most of you know, for over a week now, fires have ravaged the counties of San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Los Angeles. Over 740,000 acres have been burned, over 2,800 houses destroyed, and at least 20 killed.

We in Louisiana know what it’s like to be faced with forces of nature so powerful, as every hurricane season brings with it potential devastation. This is the kind of devastation that the people of southern California are facing now.

There is something I’d like everyone who reads this to do. I’m asking that you please get a small sticky note, write “Fires in California” on it, and stick it at the bottom of your monitor where you’ll see it. Every time you sit at the computer and this note catches your eye, say a quick prayer for the people facing this tragedy…for the people whose homes have been destroyed, the families who have lost loved ones, and the over 12,000 firefighters who have put their lives on the line to battle the inferno. This goes beyond the game of football.

To the San Diego Chargers and their fans: For the next week, the wallpaper on my desktop will be for the Chargers. I know that doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it’s just my way of letting you guys know that I’m thinking and praying for you, from one football fan to another. I wish you all safety and protection during these hard times.

God Bless,
Lee

Friday, October 31, 2003
MID-SEASON REPORT CARD, Saints v. Bucs, and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:21 pm CST
MIDSEASON REPORT CARD

The first half of the 2003 season has not been much fun for Saints’ fans. Watching an underachieving team every week has been painful (with the exception of the Atlanta game). Injuries and bad officiating have not helped the Saints’ cause to right the ship, however, the biggest reason that they have not been successful this year are themselves. Here are the grades as I see it:

QB-C+
-Aaron Brooks continues to be inconsistent week-to-week. Same story, different year.

RB-A+
-Deuce McAllister will go down as the greatest running back in Saints’ history. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.

WR-D
-What looked like the strongest and deepest position on the roster has been plagued by drops and injuries. Donte Stallworth has been a major disappointment so far.

TE-D
-Ernie Conwell looks to be just as big of a bust as Tebucky Jones. This position seems to get worse every year since Wesley Walls left in 1995.

OL-B
-McAllister is on his way to a 1500-yard rushing season and they have given Brooks plenty of time to throw the ball to his stone-hand receivers.

DL-D+
-Charles Grant is going to be the cornerstone of the defense. Sullivan is playing like a rookie and Grady Jackson has eaten his way out of New Orleans. Other than Grant, this unit gives opposing quarterbacks eons to throw the ball.

LB-C-
-Derrick Rogers has played good football. Since taking over the starting job at MLB, run-stuffing Orlando Ruff and co. have allowed 678 yards rushing in the past four games opposed to the 431 yards rushing allowed in the first four games.

DB-C-
-Tebucky Jones brings this grade down significantly. Jay Bellamy has done admirable at SS, Fred Thomas and Dale Carter have done an average job at best, and Ashley Ambrose just doesn’t have the explosion he had in his younger days. This group hasn’t done badly against the pass considering the lack of pressure put on the opposing quarterbacks.

Special Teams-D
-This unit was one of the best in the NFL last season. So far this season, it has been one of the worse.

Coaching-F
-Jim Haslett isn’t getting it done. Whether it’s the game plan, preparing the players, game management, personnel decisions, or all of the above, Haslett is not getting it done. There have been an abundance of complaining about Rick Venturi and Mike McCarthy, but the bottom line is that it all starts with the head coach. In 2000, Haslett was able to take an injured, less-talented team and turn them into overachievers. Since then, he has allowed two season-ending collapses, and has the 2003 Saints on the verge of a third collapse. Anything less than a playoff appearance this year would warrant a coaching change in my book.

IN REVIEW

You can chalk up last week’s heart-wrenching loss as another in the long series of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” games that the Saints let get away. In 2001, after an emotional loss to the Rams on Monday night, the Saints went into the tank for the rest of the season. In 2002, they did the same after losing on the last play of the game to the Vikings. It is scary to think that the same effects could be lurking around Airline Drive this year after this past week. There are still eight more games to go.

WEEK NINE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The defending world champions have yet to put back-to-back wins together this season. At 4-3, they are two games behind Carolina for the division lead. Injuries have hurt the Bucs this year, and distractions by Warren Sapp have not helped team morale. Despite this, the Bucs still have one of the best defenses in the league, and QB Brad Johnson seems to have grasped Jon Gruden’s offense. Michael Pittman is the Buccaneers’ leading rusher. Mike Alstott is on injured reserve.

KEY MATCHUPS:

OG LeCharles Bentley vs. DT Warren Sapp-this will be a great match up between the two big guys as they will try to prove to each other who is the better man. My prediction will be that Bentley wins the battle again.

Bucs’ Run Defense vs. RB Deuce McAllister-McAllister is one of the NFL’s premier running backs, rushing for over 100 yards in the past five games. In two of Tampa’s three losses, they have allowed the opposing running backs to gain over 100 yards.

Jim Haslett vs. the rest of the Saints team-Haslett needs to get his team fired up and ready to play. A win this week could go a long way in turning this season around. If the Saints get behind by two scores early, Haslett may have a mutiny on his hands.


SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Bucs favored by 8

What a tough game to swallow for Saints’ fans last week. This week is do-or-die for the Saints. A win this week, and they go into the bye week at 4-5, with a chance to get back to .500 the following week against the lowly Falcons. A loss this week will make it virtually improbable for the Saints to salvage this season. Judging from the history of the Saints, it doesn’t look good. Joe Horn is questionable to play, giving Aaron Brooks one less target to lock into when passing. McAllister gets 50 yards on the ground, 50 more receiving and a touchdown. Brooks throws the ball over 40 times for 250 yards, gets sacked four times and throws three interceptions. It will get ugly quick in Tampa. Scott says take the Buccaneers and lay the 8 points…Bucs 38, Saints 13

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: St. Louis –4 over San Francisco

And now for the rest of WEEK NINE:

Last Week: 5-8-1 (.384)
Season: 48-61-4 (.440)
Lock O’ The Week: 6-2 (.750)

Chi –2 ½ over SD
Bal –7 over Jax
Was +4 ½ over Dal
Det +3 over Oak
Car –6 ½ over Hou
Ind +3 over Mia
NYJ + 2 ½ over NYG
Cin –3 over Ari
Pit +4 ½ over Sea
Phi –4 ½ over Atl
Min –4 over GB
NE + 2 ½ over Den

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
The Bayou Bulletin: Tampa Bay Magic...or is it?
By
Lee Hebert - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 8:33 pm CST

Sunday afternoon. Turn on the TV. Turn off the lights. It’s time for NFC South football. And what better game to watch than the bitter rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Both teams are off to sub-stellar starts this season, with the Saints nursing a record of 3-5 and the Bucs a surprisingly disappointing 4-3, two games behind the NFC South leading Carolina Panthers. This game is vital for both teams but especially for the Saints, who are looking to get a foothold in the division and begin a rebound over the latter half of the season. A win over Tampa Bay would do just that.

Last year New Orleans had the Buccaneers’ number, sweeping them in both division games, a feat that left a bitter sensation lurking in Raymond James Stadium. That feeling has carried over onto this year, as Gruden and the boys are looking for vengeance.

Despite New Orleans’ inability to find consistency in their game this year, nobody can deny their offensive potential. Aaron Brooks has struggled at times, though his long-range cannon has been more than apparent in the games that the Saints have won.

Deuce McAllister has been impressive, as always, and continues to collect 100-yard games. Joe Horn and the rest of the receiving core are undoubtedly one of the best in the league. This is a dangerous team with a plethora of potential. But will it be enough to take down the Superbowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
No. Not hardly.

Tampa Bay is going to crush New Orleans this Sunday. It’s going to be so bad, that the whole of Florida is going to feel the earth tremble at the might of the Red Swarm. It’s going to be worst than ugly. It’s going to be humiliating.

What is it about Tampa Bay that’s going to make them blow out the Saints so badly?

Is it their resurging offense that’s managed to find a way to put 20+ points on the board?

Is it the genius of their coaching, led by arguably the best head coach in the league in Jon Gruden?

Is it their bone-crunching defense, back for more after being #1 last year, with the added benefit of having a rather large chip on their shoulder?

None of the above.

So what is it then? Why will this game be so one-sided? Well…I think the picture below will speak for itself.



There it is, right there in Monte Kiffin’s right hand. Still don’t see it? Let’s zoom in a little closer.



And there it is, as plain as day. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are using a Game Genie.

Think about it for a moment…it makes sense.

How else could you explain Tampa Bay scoring more than three points a game?

The Bucs…with an explosive offense? That was the red flag right there. And now, well, the explanation is obvious.

The sad truth is, there’s no way around this. I’ve checked the official league rules, and there is nothing restricting the use of a Game Genie in an NFL game. It seems as if Gruden has found the ultimate loophole, and he’s going to use it this week to dismantle New Orleans.

So how does that explain the three losses on Tampa’s record? It’s deceptively simple. Those other teams were using cheat codes too. I mean seriously…Jake Delhomme is 6-1? The Colts are 6-1 without Edgerrin James? Give me a break here, guys. And we all know that California is in a total economic crisis, so they probably couldn’t afford the cost of powering both the stadium and the Genie at the same time.

So what options do the Saints have? Is it totally futile? Almost…but not quite. There is one thing that New Orleans can do, but it won’t be easy. They’re going to have to steal the Game Genie. You see the passes in every game…the quarterback goes back to throw, he lobs the ball forward, and it sails out of bounds through the receiver’s hands. The receiver ends up on the opposing team’s sidelines, where he’s taunted vigorously before he retreats back onto the field for the next play. This is going to have to happen. And when it does, whoever the receiver happens to be, they’re going to have to bump into whoever has the Genie, and snatch it up. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only one New Orleans has.

If the Saints can pull it off, they can turn the tables and win this thing. If not, then it’s going to be a long game. Only time will tell. And of course, cheat codes.

/satire

-Lee Hebert
AKA The Bayou Bullet

Friday, October 24, 2003
WEEK EIGHT-Saints vs. Panthers Part TWO and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:31 am CST

IN REVIEW

Last week’s game couldn’t have been any better. A dominating performance against the Saints’ long time rival Atlanta had all the markings of a season-altering turnaround. Aaron Brooks played brilliant, looking like the type of quarterback one would expect going into his third year as a full time starter. He played with confidence, threw with authority, and carried himself like a leader both on and off the field. Many have been critical of Brooks this season, including myself, which made his performance on Sunday that much more refreshing. If Brooks can demonstrate that type of play consistently on a week-to-week basis, the Saints will be hard to beat the rest of the year. (And it certainly didn’t hurt that Mike McCarthy FINALLY opened up the offense, allowing Brooks to play his type of game, utilizing his best abilities)

WEEK EIGHT: Carolina Panthers

Carolina is coming off of its first loss of the season last week against Tennessee. They should be focused after losing, and its secondary is fired up due to Joe Horn’s derogatory comments after their first meeting this year. Delhomme had his best day number-wise passing last week, but that is mainly due to the fact that the Panthers were behind on the scoreboard.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS?

If the Saints are going to win this game, they have to stop Stephen Davis, plain and simple. The defense has been playing well the past two weeks, however, their competition hasn’t been what you would call “high-caliber.” The Panthers’ offense isn’t really “high-caliber” either, but they can run the football and control the clock while moving the chains. It will be critical for the Saints to get an early lead on the Panthers and force them to do what they aren’t accustomed to doing: passing the football.

On offense, Brooks doesn’t need to throw for 350 yards again this week in order for the Saints to win, but he does need to continue to do a good job of protecting the football when passing, and running when he has got some daylight in front of him. The wide receivers did a good job of catching the football last week, penalties were minimal, and they were able to sustain drives. If the offense can continue where they left off last week, Carolina will be hard pressed to win.

KEY MATCHUPS

Joe Horn vs. Panthers DBs-Horn ran his mouth after losing in Carolina a few weeks back, and the Panthers’ secondary are not happy about it. They will be looking for any shots they can take on Horn, who is already banged up. When Joe has a good game, the Saints win.

Orlando Ruff vs. Stephen Davis-Ruff is starting again at middle linebacker, and he was brought in to stop guys like Davis. This will be the key to the game. If Davis goes for 150 yards again, Panthers win.

Saints Special Teams vs. Panthers Special Teams-without Rod Smart’s kickoff return for a touchdown in the first meeting, the game may have had a different victor. The Saints were without their equalizer, Michael Lewis, who would have never let Smart reach the end zone. Lewis is listed as probable for Sunday’s game, and let’s hope he can go full speed, for special teams may decide this game as well.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 1

Winning breeds confidence. The Saints have been winning. The Saints are a dangerous team when they are confident. This week’s game will be a barnburner. Penalties and turnovers will be the deciding factor. Deuce McAllister goes for his fifth straight 100-yard game with 130 on the ground and two touchdowns. Brooks completes 65% of his passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns, throws one interception. Davis gets 120 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Delhomme starts off hot; completing his first eight passes, including a touchdown. Charles Grant and Willie Whitehead sack Delhomme twice each, causing a fumble. John Kasay kicks two field goals, but its not enough. I like the Saints for the third week in a row. Scott says take the Saints and lay the point…Saints 31, Panthers 27

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Miami –3 over San Diego

And now for the rest of WEEK EIGHT

Last Week: 10-4 (.714)
Season: 43-53-3 (.447)
Lock O’ The Week: 5-2 (.714)

Bal –1 ½ over Den
Chi –3 over Det
Sea –1 ½ over Cin
Ten –3 ½ over Jax
Min –5 ½ over NYG
Cle +6 over NE
Stl +1 ½ over Pit
Dal +6 ½ over TB
SF –6 ½ over Ari
Ind –13 over Hou
NYJ +3 over Phi
Buf + 6 ½ over KC

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Saints vs. Panthers - Keys to the Game
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:41 pm CST

The Saints are at an early fork in the road this week. A victory will put them back in the race and a loss could be too much of a setback to overcome. Either way, the pressure will continue to mount.

The season is far enough along to reveal tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. As for the Saints offense, the Panthers would do well to rush four and drop back in coverage on passing downs. While Brooks had a stellar day against the Falcons, the way to beat the Saints passing game is to force Brooks to go through a progression of reads. There is a better chance of getting a coverage sack against Brooks than with an all out blitz.

To counter this, the Saints will have to rely on the intermediate and short passing game. The line will have to "down block" to open passing lanes for Brooks and avoid batted passes at the line. In fact, I think a lot of Aaron's passes that have been knocked down are attributable to poor blocking techniques on short routes. The screen could work against the Panthers defensive formation but the Saints have yet to execute that play consistently.

The key player this week will be Jerome Pathon on quick outs and especially over the middle. The Panthers bit hard on the play action pass against Tennessee last week and I expect the Saints to use it a lot. Conwell will probably be used as an extra blocker if the Saints have trouble managing the Panther front four.

Delhomme throws timing routes and the Saints defenders will have to disrupt the Panther receivers coming off the line. Fred Thomas will be a target, but I expect Victor Green will see more action this week to help Fred shadow his man.

Both teams prefer to rely on the run but I think the Saints have more versatility and playmakers to execute a balanced attack. If Stephen Davis and Deuce have a big day it will probably account for a close game and conservative play calling with the game coming down to the last possession. Whoever is behind will probably have to abandon the run for the pass and I would give the edge to the Saints passing attack.

This is an extremely tough game to predict. The Saints will be intent on stopping Davis and the Panthers will focus on containing Deuce. I believe the Saints have the edge with a balanced offense and I pick them to win the game 24-20.

>>Article Discussion

Top Senior Prospects for the 2004 Draft - Update
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 8:09 am CST

(As of 10/21/03)

1. Eli Manning- QB. 6-4, 212 Mississippi
2. Roy Williams- WR. 6-4, 210 Texas
3. D.J. Williams-OLB. 6-2, 244 Miami (Fla.)
4. Robert Gallery- OT. 6-7, 315 Iowa
5. Will Smith- DE. 6-4, 258 Ohio State
6. Karlos Dansby-OLB. 6-5, 240 Auburn
7. Derrick Strait-CB. 5-11, 197 Oklahoma
8. Dontarrious Thomas-OLB. 6-4, 238 Auburn
9. J.P. Losman- QB. 6-3, 220 Tulane
10. Vernon Carey-OG./OT. 6-5, 325 Miami (Fla.)
11. Nathan Vasher- CB. 5-11, 185 Texas
12. Rashaun Woods- WR. 6-3, 218 Oklahoma State
13. Jonathan Vilma- MLB. 6-2, 232 Miami (Fla.)
14. Ben Troupe- TE. 6-5, 255 Florida
15. Lee Evans-WR. 5-11, 195 Wisconsin
16. Dunta Robinson-CB. 6-0, 188 South Carolina
17. Michael Jenkins-WR. 6-4, 215 Ohio State
18. Jacob Rogers-OT. 6-5, 300 USC
19. Greg Jones-RB. 6-1, 245 Florida State
20. Ben Watson-TE. 6-3, 255 Georgia
21. Darrion Scott-DE./DT. 6-3, 280 Ohio State
22. Michael Boulware-OLB. 6-3, 228 Florida State
23. Marcus Tubbs-DT. 6-4, 310 Texas
24. Chad Lavalais-DT. 6-2, 300 LSU
25. Darnell Dockett-DT. 6-4, 290 Florida State
26. Claude Harriott-DE. 6-4, 275 Pittsburgh
27. Stephen Peterman-OG. 6-4, 330 LSU
28. Teddy Lehman-OLB./MLB. 6-2, 240 Oklahoma
29. Michael Turner-RB. 6-0, 222 Northern Illinois
30. Brandon Everage-S. 6-0, 195 Oklahoma
31. Greg Brooks-CB. 5-10, 180 Southern Mississippi
32. Tony Pape-OT. 6-6, 310 Michigan
33. DeMarco McNeil-DT. 6-1, 310 Auburn
34. Roderick Green-DE./OLB. 6-2, 240 Central Missouri State
35. Chris Perry-RB. 6-1, 222 Michigan
36. Stuart Schweigert-S. 6-3, 218 Purdue
37. Max Starks-OT./OG. 6-7, 338 Florida
38. Mewelde Moore-RB. 6-0, 210 Tulane
39. Cody Pickett-QB. 6-4, 225 Washington
40. Rod Davis-MLB. 6-2, 244 Southern Mississippi
41. Nathaniel Adibi-DE. 6-3, 259 Virginia Tech
42. Cedric Cobbs-RB. 6-0, 222 Arkansas
43. Dave Ball-DE. 6-4, 280 UCLA
44. Jason Babin-DE. 6-2, 265 Western Michigan
45. Maurice Jones-OLB. 6-1, 242 South Florida
46. Joey Thomas-CB. 6-1, 188 Montana State
47. Julius Jones-RB. 5-10, 216 Notre Dame
48. Bob Sanders-S. 5-8, 195 Iowa
49. Etric Pruitt-S. 5-11, 195 Southern Mississippi
50. Keyaron Fox-OLB. 6-2, 230 Georgia Tech
51. Daryl Smith-MLB. 6-2, 235 Georgia Tech
52. Kendyll Pope-OLB. 6-2, 228 Florida State
53. James Newson-WR. 6-1, 212 Oregon State
54. Isaac Hilton-DE. 6-3, 250 Hampton
55. Dwan Edwards-DT. 6-2, 310 Oregon State
56. Bo Schobel-DE. 6-5, 270 TCU
57. Johnnie Morvant-WR. 6-4, 230 Syracuse
58. Keith Smith- CB. 5-11, 184 McNeese State (LA.)
59. Madieu Williams-S. 6-0, 191 Maryland
60. John Navarre-QB. 6-6, 235 Michigan

Top Juniors who could Change the 1st couple of Rounds in 2004

1. Shawn Andrews-OT. 6-5, 360 Arkansas
2. Reggie Williams-WR. 6-4, 225 Washington
3. Steven Jackson-RB. 6-1, 230 Oregon State
4. Sean Taylor-S. 6-3, 220 Miami (Fla.)
5. Kellen Winslow, JR.-TE. 6-4, 235 Miami (Fla.)
6. Tommie Harris-DT. 6-3, 290 Oklahoma
7. Derrick Johnson-OLB. 6-4, 225 Texas
8. Vince Wilfork-DT. 6-2, 330 Miami (Fla.)
9. Marlin Jackson-CB. 6-1, 190 Michigan
10. Chris Gamble-CB. 6-2, 185 Ohio State
11. Kevin Jones-RB. 6-0, 212 Virginia Tech
12. Michael Clayton-WR. 6-4, 215 LSU
13.Carnell "Cadillac" Williams-RB. 5-11, 210 Auburn
14. DeAngelo Hall-CB. 5-11, 202 Virginia Tech
15. David Pollack-DE. 6-2, 275 Georgia
16. Randy Starks-DT. 6-4, 310 Maryland
17. Nat Dorsey-OT. 6-6, 335 Georgia Tech
18.Devard Darling-WR. 6-3, 210 Washington State
19.Jammal Brown-OT. 6-6, 315 Oklahoma
20. Jamaal Brimmer-S. 6-1, 210 Nevada-Las Vegas
21. Kevin Burnett-OLB. 6-3, 230 Tennessee
22. Corey Webster-CB. 6-0, 199 LSU
23. Cedric Benson-RB. 6-0, 218 Texas
24. Matt Ware-CB./S. 6-2, 218 UCLA

Friday, October 17, 2003
WEEK SEVEN: Saints vs. Falcons and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:38 pm CST

The Saints defense has been playing admirably the past two weeks, while the offense continues to struggle in the passing game. Luckily for the Saints, the face another one-win team this week in the Falcons. With a win, the Saints will be one victory away from .500.

WEEK SEVEN: Atlanta Falcons

Dan Reeves is shaking the offense up by starting Kurt Kittner this week at quarterback. Kittner was the quarterback for Illinois when they played LSU in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. He has seen very little action in regular season games, and will have to rely on the running attack of TJ Duckett and Warrick Dunn.

The Falcons’ defense has had its share of problems both on and off the field. Injuries, arrests, and internal fighting have weakened an already suspect unit. LB Keith Brooking, who hasn’t played up to his multi-million dollar contract this season, leads the Falcons.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS?

On offense, the wide receiver corps needs to stop talking and start catching the passes that hit them in the hands. Donte Stallworth, Joe Horn, and Ernie Conwell have all been guilty of crucial drops since the start of the season. Aaron Brooks needs to get rid of the ball quicker by making faster decisions, and needs to play his game of jailbreak running that he was successful with in the 2000 season. Deuce just needs to stay healthy.

On defense, you can expect to see plenty of Duckett and Dunn running the ball. They will simplify the offense this week, similar to what Carolina did. Kittner’s best chance at success will be three-step drops with quick passes and good game management. If Orlando Ruff and Co. can keep the Falcons in third and long situations; they should be able to force Kittner into mistakes, i.e. sacks and interceptions. If the Falcons get good yardage on first and second down, it could make for a long day.

KEY MATCHUPS

LeCharles Bentley vs. Victor Riley: What are these two guys fighting for in the locker room? Riley was arguing with Conwell and Boo Williams last Sunday, now Bentley. These two guys represent the right side of the offensive line, so let’s hope they can put whatever happened behind them, and play as a unit this Sunday.

Aaron Brooks vs. Saints’ Receivers: How long will it take before Brooks’ gets frustrated and jumps someone’s butt for dropping passes? While it is important to maintain confidence in your receivers, eventually, someone has to stand up and make a statement. Let’s hope the receivers snap out of their funk this week.

Jim Haslett vs. Dan Reeves: Reeves out coached Haslett twice last year. Both coaches are struggling with success this year, although Reeves seems to be in deeper water than Haslett at this point. Haslett will have to stay on McCarthy and Venturi’s case all game long to make sure nothing is left to chance.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 1 ½

Last week, I went with the Saints due to the fact that their opponent was in worse shape then they were. This week, I will do the same. Deuce will top the century mark again with 120 yards and two touchdowns. Brooks gets his typical 180 yards and two touchdowns in the air. Stallworth and Horn each catch a touchdown pass, with Horn’s being a long distance-type of catch. The Falcons’ duo of Dunn and Duckett rush for 140 yards, but Kittner is intercepted three times, and Charles Grant gets two of the Saints’ six sacks on the day. It will be ugly, and it will be close, but I like the Saints again. Scott says take the Saints and lay the points…Saints 28, Falcons 20

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Saints – 1 ½ over the Falcons

And now for the rest of WEEK SEVEN:

Last Week: 5-9 (.357)
Season: 36-49-3 (.423)
Lock O’ The Week: 4-2 (.667)

Ten +2 over Car
Bal –2 over Cin
SD +5 over Cle
Dal –3 over Det
NE +5 over Mia
Min –3 ½ over Den
Phi +3 over NYG
STL –4 over GB
NYJ –3 over Hou
Was +2 ½ over Buf
TB –3 ½ over SF
Sea –11 over Chi
KC –3 ½ over Oak

Thursday, October 09, 2003
WEEK SIX-Saints vs. Bears and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:06 pm CST

Last week was another “Chinese water torture”-type game for Saints’ fans, as the heroes in black and gold lost in Carolina. Carolina was another reminder as to what the Saints were supposed to be this year, and a gauge as to how far the Saints have to go to get where they need to be. Jim Haslett and Co. has not done a good job at all this season in regards to preparation, play calling, talent evaluating, and game management. Once again, I know Haslett can’t tackle for them, but he is the one who brought in the players who can’t tackle. He has stuck with a quarterback who is in desperate need of seeing some time on the bench, which has caused several veterans to question the leadership of this football team (and I’m not talking about once the game has gotten out of hand.) Injuries has certainly hurt the defense, however, the same cannot be said about the offense, yet the production from the offense has been reminiscent of the Mike Ditka-era Saints. The only shining bright spot on the 53-man roster is Deuce McAllister, whose performance last Sunday was one of legend. For those out there that are still mad about the Saints trading Ricky Williams, let me say this: I’ll take Deuce McAllister ANY DAY over Williams and twice on Sunday. ‘Nuff said.

WEEK SIX: Chicago Bears

The Bears have gotten their running game cranked up the past two weeks as Anthony “A-train” Thomas has gone over the century mark in both games. The Bears also got their first win of the season last week against the Oakland Raiders. Kordell Stewart returns to the Big Easy as a starting quarterback for the first time in his career. Marty Booker, a Louisiana-Monroe graduate, also returns to Louisiana to play in an NFL game for the first time.

The Bears defense is led by All Pro Linebacker Brian Urlacher. Chicago’s run defense has given up an alarming 168.5 yards per game. If the Saints are going to have success, it will be on the ground.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS

When you have a defense that can’t get off the field on third downs, and the offense can’t stay on the field for more than three downs, the football team will lose. The offense has been flat all season long, which has put too much pressure on the injury-plagued defense. Even if the defense was healthy, due to the off-season moves, or lack thereof, this team came into the season as basically the same team last season. Their success last season was an explosive offense and solid special teams, which allowed them to win shootouts by outscoring their opponents. When they lost, it was due to turnovers, costly penalties, and too many three-and-outs. Not surprisingly, those same reasons that caused them to lose last year are causing them to lose this year and the biggest difference is that they have committed these errors the entire season with the exception of the second half against the Texans.

KEY MATCHUPS

RB Deuce McAllister vs. LB Brian Urlacher-Urlacher is the only playmaker on the Bears defense this season, and he will have to be a one-man wrecking crew against the run if the Bears are going to have any success against Deuce McAllister. Deuce could finally break out for over 150 yards and several touchdowns.

LB Orlando Ruff vs. RB Anthony Thomas-Ruff was brought in to stop the run, and the main weapon the Bears have is Thomas. Thomas will run for his third consecutive 100-yard game if Ruff has a bad game. If Thomas can control the Saints’ defense, they will be in the game until the end.

QB Aaron Brooks vs. QB Kordell Stewart-these two underachievers will both have to have error-free games in order to win the game for their perspective teams. Whatever quarterback loses could be on their way out as the starter for their team.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Saints favored by 5 ½

After the Tennessee game, I swore I would not pick the Saints the rest of the season until they started playing consistently better. They played better football last week than they have the rest of the season, which is not saying much about their level of play so far. Deuce has another big day; he’ll rush for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Brooks throws for 190 yards and two touchdowns, one to Horn, one to Pathon. A-Train gets 90 yards on the ground and two scores, Stewart gets another 40 on the ground and a score. Saints defense sacks Kordell five times and intercepts two passes. John Carney kicks a field goal for good measure. I’m going against my statement this week; I like the Saints to win. Scott says take the Saints and lay the points…Saints 38, Bears 24

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Pittsburgh +6 ½ over Denver

And now for the rest of WEEK SIX:

Last Week: 3-10-1 (.230) *yuck
Season: 31-40-3 (.422)
Lock O’ The Week: 3-2 (.600)

Oak +3 over Cle
Phi +1 over Dal
GB –1 ½ over KC
Ind –5 over Car
Mia –3 over Jax
NE +2 ½ over NYG
Hou +10 over Ten
Was +3 over TB
Bal – 5 ½ over Ari
Buf –2 ½ over NYJ
Sea –3 ½ over SF
Atl +11 ½ over Stl

Thursday, October 02, 2003
WEEK FIVE: SAINTS vs. PANTHERS and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:49 am CST

Thank goodness this week’s game is in Carolina. Not for any other reason other than they won’t have to hear their own fans boo them as they take the field. Now, it’s not that they don’t deserved being booed by their own fans, “they” being everyone from Tom Benson all the way down to the water boys, but historically under Jim Haslett, the team seems to focus better when they are away from the Big Easy, not that this year has been any indication of that. A win this week could go a long way in salvaging what could be one of the most disappointing seasons in the franchise’s long and dubious history. Another loss, especially to a Jake Delhomme-led Panther team could be the final nail in the coffin for the 2003 season and perhaps the beginning of the end of the Jim Haslett-era.

*On a side note, seeing the return of the bag heads sickens me. I’m all for fans showing their frustrations with the team, especially in funny and creative ways, but please, no more paper bags. It’s so 1980ish. Try plastic instead, they are much more effective. And they work better than paper as barf bags when you get sick while watching the Saints lose.

WEEK FIVE: Carolina Panthers

It is only fitting that Jake Delhomme is starting this week for the team that knocked the Saints out of the playoffs last year. In that game last year, everyone knew that Aaron Brooks should have been held out in favor of Delhomme due to Brooks’ hurt shoulder. So far, Delhomme has led the Panthers to a 3-0 start; including a win against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. The Panthers’ defense and special teams has been the catalyst so far this season, along with the running of Stephen Davis.

The Panthers’ defense is led by their front four: Julius Peppers, Brenston Buckner, Mike Rucker, and Kris Jenkins. Linebacker Dan Morgan returns this week from an injury, which will bolster an already solid defense. The special teams have already blocked six kicks this year, including three against the Buccaneers. Steve Smith is the Panthers’ dangerous return man who can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS?

Run Deuce right. Run Deuce left. 3rd and 8, pass incomplete. Fourth down, punt. This trend needs to stop immediately. Starting the game with three tight ends and one receiver on first and second down is another trend that needs changing. Just because the Saints have a better corps of tight ends this year doesn’t mean they need to put them all on the field at once. The offense needs to start passing the ball to open up the run, instead of trying to do the opposite. I’m not a coach and I don’t play one on TV, but if the Saints are going to keep using the three tight end set on first and second down, and keep two of three dangerous receivers on the sideline, as an opposing defensive coordinator, I’m sending Mike McCarthy a fruit basket and a bottle of wine to thank him for making my job easy.

KEY MATCHUPS

Saints’ Fans vs. The Remote Control: If the Saints jump out to an early deficit like they did in the last two weeks, Saints’ fans will be hard pressed not to change the channel to watch professional ice skating or golf.

Huey P Long Bridge vs. The Mississippi River Bridge: How many times did your mom or dad ask you as a child, “if so-and-so jumped off the Mississippi River Bridge, would you do it, too?” Depending on where you were raised in New Orleans probably dictates what bridge was used in that saying. If Jake beats the Saints, fans will be lining up on both.

Rush Limbaugh vs. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder: Who will go down as saying the stupidest racial remarks?

SCOTT”S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Panthers favored by 7

With the exception of the second half against the Texans, the Saints have been one of the NFL’s worst teams this season. Delhomme will be fired up to play his old teammates, and knows much of the defense’s strengths and weaknesses. Their strength has been running the ball all year, and that’s what they will continue to do with Davis running for 135 and two touchdowns. Delhomme will throw for one touchdown and 250 yards. Steve Smith will return a punt for a touchdown as well. Deuce gets 120 yards and two scores on the ground, catches five more passes for 50 yards. Aaron Brooks throws for 190 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. Another long day in what will be a long year for the Saints. Scott says take the Panthers and lay the points…Panthers 34, Saints 24.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Minnesota –4 over Atlanta

And now for the rest of WEEK FIVE:

Last week: 9-5 (.505)
Season: 28-30-2 (.482)
Lock O’ the Week: 2-2 (.500)

Buf –8 over Cin
Oak –4 over Chi
Ari +7 over Dal
Sea + 2 ½ over GB
KC –3 ½ over Den
Ten –1 ½ over NE
NYG over Mia
SD +3 over Jax
Was + 5 ½ over Phi
Det +7 over SF
Pit –6 ½ over Cle
Ind + 4 ½ over TB

Friday, September 26, 2003
WEEK FOUR- Saints vs. Colts and Fearless Predictions
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:04 pm CST
It’s hard to put the blame on one particular person on this year’s Saints team. Quarterback Aaron Brooks has played well in all three games. Deuce McAllister is still healthy after three games. Same goes for Donte Stallworth. The Saints finally have a decent tight end in Ernie Conwell. So what’s the deal with the offense? The offensive line has not played well, particularly in the middle, which was supposedly their strength. And the play-calling has been so predictable that my 88-year old grandmother knows what play is coming before they break the huddle. And she is half-blind, half-deaf, and half-dead, poor thing. If the Saints’ offense doesn’t get back on track, she may lose her will to live. OK, it’s not that bad as long as Matlock doesn’t get cancelled, but it is disturbing to see this poor woman suffering every Sunday watching this under-achieving, non-emotional, “professional” football team go through the motions while trying to accomplish pitiful game plans by the offensive coordinator.

Defensively, everyone is still waiting to see Tebucky Jones make a tackle. Someone needs to tell Ashley Ambrose that Saints’ fans know the difference when a cornerback gets burned all game long and when they have a good game. What happened to Keyuo Craver playing defensive back? It’s hard to believe that Fahkir Brown is a better playmaker than Craver, unless the coaches are afraid that if Craver gets hurt, their special teams units will suffer too much. Special teams’ ace Michael Lewis has been non-effective due to teams kicking away from him, instead kicking to dangerous return specialists like Melvin Williams. Can someone explain to me what was going on in Williams’ head after the safety? Why does someone have to explain to Williams that he is a 300 lb. defensive lineman that shouldn’t be worried about catching a football? I know he is known for his speed as a pash rusher, but come on. If Williams needs to be told not to field the ball at this point of the season, maybe he shouldn’t be out their on returns.

Bottom line, Saints fans, the coaching staff, starting with Head Coach Jim Haslett has done a poor job so far this year. Sure, Haslett, we know you can’t tackle for them, but who brought in players like Tebucky Jones and Jay Bellamy? If the personnel on the team are good enough to bring a championship to this city, then it’s got to be the game planning, and lack of adjustments during the game. If the game plan is there, but they don’t have enough good players to execute it correctly, then obviously Haslett didn’t get the job done in the off-season. And I don’t want to hear about injuries, because every team in the NFL has injuries, and that is what depth is for. This is your fourth year, Coach Haslett; there are no more excuses.

WEEK FOUR: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The Colts bring a talented offensive and an improving defense into the Superdome on Sunday night. Peyton Manning comes home once again, along with John Ehret-graduate Reggie Wayne and the always-dangerous Marvin Harrison. Edgerrin James looks like he has returned to his Pro-Bowl form so far this year, although he did get knicked up last week, and is listed as questionable for Sunday night’s game.

The Colts’ defense has played well so far in 2003. DE Dwight Freeney has led the defense with a relentless pash rush, although he is injured and may miss Sunday night’s game. The Colts’ defense is currently ranked 5th in the NFL, including 2nd in the NFL in passing defense.

KEY MATCHUPS

LT Tarik Glenn vs. DE Charles Grant- Grant has played like a first round pick so far this season, and is poised to have a breakout year. Glenn is a solid left tackle that will be responsible for protecting Manning’s blind side. Grant will have to get to Manning quick, as Peyton gets rid of the ball in a hurry.

Colts DL vs. Saints OL- The Saints are going to try to pound Deuce all night long, and it will be important for the interior of the Saints’ offensive line to show up and play hard this week. Last week, Fontenot, Jacox, and Bentley were getting pushed into the backfield regularly.

Tony Dungy vs. Jim Haslett- So far, Haslett has been out coached twice this year, and Dungy is an experienced leader. It should be interesting to see what transpires after halftime.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Line: Colts favored by 2

So far, I’m 0 for 3 in predicting the Saints’ games and the point spread. I can’t take the Saints this week, although my heart wants me to. I can’t justify picking the Saints until they show up on more of a consistent basis. Hopefully, Victor Green will add to the defense in a positive way, and Tebucky Jones realizes that he gets paid to tackle, not hit. Brooks has another good game, completing 60 % of his passes and a touchdown. McAllister will pick up 60 yards and a score on the ground, and catch five balls out of the backfield. Joe Horn doesn’t get too bored and catches six passes for 90 yards and a score. John Carney and Mike Vanderjagt will be the story in this game, with both kicking three field goals. I won’t get fooled again. Scott says take the Colts and lay the two points. Saints lose…Colts 30, Saints 22.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Lock O’ The Week: Kansas City –3 over Baltimore

And now for the rest of WEEK FOUR:

Last Week: 7-7 (.500)
Season: 19-25-2 (.431)
Lock O’ The Week: 1-2 (.333)

Phi +3 over Buf
Atl +6 over Car
Cle –4 ½ over Cin
Jax –3 over Hou
Min over SF
Pit –3 over Ten
Ari +10 ½ over Stl
Was + 2 ½ over NE
SD +7 over Oak
Det + 12 ½ over Den
Dal +3 over NYJ
GB –4 over Chi

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Word on the Street
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 8:30 pm CST

Word on the Street

When Jim Haslett took over the Saints he laughed at former head coach Mike Ditka's roster of misfits and over achievers. Claiming he could get players off the street that were more talented. Well the Saints have come full circle, because now that we have a new decision maker in Haslett there are guys on the street that can easily come in and contribute and maybe even start for the greatness that is Jim Haslett.


CB/FS Ryan McNeil- The old man might not have a whole lot left, but he can easily start at nickelback for the Saints and this defensive backfield needs more size to matchup with the new breed of big and tall WR's.

DE/LB Shurron Pierson- Got caught up in a numbers game in Oakland, but he has the raw physical ability to shine at the buck end position. Is he a complete LB... nope, but he can provide a pass rush and this defense cannot get to the QB right now.

CB/FS Doug Evans- Evans was "Toast" last year at CB, but at FS he might have something left. Either way a tall DB must be added. Because with Dale Carter out this team is just not capable of matching up with big WR's.

LB Darren Hambrick- Is he a money player with character concerns??? Yep... thats why he's still out there, but he has starting experience and a nose for the ball. So beggars can't be choosers.

LB Raynoch Thompson- A great athlete that has just never been able to put together a consistent package. Still his ability to run sideline to sideline would be an upgrade over some of the guys the saints have.

DE Reinard Wilson- When focused his athletic ability is great, but despite talent his cap number cost him a job. If used properly in the right scheme (we have no discernible scheme so changing it wouldn't be terribly hard) Wilson can tally 8 sacks a year.

LB/DE John Thierry- Thierry is getting up there in age, but his veteran leadership would do wonders for this defense and his ability to pressure the QB would be a new sensation for Saints fans. If he can pass the physical then signing would be a no brainer for a more astute Coach.


Haslett will more than likely not sign any of the above, or anyone for that matter, because that would mean admitting he is wrong. This ego, though temporarily pacified due to his lack of job security, has handcuffed a very talented scouting department. Because no matter how many times Haslett is encouraged to consider a player he simply nods and goes with his guys anyway. Disagreeing is basically firing yourself... How can people feel comfortable with their true opinions if they are afraid of being terminated? This has established a very narrow viewpoint of success and narrow minded behavior led to the Ditka Ages of Saintdom.


In the Wake of Blake

Jeff Blake's resurrection of the Arizona Cardinals offense has been fun to watch. Because Blake did the same thing for the Saints not so long ago. Then he went down with an injury allowing then young gun Aaron Brooks a chance to shine. Brooks led the Saints to a playoff win and Blake's injury pushed him to second fiddle. Which is commonplace in todays NFL.

Haslett then publicly proclaimed that "No player can lose their job to injury." This was strictly a bad public relations move because the front office had already decided to go with the younger and more explosive Brooks, and rightfully so, but to put on this facade of competition only served to divide the locker room and begin Haslett's do one thing say another approach to football. This is when Haslett's credibility with the players began to slowly perish and is now dead.

Just ask former FB Brian Milne, DT Norman Hand, or countless others on how much stock they put into Haslett's word.


Playing with Heart

The play of CB Fred Thomas has been one of the lone bright spots of a terrible defense. Despite his job being given to Ashley Ambrose, for no other reason than justification of bad off-season moves, Thomas never gave up and played hard every down he made it into the game. Now with Dale Carter's injury, Thomas has moved back into the starting lineup full time and has proven to all of his critics that he should have been starting from day one.

Sunday, September 21, 2003
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE PREDICTABILITY OF STUPIDITY: Saints' Gameplan Leaves Much To Be Desired
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:07 pm CST

Last week the NFL witnessed the Indianapolis Colts flog the Tennessee Titans 33-7. The gameplan was simple. It started on offense by spreading the field. The Colts used an array of motion and multiple receiver sets to keep the Tennessee defense off-balance. The Indianapolis offense, however, remained balanced by handing the ball to Edgerrin James 30 times for 120 yards.

Defensively, the Colts knew what they had to do and did it: take Steve McNair out of the game. First, gain an early lead so Eddie George was not a factor. Then they released the pass rush. The Colts victory was easily attained and the Titans went home frowning.

Did the Saints coaching staff forget to watch film last week?

I commended Mike McCarthy for his patience last week against the Texans. But the Titans are a different ball club. With five defensive starters MIA, one would think that McCarthy would scheme aggressively on offense to compensate for an injury-depleted defense.

I really underestimated Mike on this one!


SOMETHING MUST BE IN THE WATER IN THE BIG EASY!

The tell-tale sign of an ineffective offensive gameplan is when a team does not begin to move the ball until it is forced to get away from its script. There is no reason why each of the Saints top three wide receivers should not be receiving at least 4 balls a game. Why is it that the New Orleans coaching staff has no perception of its own predictability, but everyone else in the league does?

CASE IN POINT: Deuce McAllister tallied 11 carries for 8 yards against the Titans. Nine of his carries were in the first half. Why oh why was Deuce so ineffective?

THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE!

Mike McCarthy does not know how to utilize his talent. He is the opposite of Mike Martz (head coach/Offensive Coordinator of the St. Louis Rams) in that he wants to rely too much on his best player (Deuce McAllister). It is like an army commander who refuses to use the world's most potent airforce because he would rather go at the enemy with his Sherman Tank. Mike McCarthy is who makes this team one-dimensional.

It has been said time and time again: this team is built to set up the run with the pass. Deuce McCallister could easily have had a 150-yard rushing game against the Titans' defense. But the Saints chose not to spread and stretch the field in the first half. Deuce was constantly working against a stacked box. Even his two big runs last week against Houston were made against eight-man fronts. You cannot ask a running back to consistently break tackles in the backfield. You also cannot ask a offensive line with an average weight of roughly 313 pounds to consistently wear down opposing defenses through the running game.

PATIENCE IS A TWO-WAY STREET

While I mentioned last week that I admired the Saints' first half patience against the Texans, I cannot say the same thing this week. While it was the same conservative approach, you must view such an approach through a kaleidoscope. Trying to force-feed the ball to Deuce McAllister is not an exhibition of patience.

While some may argue that McAllister only carried the ball 11 times, the fact is that the Saints only possessed the ball for a mere 20 minutes and 49 seconds. Not to mention they were playing from behind throughout the game. Deuce should have had 20 + carries this game. The mistake was trying to give him all 20 on the first two possessions.

The patient approach would have been to spread the field on first and second down. Throw a deep pass to Joe Horn on first down. Second down maybe a crossing pattern. Run the ball on third down. Just mix up the play calling. So what if not every pass is a completion! At least you have gotten the safety out of the box and Deuce now has some breathing room.


IDENTITY CRISIS

I could rant on about Mike McCarthy forever. Instead, I will make this one quick point: Mike is committing the carnal sin of coaching. He is trying to force players to conform to his scheme. To have a successful team you have to scheme to the strengths of your players. The New Orleans Saints have an identity on offense. They are an explosive, multidimensional offense that should be putting up 30 points each game. Why this is not happening is obvious and perhaps it is time for a change, whether that comes about by Mike McCarthy changing his ways or the front office changing its offensive coordinator. One thing is certain: if these stubborn tendencies to not subside, the Saints will once again be home alone in January.


FINAL THOUGHTS

I know the coaching staff is trying to protect Aaron Brooks. They have said time and time again that they do not need him to win games for them because of all their weapons.

NEWSFLASH: Aaron is the medium for accessing these weapons and is a weapon in himself. In his 3rd year as the Saints' full-time starter, Aaron has never looked sharper than he has in these first three games. It is time to let the youngster loose. Part of the reason for protecting him is due to the boos of last year and the heat he has taken (largely unjustified) from the fans and the media for the past two late-season collapses. Forget the politics. Put the ball in Aaron's hands and let him sling it. Yea, he's going to throw some interceptions, but he's going to throw more touchdowns, and I have a feeling that the interceptions won't be of the costly variety.

Going off of the above passage, Aaron Brooks is not Trent Dilfer and should not be treated as such. He should not be used to manage games, he should be used to win games. This defense is not top five and certainly not top ten the way injuries have taken a toll. The offense cannot simply try to "manage" games and expect to win. They are going to have to put points on the board if they expect to make the playoffs.

I am much more comfortable losing when I know that this team did what it took to win. You don't want Aaron to take the heat for losing games? FINE! Don't put him in that position. If the offense puts up points early, he won't be forced to try and make plays on his own in the fourth quarter. That being said, history has shown that Aaron has thrown more game-winning touchdowns than game-losing interceptions.

I did not rant on the defense because I did not see it necessary. I will cut Rick Venturi a little slack because he is already having a lot of sleepless nights. Losing five starters on defense is no small matter. The offense should have taken the initiative to step up to the plate. This is a team, and a team's strengths should be used to compensate for its weaknesses.

That being said, I believe the Saints were too concerned with containing McNair's legs on defense that they allowed him to beat them with his arm. The lack of aggressiveness was prevalent on both sides of the ball.

Does anyone else find it ironic that in Mike McCarthy's attempt to establish Deuce McAllister as a running threat he is actually taking him right out of the game? Somebody must have given Mike a squared peg and told him to put it in a round hole because that is what he is attempting to do with this offense.

I am a huge Jim Haslett supporter and I think he is an excellent head coach. But I wonder if he realizes that the performances of his assistants reflect directly on him. Maybe he should start to rethink his loyalties.

Fakhir Brown should never be left one-on-one in man coverage. He has below-average speed for a cornerback and was taken advantage of against the Titans. Is Keyou Craver really playing that bad?

When Eddie George has 29 carries, you know that the Titans have executed their gameplan to a T. I feel sorry for the Saints' defense. They just couldn't get off of the field.

Joe Horn extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 65 Sunday after bringing in one catch for five yards.

Fred Thomas and Ashley Ambrose performed admirably in the secondary. They both had key pass-breakups and if Ambrose had caught that interception in the end-zone, the game could have ended differently. Tebucky Jones still needs to wrap up when he tackles.

Finally, I'd just like to say that the performance of Jerome Pathon gave a glimpse of why the Saints offense can be so dangerous. While Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth were held in check for most of the day, Pathon brought in four catches for 89 yards and a touchdown, with three of the catches coming on the lone scoring drive. If utilized properly, there is no way any defense can match up against the Saints' many weapons.

Thursday, September 18, 2003
WEEK THREE: SAINTS vs. TITANS and FEARLESS PREDICTIONS
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:18 pm CST
If there has been one thing that has been consistent during Jim Haslett’s tenure as head coach is his teams always seem to be inconsistent. One week they are playing like Super Bowl champions, the next week they are playing like chumps. Haslett has put together a few winning streaks, but has allowed plenty of losing streaks. One thing about Haslett’s teams is that when players go down with injuries, others seem to step up their play. Going back to the 2000 season, the Saints lost eight starters over the course of the season, yet was able to obtain the division title and secure its first ever playoff victory. Whether it happens again remains to be seen, but as of right now, the Saints have five starters out, and a few more that are banged up, but will still play.

Let me address the whole rat issue. The last time the Chinese celebrated the “Year of the Rat” was in 1996, with the next one scheduled in 2008. Other years that the Chinese celebrated the Year of the Rat were 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, and 1984. Saint players that were born in the Year of the Rat are Joe Horn, Walter Rasby, Ernie Conwell, Todd Bouman, Mitch Berger, and Jay Bellamy (all in 1972). The Saints have “Mousie” who does a dance before the fourth quarter in the Dome every game. Maybe the Saints front office can name the defense the “Rat Pack.” The last two times the Year of the Rat was celebrated (1984, 1996) big changes occurred with the Saints the following year. In 1984, John Mecom announced that the Saints were for sale. The next year, Tom Benson bought the Saints. In 1996, Jim Mora quit in the middle of the season, with Rick Venturi taking over the head coaching duties. The next year, Mike Ditka was hired. What does this have to do with anything? Probably nothing, but since everyone else is talking about the rat, I figured I may as well. Enough of that, let’s talk football.

WEEK THREE: Tennessee Titans

The Titans opened the regular season beating the Raiders in prime time on Sunday night. Last week, Peyton Manning and Co. destroyed them to the tune of 33-7. The Titans are also suffering with injuries. QB Steve McNair has a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, G Benji Olsen has a hurt knee, DT Albert Haynesworth has an injured elbow and TE Frank Wycheck suffered a concussion. All are listed as questionable.

STRENGTHS

There is no doubt who makes the offense go in Tennessee, and that is McNair. He will be the key to success for the Titans on offense. Defensively, the Titans boast two of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the league with Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter.

WEAKNESSES

RB Eddie George has not gotten the running game going so far this year. If the trend continues, look for the Titans to be in a bunch of 3rd and long situations. K Gary Anderson was signed to replace the injured Joe Nedney. Anderson is one of the greatest kickers in NFL history, but I have to wonder how much does he has left.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS?

The Saints need to come out of the gates continuing what they were doing last week in the second half. DE Charles Grant and Willie Whitehead need to have good games by not letting McNair run with the football. The game on defense will be won or lost with the Saints front four. DT Henry Ford is scheduled to play for the first time this season, along with Kenny Smith opposite Grady Jackson. Offensively, they will need to stay out of third and long situations, and not commit as many penalties as they have in the first two weeks.

KEY MATCHUPS

DE Jevon Kearse vs. LT Wayne Gandy: Gandy held his own last week against a stout pass rush, and even delivered a pre-game speech that got the troops fired up. It will be important for Gandy to show his worth this week, as Kearse is a game-breaking type of pass rusher.

Saints DTs vs. Titans OL: Former Saint Tom Ackerman may get the starting nod if Olsen can’t play due to his injury. Grady Jackson will have to step up big time this week to make sure there are no running lanes for either George or McNair. Ford and Smith will have to play solid in place of Jonathon Sullivan.

Saints injuries vs. Titans injuries: Both teams are hurting right now. Both have starters that are out or not at 100%. It will be interesting to see how each team reacts to the injuries and who will have the depth and will power to overcome these obstacles.

NOTES:

-The Titans lead the all time series 5-4-1 (.555)
-The last time these two teams met was in 1999. The Titans beat the Saints 24-21.
-With one more 250 yard plus outing, QB Aaron Brooks will be tied with Archie Manning and Bobby Hebert for first in most games with at least 250 yards passing.
-The Saints are 6-0 when Brooks’ quarterback rating is 111.5 or higher
-The Saints are 14-2 when WR Joe Horn catches for more than 100 yards, including last week vs. the Texans
-In the eight games that Deuce McAllister has rushed for over 100 yards, the Saints are 6-2
-The Saints are currently ranked tied for 14th in the NFL in offense and 9th in defense
-The last time a Saint receiver had 200 or more yards was Torrance Small vs. Denver in 1994

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTION

Line: Titans favored by 4 ½

This week’s game will be a close one. The Titans have a good team despite all their injuries. The Saints showed up last week, and they will need to show up again this week if they are going to have a chance at winning. The Titans will focus in on Deuce, forcing Brooks to beat them. McAllister will get over the 100-yard mark for the first time this year, and score two touchdowns. Brooks will continue to complete 60% of his passes and throw for two scores as well. Charles Grant will continue to dominate from the defensive end spot, and Roger Knight will make an impact on the defense. Joe Horn will catch 8 passes for 90 yards and a score. Stallworth will catch 5 for 120 and a long touchdown. Defense gets three turnovers, Michael Lewis breaks out on kickoffs. It will still be a nail biter at the end, but it will be a victory for the Saints. Scott says take the Saints and the 4 ½ …Saints 33, Titans 27

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Two weeks in a row the Lock O the week has cursed the team I picked. Let’s see if I can go for three.

Lock O’ The Week: Pittsburgh –4 ½ over Cincinnati

And now for the rest of WEEK THREE:

Last Week: 6-9-1 (.400)
Season: 12-18-2 (.400)
Lock O’ The Week: 0-2 (.000) *poor Pittsburgh


NE – 6 ½ over NYJ
Jax +8 over Ind
Min –3 ½ over Det
TB –4 over Atl
KC –8 over Hou
NYG + 2 ½ over Was
GB –8 over Ari
Sea –3 over Stl
Bal –1 over SD
SF –7 over Cle
Buf +3 over Mia
Oak +5 over Den

Monday, September 15, 2003
COMING INTO FORM: Saints Answer Big Questions in 31-10 Roping of the Texans
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:19 am CST
In the Saints' home opener Sunday, many questions were answered and doubters silenced(for the time being) in a very well-rounded performance featuring a second half offensive explosion.


IMPROVEMENT ON THE COACHING FRONT

The reason for the Saints second-half reawakening is one that is debatable. While the first half appeared to be poorly called (on offense) and lethargic, I tend to have a different perspective.

The Saints were going up against the Texans 3-4 defense, which is very effective when it comes to baiting opposing offenses into mistakes and turnovers. The conservative passing and play-calling was an attempt to find chinks in the Texans' armor. I sincerely believe that it was simply part of the gameplan.

What I find comforting in such an approach is that, first and foremost, the Saints offense exhibited patience and awareness. They did not force plays or make stupid mistakes and turned in an efficient though tedious first half offensive performance.

What also impresses me is that such an approach shows that this team is beginning to trust its defense. Last year the Saints objective on offense was to score early and often. If they did not aggressively try to put a lot of points on the board, chances are they were in for a loss. Both the coaching staff and the players put the ball in the defense's court Sunday, and the Saints' D was up to the challenge.

While aggressive play-calling should be the hallmark of any team as young and talented as the Saints, patience is still a virtue. Sitting back and observing the Texans' tendencies while not revealing too many of their own was key leading into the Saints explosive second half. The pace of this game did not occur by chance. It was, in my opinion, strategery at its finest and went a long way in restoring my confidence in this New Orleans coaching staff.

CASE IN POINT: Early in the second half, Aaron Brooks used a sick pump fake to freeze the Texans' coverage and allow Donte Stallworth to streak freely into the end zone. This was a carefully scripted play to take advantage of the Texans' aggressive secondary who had been exposed to a first half array of short dink-n-dunk passes. How often do you see a quarterback throw a 35-yard go route on a 3-step drop? Excellent play-calling by Mike McCarthy.

Now don't mistake me for a McCarthy lover. I am often baffled by his streaky tendencies in both the running and passing game. But Sunday against the Texans, McCarthy did an excellent job in play-calling, as well as showing improvement in his ability to adjust in the second half and exploit the Texans' weaknesses on defense.

And while I was very impressed by McCarthy's guile, I must also give a standing ovation to defensive coordinator Rick Venturi. I have always believed Venturi to be a student of the game. That being said, he has had trouble in the past adjusting to offenses. When teams make a big play against the Saints' defense, Venturi has seemed to have difficulty quickly patching up the leak which therefore quickly turns into a flood. That was not the case today.

Unlike the offense in the first half, Venturi exhibited aggressiveness throughout the game. I do not believe that Venturi could have better utilized the talents of the Saints' defenders than he did against the Texans. Even short of key playmakers Darren Howard, Dale Carter, and Sedrick Hodge, Venturi was able to put the Saints' defense in positions to make plays. The emotion-filled Venturi had, by far, his best performance Sunday since taking over as the Saints' defensive coordinator last offseason.

And finally, kudos to Jim Haslett for identifying problem areas and fixing them. Many Saints' players were quoted as saying that last week's practice was the most intense that they have ever experienced. Haslett showed resolve and discipline by correcting the mistakes that plagued the Saints against the Seahawks. The Saints showed improvement in every facet of the game, from tackling to receiving, from the running game to the kicking game. We attacked Haslett last week for bad coaching against the Seahawks, and we should therefore recognize his part in this week's stellar performance. Thank you, Jim, for a job well-done.


SHINING CHARACTER

While the talent of the Saints' players was on display in Sunday's victory, what really shined through was the character of this young group of athletes. Their ability to step up their play in the face of adversity was reminiscent of the 2000 squad that was crowned champions of the NFC West.

Joe Horn is the undisputed heart and soul of this team. Even while nursing an injured knee, Horn has showed no signs of slowing down this season as he continues to be perhaps the most consistent and productive offensive performer. His 10 catch, 111-yard performance against the Texans just showed why he is and will continue to be Aaron Brooks' favorite target.

The Saints' fans that booed Aaron Brooks during pre-game should be ashamed of themselves. This young quarterback may not be the most underrated or the grittiest or even a top five passer in the league. But he is easily and by far the most underappreciated. Aside from statistics, Aaron has improved his leadership by leaps and bounds. Anyone who knows anything about football could look out on the field Sunday and see that Brooks had command of that huddle. This is Aaron's team. It is not Jake Delhomme's team, it is not Archie Manning's team. This is not Deuce's team, nor is it Joe Horn's team. This is Aaron Brook's football team, and it will be his team for a long time.

Now that I've addressed Aaron's leadership, I cannot move onto the next player without citing the improvements in his maturity, as well. To watch Aaron patiently check down to his fourth and fifth options and settle for the four and five yard passes to Joe Horn was a sight to behold. The memories of a lanky passer taking his eyes off of his receivers and backing up in the pocket, squatting down, looking for a place to run, throwing a duck off of his back foot in a desperate attempt at the big play only to be intercepted in the redzone are no longer playing back inside my mind. Aaron Brooks is a new man and a new quarterback. The patience to perform within the system and scan the field, taking what the defense gave him and realizing when to give up on a play showed huge strides in Brooks' development as a passer. I firmly believe that Aaron's marriage has provided some stability in his life that he is taking with him onto the field. Sure, he's going to make mistakes and throw interceptions every now and then. Every quarterback does. And he won't win them all, either. No quarterback does. But what Aaron has done is won over the coaches and won over his team. Maybe one day he will win over the fans.


CLUTCH PERFORMERS

While Donte Stallworth seemed to be in Haslett's doghouse for most of the game, this did not prevent him from coming up big when the Saints needed it. His 35-yard touchdown reception was a key element in sparking the New Orleans offense in the second half. On his only other reception of the afternoon, Stallworth earned a few more brownie points following a screen pass by using power and agility to break tackles and push his way up the sideline for a first down.

Deuce McAllister had a little trouble finding running room Sunday. But when he did, he made the most of it. McAllister tallied 18 carries for a mere 41 yards against a stout Texans defense. Oh yea, but I forgot to mention the two carries in which McAllister totaled more than he did on the other 18 rushes, a whopping 55 yards. The two runs featured a beautifully scripted 24-yard touchdown on a stretch play and the other a 31-yard burst up the middle which included 5 broken tackles by McAllister. The offensive brain-trust knows who they want to handle the rock and will make sure that they get it to him (take notes Mike Martz). Patience will usually pay off as it is only a matter of time before this Deuce is going to pull an Ace.

I have to spread some love to the Saints' special teams. Both Michael Lewis and Mitch Berger played key roles in the Saints victory Sunday. Berger averaged an amazing 47.7 yards per punt on seven attempts, including two that were downed inside the twenty yard line (one being a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch by Keyou Craver). Michael Lewis, while never being able to find his niche in the return game, was instrumental in preventing a late kickoff return for a touchdown by chasing down J.J. Moses late in the fourth quarter. Lewis used his lightening speed to close in on the return-man and prevent the Texans from gaining any late-game momentum.


DEFENSIVE PROMISE

The Saints' defense showed an infinite amount of promise Sunday as it limited Houston to under 300 total yards of offense and a minuscule 10 points. The stellar defensive outing was led by the dominant performance of reserve defensive end Willie Whitehead. Whitehead recorded eight tackles and two quarterback sacks while appearing to be all over the field all day, harassing David Carr non-stop and making a fool out of left tackle Chester Pitts. Pitts is the same left tackle who absolutely dominated Dolphins' pro-bowl defensive end Jason Taylor in the Texans's opener, holding him to zero tackles, zero assists, and zero sacks.

Jay Bellamy, another reserve forced into the starting lineup due to injury, turned in a very solid performance Sunday. Unfortunately, Bellamy's team-leading 11 solo tackles are sure to be overshadowed by the hideous okie-doke David Carr put on him. While facing fourth-and-inches inside the Saints' one yardline, Carr turned outside on a naked bootleg only to be cornered five yards in the backfield by Bellamy in pursuit. Carr squared up, then proceeded to fake left, then right, then BACK TO THE LEFT where Bellamy finally bit, giving the second year quarterback just enough cushion to slip into the endzone before the rest of the Saints' pursuit could get a firm grasp on him. All Bellamy could do is hang his head, pick up his jock strap, and head back to the sidelines. Fortunately he was able to forget this play and go on to turn in a very solid outing. Jay, you better enjoy the amnesia while you can because your teammates are sure to remind you of this play tomorrow in the film room. Luckily for the Saints, neither the turf nor Carr succeeded in claiming Bellamy's ankles for an extended amount of time.

The Saints' defensive line harassed David Carr all day, tallying five sacks and 14 knock-downs. Carr was quoted after the game as calling the bout versus the Saints the "most physical game" he had played in since he came into the league. That says a lot coming from a guy who was sacked a record 76 times last season.

Grady Jackson really stepped his play up a notch as he provided a great deal of push in the middle. Rookie defensive tackle Johnathon Sullivan also recorded his first sack as a New Orleans Saint, only to sprain his knee on the very same play. Sullivan later returned to finish the game.

Charles Grant has emerged as the leader of this defensive line. While it was Whitehead who statistically dominated, his success was in large part due to the attention garnered by Grant as a consistent threat. Grant is in for double-digit sack season and solidifies this Saints defensive front.

The depth along the Saints' line is in large part responsible for the improved play despite the injuries. Kenny Smith has proven to be a key element for the Saints, as he is having success playing both at the defensive end and tackle positions. Throw a healthy Henry Ford in the mix, and what was once a question mark is now staple on an improved New Orleans defense.

The Saints' linebacking corps is starting to make a case for being one of the NFL's more underrated. The return of Derrick Rodgers had the expected effect in my mind. Not only did Rodgers' return aid the pass rush and free up Darrin Smith against the run, but the newly acquired ex-Dolphin was able to make a few plays of his own, most notably an interception which the weakside linebacker returned 40 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The late touchdown sealed the game for the Saints and took away any late comeback hopes that the Texans may have had.

Speaking of Darrin Smith, the 33-year-old veteran is performing admirably and consistently as the Saints' middle linebacker. Smith is a savvy player and has a nose for the ball in both the running and the passing game. What is often overlooked is Darrin's intelligence in general and his ability to make sure the defensive front is on the same page on every play. He is truly the glue of this defense.

The loss of Sedrick Hodge for the next 10 to 12 weeks due to a leg fracture is a big blow to the Saints' defense but no bigger than the losses of Darren Howard, Mel Mitchell or Dale Carter (the latest report is an orbital bone fracture). The Saints defense must continue to step up and fortunately has adequate depth in Rodger Knight. James Allen can also switch over to the strongside in a pinch. I think that adversity such as this will continue to make the Saints stronger in the coming weeks and hopefully they will pull together and players will continue to step up.

The Saints defensive backfield really stepped up today as well. Tebucky Jones won me over for today, as he seemed to always be in position and was successful in breaking up a few passes. Now he just needs to work on his hands so he'll catch those balls that hit him in the chest.

But the real credit goes to Ashley Ambrose for turning in a stellar performance. While contributing four tackles on defense, Ambrose was also instrumental in both of the key interceptions by linebackers Darrin Smith and Derrick Rodgers. Ambrose was quick closing on the ball and made it hard for the Texans' receivers to bring in David Carr's bullets. With Dale Carter's injury status uncertain, the Saints defense will lean heavily on Ambrose in the coming weeks as both a leader and as a playmaker.

It is unfortunate that Dale suffered an injury as he was showing some real playmaking skills. His break on a third down pass by David Carr early in the game resembled that a youthful 25 year old. Hopefully Carter's injury is not severe and his return will be a speedy one. Until then, reserves Keyou Craver and Fakir Brown are going to have to pick up the slack, as teams are sure to spread the field on a Saints defense that seems to be suffering from the injury bug.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Johnathon Sullivan should buy Grady Jackson dinner to show his gratitude, as Jackson was instrumental in the rookie's first sack of his career. While Jackson commanded a double team from both the center and the guard, Sullivan was able to sprint untouched from his 3-technique position and sack quarterback David Carr.
On second thought, Sullivan shouldn't buy Jackson dinner, especially if that dinner consists of hot wings or anything with gravy. I guess a simple handshake will have to do in this case.

Fans should not get frustrated with the lack of spark in the return game. Michael Lewis cannot prevent teams from game-planning to keep the ball out of his hands. The Saints will continue to see these squib kicks and high punts all season long. If anything, Lewis should be commended for the patience he has showed thus far by fair-catching and maintaining ball security. Al Everest is a great special teams coach (won special teams coach of the year for a reason) and it is only a matter of time before Lewis breaks one long. Game-planning in the kicking game is just like game-planning for offense and defense. Everest will find a way to get Lewis some running room.

The day that the Louisiana Superdome is resurfaced with field turf cannot come soon enough. While the turf in the dome does complement the speed of the Saints' team, it is claiming many of their players to injuries as well. The loss of Sedrick Hodge was a direct result of the turf and nothing else. For the sake of these young player and their careers, please resurface the dome!

The Saints cannot afford to follow Sunday's stellar performance up with a let-down against Tennessee. The key to stopping Tennessee is simple: contain Steve McNair. While Eddie George is a solid back, he does not fit Tennessee's new-look defense as he does not run well out of spread formations. Combine this with the Titan's lack of a consistent receiving threat and suspect run defense, and only the Saints themselves can lose this game. If you take the life out of Steve McNair, you take the life out of Tennessee.

I am going to come out and stir up some controversy by saying that Peyton Manning is perhaps the most overrated quarterback in the NFL. He has a 3-time league leading rusher in Edgerine James and a record-setting receiver in Marvin Harrison. The defense is solid and all the pieces seem to be in place. Yet in three playoff appearances, Manning has yet to bring home a W, the most recent loss being a 41-0 blowout that the Colts suffered at the hands of the New York Jets. And while Manning is a smart, hard-working young man who consistently puts up good numbers and earns a spot in the pro-bowl, you have to wonder if the "idiot kicker's" words were really that far from the truth. Manning brought home a key win against division rival Tennessee Sunday. Now let's just see if he can grab one when it really counts.

When I picked Jamal Lewis up in the third round of my fantasy football draft this summer, a couple of my friends laughed at me, wondering why I didn't use such a pick on a more "marque" name. Forget the fact that 5'11, 235 pound Lewis rushed for over 1300 yards last season while coming off of an ACL injury. Who cares that Lewis possesses one of the most unique combinations of size, power, and speed of any active player in the NFL! Why should anyone take into consideration the fact that Baltimore is starting a rookie quarterback and will lean heavily on Lewis throughout the season to carry the load?
Well today, following a bold prediction by the Ravens' running back, Jamal Lewis broke the single game rushing record, coming up just short of 300 yards on 30 carries against the Cleveland Browns (who seem to be Arizona's main threat in securing the first pick of next year's draft). My fantasy charts nearly exploded out of my computer monitor, and I guess that on this fine Sunday afternoon I had the last laugh (at least in the Fantasy world).

I'll end on these final two thoughts: one is not related to the Saints and one is.
I would first like to say that I am happy for Bills' linebacker Takeo Spikes. While I am upset that the Saints were unable to lure him into New Orleans, you can't help but root for the guy. In a press conference prior to Sunday's game, one could not overlook the fresh smile Spikes seemed to be wearing. He has truly rediscovered himself in Buffalo and is part of what appears to be something very special.
Secondly, I'm going to be one of the first to come out and say that Deuce McAllister is long overdue for a big day. While his last two performances (22 carries for 99 yards against Seattle and 20 carries for 96 yards against Houston) are excellent and productive outings, one has to wonder how a hungry player like McAllister reacts to coming up just short of the century mark in both games. While 200-plus rushing yards might be a little much considering the Saints' tendency toward a balanced attack, I'll be a little more reasonable. Deuce McAllister will have a career-high 150-plus yard rushing day within the next three games.

See, Jamal Lewis isn't the only one who can make predictions!

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
WEEK 2 GAMEPLAN: Saints vs. Texans
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:06 pm CST

Now that Sunday’s disappointment at Seattle has passed and is hopefully all but a distant memory (at least in the minds of the players), it is time to take a look forward to next Sunday’s matchup against the Houston Texans. The Texans shocked the NFL and the world in week one by upsetting the Miami Dolphins. The Saints could regain some lost confidence within themselves and within the community if they come away with a win. Here are some keys and matchups to watch out for on September 14th.

KEYS ON OFFENSE

Unlike the Dolphins, the Saints have exceptional depth at the wide receiver position. And while the wide receivers were not a sight to behold Sunday (lots of drops), they are the key to taking advantage of the Texans’ talented but thin secondary and aggressive 3-4 defense.

The Saints must establish the passing game first and foremost against the Texans’ defense. The proven approach in countering the 3-4 defense is to spread the field with three and four wide receivers and using multiple motions at the line of scrimmage. This forces the defense to either nickel up and mirror the motion or otherwise stay in the base defense and try to establish a tempo with the zone blitz (the key to a successful 3-4 scheme).

When nickeled up, the Texans seriously reduce the amount of talent on the field. They are like the Steelers in that there is a large drop-off in talent from their first and second corners to their third and fourth. Not only will the matchups be in favor of the Saints’ wide receivers, but the running lanes that will be opened for Deuce McAllister should be large and abundant.

If the Texans stay aggressive with the 3-4 and choose to rely the zone-blitz, the short to intermediate passing game should thrive. Expect to see Boo Williams and Ernie Conwell motioned and used in the H-back role for a large part of the contest. Against the zone blitzes, they can create favorable pass-blocking matchups and work the flats, opening up zones between the hashes and underneath the safeties.

Texans' starting corners Marcus Coleman and Aaron Glenn are very talented, but can be taken advantage of in certain situations. Both corners like to jump the quick slants and short to medium outs, which are both key patterns in the west coast offense. Donte Stallworth and Joe Horn can exploit this aggressive play early on in first down and short yardage situations. A slant-and-go or out-and-go/rail would be a good way to get a quick touchdown or at least put the front seven back on their heals and make way for Deuce McAllister to have a big day.

Ultimately the Saints must play aggressive football while trying to limit turnovers at the same time. Hopefully the coaching staff will mix up the play calling to prevent predictability and try to come out with an early lead, thereby establishing a tempo and breaking Houston’s spirit. Look for Deuce McAllister to have a big day running out of multiple one-back sets and working the cutback lanes.


KEYS ON DEFENSE

Statistically, the Saints defense turned in an average outing against the Seahawks. While they limited Matt Hasselback to under 150 yards passing, they allowed Shaun Alexander to gain over 100 yards on the ground and completely fell apart in the second quarter.

The return of weakside linebacker Derrick Rodgers will hardly compensate for the loss of defensive end Darren Howard. That being said, Rodgers presence should dramatically improve both the run defense and the pass rush. If second year defensive end Charles Grant is in fact shifted over to the weak side, look for Rodgers to be blitzed early and often in order to disrupt that side of the offensive backfield. Rodgers is at his best when moving upfield and could allow Grant to pick and choose his lanes and angles while keeping him isolated on a single blocker.

Without Howard in the lineup for the next two to three months, the focus of many will be on the up-and-coming Grant. While Grant must remain a consistent force, the lineman who the Saints desperately need to step his game up is defensive tackle Grady Jackson. I am not that Grady had a bad game against the Seahawks. But I am suggesting that he needs to begin having excellent games from here on. If the 330-pound Jackson can consistently push the pocket and attract double teams, the entire front seven will be much more effective. No quarterback is good throwing off of his back foot, including David Carr. Multiple blitz packages and pressure up the middle could put an end to the Texans offensive fortune of last week (zero sacks allowed versus the Dolphins).

The Saints’ linebackers will have to be aggressive versus the Texans’ power running game. Having Derrick Rodgers back in the lineup should help slow a very powerful runner in Stacy Mack. While James Allen was sound in his tackling last week, he failed to be a disruptive force in the Seattle backfield. Most of Allen’s tackles were drag-downs and resulted in 3 to 7 yard gains. Rodgers' upfield, aggressive style should disrupt some runs in the backfield. The Saints’ defenders MUST hustle to the ball on every play as Mack is one of the league's more powerful runner.

Fortunately, Mack’s power dimension should work in the Saints favor. He is best when running behind a lead blocker and while he has underrated agility, he is not a cutback guy. If the Saints can shore up their tackling and the offense can sustain an early lead, look for Mack to be held to under 80 yards rushing.

In the secondary, the pressure will be on newly acquired safety Tebucky Jones. The Texans possess three young and talented wide receivers in Andre Johnson, Corey Bradford, and Jabar Gaffney. Each of these receivers are great complements to one another as each brings a different dimension to the offense.

Johnson is young and has infinite talent, but his hands are still inconsistent. Look for the Saints to try to match his physical play. When covered tightly, Johnson has trouble making the tough catches and often loses footballs off of his fingertips. In Bradford, the Saints will look to play a little bit loser and bring him down quickly after he catches the ball. The corners and safeties will have to break down and wrap up on Bradford, as he is an ace for bouncing off of armless tackles. Gaffney likes to work the deep seams and the corner routes, so look for Saints to rotate and shift their formations and zones right before the snap or blitz directly at David Carr in spread formations. Hopefully this style of defense will result in a turnover or two.

The most important factor in defending against the Houston passing attack will be Tebucky Jones’ ability to take command of the defensive backfield. He must establish his presence in the center of the field and pick and chose his shots. While big hits are effective in separating receivers from the ball, Tebucky must remember to wrap up and not always go for the highlight hit, especially when the receiver’s back is turned. To control the passing game, you must first control the middle of the field. When a defensive secondary begins to force a team to try and work the perimeter, the defense gains an edge. Not only is it a matter of time before an out route results in an interception, but it is a lot easier to push a receiver out of bounds than tackle him in the open field.


FINAL THOUGHTS

The Saints slow start on defense was to be expected, but their poor offensive performance was by far the most disappointing aspect of Sunday’s game. The Saints go into this week of practice humbled and frustrated. Next Sunday's contest is the home opener so the fans should be rowdy and loud. If the coaching staff can piece together a innovative game plan, and the offense, defense, and special teams can get back on the same page, there is no reason why the Saints should not come out with a decisive victory against a lesser Houston football team.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT AND WEEK TWO-SAINTS vs. TEXANS
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:58 pm CST

Here’s some food for thought: In a city that is well known for its great cuisine and exotic beverages, it should makes sense that the problem with its professional football team is directly related to food and drink. Last year, the Saints’ problem was chicken wings, and this year it seems to be ice cream. And while the beer man delivered last year, so far, he appears to have gotten lost on his route. The Saints didn’t look hungry on Sunday, while their opponent, the Seahawks, feasted on four turnovers and great field position all day, forcing many Saint players to eat crow, and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of fans.

Whether the coaching staff and players want to admit it or not, the Saints were not ready to play on Sunday. The team’s character seems to take the same demeanor as its leader, quarterback Aaron Brooks. They were laid back, non-chalant, and never seemed to play with any passion past the first quarter. Of course, the loss isn’t totally Brooks’ fault, and he can’t be blamed for the 11 penalties, numerous dropped passes, fumbles, missed tackles, etc., but for once, it would be nice to see Brooks get in someone’s face other than to tell a joke. The ultimate culprit of the team not being ready to play is Jim Haslett, who is always fiery on the sideline if you are a referee. Sure, it’s only one game, and the season is just starting, but last Sunday’s performance leaves plenty of question marks surrounding the personnel moves made in the off-season, as well as the game planning by Haslett’s henchmen, Mike McCarthy and Rick Venturi. You can bet that if the debacle in Seattle is just a preview of the rest of the season, Benson will have to clean house again.

WEEK TWO: Houston Texans

The Texans are coming to New Orleans following the biggest upset of week one when they defeated Miami on the road, 21-20. Last year, the Texans biggest problem was giving up quarterback sacks, and judging from last week, they seemed to have fixed the problem. Quarterback David Carr was not sacked the whole game by a Miami defense that was tied for fourth in the NFL in number of sacks last year with 47. But the biggest story of last week’s game was the Texans’ defense. The Texans held Ricky Williams to 69 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. They forced the Dolphins to punt seven times and allowed only 5 of 13 third down conversions.

STRENGTHS

Their run defense did a great job against the NFL’s leading rusher from last year. PK Kris Brown kicked five field goals, including a 50 yarder. Their wide receiver corps is also strong with rookie Andre Johnson, Jabar Gaffney, and Corey Bradford. RB Stacy Mack added 89 yards on the ground against a solid Miami defense.

WEAKNESSES

The Texans are still a young team with a young quarterback. Carr will get a bit gun-shy once he starts getting sacked. The Dolphins passed for three touchdowns last week against the Texans’ secondary.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS?

The Saints need to wake up and smell the regular season. Under Haslett, they haven’t played their best at home, so to come out strong early in the game is extremely important. They need to start opening up the running game by passing, and the receivers need to start catching the ball. McAllister is going to give the Saints all the running game they will need, but he needs the ball in his hands on passes out of the backfield more. They still haven’t figured out how to run or stop the screen pass, which is still mind-boggling. Derrick Rogers returns this week, which should help bolster the run defense, and it will be important for Willie Whitehead to have a good game.

KEY MATCHUPS

Saints WRs vs Texans DBs: CB’s Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman will have their hands full with Stallworth, Pathon, and Horn this week. Horn is questionable with a knee injury, which means Derrick Lewis will probably be active and get some playing time. It will be important to catch everything thrown to them this week.

OLB Charlie Clemons vs. LT Wayne Gandy: Clemons returns to the Superdome looking to upset his former teammates. Gandy hasn’t shown much dominance as a left tackle since arriving in New Orleans. Clemons strength has always been rushing the passer, so look for a good battle on the left side.

WR Michael Lewis vs. Himself: What happened to the beer man last week? He was indecisive on special teams, fumbled on a reverse, and dropped what could have been a touchdown pass. He had a bad day at the office to say the least, but he needs to keep his confidence high, and produce like he did last season. Another bad game for Lewis could spell big trouble for his future in New Orleans.

Notes:

-This is the first regular season match up for the Saints and Texans. The Texans won a preseason game in New Orleans last season.
-The Saints have won their last two home openers (Minnesota-2001, Green Bay-2002)
-The Saints are ranked 6th in the NFL in offense and 9th in defense after week one
-Deuce McAllister was the fifth highest rusher in the NFL last week with 99 yards
-Aaron Brooks ranked fourth in the NFL in passing yards last week with 274.
-In five of the Saints seven winning seasons, they started out 1-1.

SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTION

Line: Saints favored by 8
While it is too soon in the season to panic, there are reasons for concern. The Saints need to come out of the gates strong, and take control of the game early. They can ill afford turnovers and costly penalties, and need to score touchdowns when in the red zone. The Texans will be concentrating on stopping McAllister, which should allow the Saints to open up their passing game. I expect a big game from Aaron Brooks, passing for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Look for Ernie Conwell to catch a touchdown along with 60 yards. Donte Stallworth will find the end zone, and will be your leading receiver with 9 catches for 110 yards. Deuce will find it hard to run early, but will wear down the Texans late. He’ll catch a touchdown and run for 80 yards. Michael Lewis will continue to struggle early, as well as the Saints’ pass defense. It will be a Saints’ victory on Sunday, but it will be closer than you would like. Scott says take the Texans and the 8 points, but Saints win…Saints 31, Texans 24

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Looks like my Lock O’ The Week will be the kiss of death for whoever I take. Let’s try it again.


LOCK O’ THE WEEK: Philadelphia –5 ½ over New England

And now for the rest of WEEK TWO:

Last Week: 6-9-1 (.400)
Season: 6-9-1 (.400)
Lock O’ The Week: 0-1 (.000)

Atl –3 over Wash
Cle +2 over Bal
Det + 6 ½ over GB
Ten + 2 ½ over Ind
Buf –2 ½ over Jax
KC –3 ½ over Pit
Mia –3 over NYJ
STL –3 over SF
Sea –4 ½ over ARI
TB –9 ½ over Car
Oak –12 ½ over Cin
SD +3 over Den
Min –8 over Chi
Dal +7 ½ over NYG


Monday, September 08, 2003
The Money Year
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 9:16 am CST
The Money Year

Two years ago this season was quietly referred to as "the money year" by Saints front office personnel. This is the year where the Saints push for the superbowl. This is the year where we get our bonuses, long term contracts, and league wide respect because this offseason was designed perfectly. The front office will have a ton of cap space, multiple first round picks, and just a few holes left on a nearly complete roster... We're into money!

Fast forward two years later and suddenly we're relying on Jim Haslett to determine our personnel decisions and quite frankly Haslett's guys are both cost effective and non-effective all at the same time, but there is not enough time to go through them all one by one and there is no sense in crying over spilled milk. All we can do is look forward to next week when the Houston Texans come to New Orleans.

The Texans surprised the league with their upset victory over the Dolphins, but they also showed their weakness. That weakness is FS Matt Stevens. Stevens is a big play waiting to happen... for every interception, he gives up two touchdowns. Hopefully Donte Stallworth will run by him a couple times this sunday.

The biggest surprise was the play of the Texans OL. They held their own against a Miami defense that is loaded with playmakers. Giving RB Stacey Mack room to run and QB David Carr plenty of time in the pocket. So in an effort to compensate for the loss of DE Darren Howard and create more of a pass rush- DE Charles Grant could move over the LT and let the mountain, DE Willie Whitehead, play the Base DE slot where he is a terrific attribute.


Raiding the Raiders?

With some fans calling for the head of Jim Haslett... One name to keep in mind is Raider Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman. Trestman is young enough to relate to the players, but experienced enough to help lead the league's most consistent offense. He has Rich Gannon's approval and that speaks volumes.


Caution: Safety Needed

Saints Coaches convinced themselves that Jay Bellamy would be "real good" as the starting strong safety and Bellamy was responsible for four big plays in the first half... too bad they were the result of poor tackling and bad angles. The Saints need another DB badly and should be on the phone trying to acquire either the Dolphins Arturo Freeman or Buffalo's FS/CB Izelle Reese. Its never too late to make a move... lets hope they fix a problem utilizing more than just hope.


Fox's Professional SportsCasters... So They Say

The duo of Ron Pitts and Tim Ryan were one of the most unprepared crews to ever grace an NFL broadcast booth and their bias towards the Seahawks was plainly evident as they stumbled over any Saints related info that they overheard while eating lunch with Seattle personnel. Also to call Micheal Lewis "Bad" is plain irresponsible. Because Lewis is the most explosive special teams weapon in the league and no he didn't have a great game, but Brett Favre has thrown a few interceptions in his day and he is far from a bad player.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
WEEK ONE-SAINTS vs. SEAHAWKS
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:56 pm CST

WEEK ONE: Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks finished 7-9 in their first season in the NFC West. They also won their final three games of the season against Atlanta, St. Louis, and San Diego. The Seahawks strength on offense comes in the form of a potent running back in Shawn Alexander, who rushed for 1175 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Koren Robinson is the Seahawks top wide receiver that hauled in 78 receptions for 1240 yards and five touchdowns last season. Matt Hasselbeck is the Seahawks starting quarterback with Trent Dilfer backing him up. Their offensive line has taken a hit with starting right tackle Chris Terry being suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Left tackle Walter Jones has just signed a new contract, and will play, but you have to wonder what kind of shape he will be in, especially in the fourth quarter.

The Seahawks defense was ranked 28th overall last year (the Saints were ranked 27th). Their run defense allowed an NFL-worst 152.6 yards average per game, and much of those came up the middle. In the off-season, the Seahawks acquired Norman Hand from the Saints to help shore up the middle. They have also brought in Ray Rhodes to be their defensive coordinator. They also signed free agent Chike Okeafor to play defensive end and signed Randall Godfrey to play middle linebacker. Injuries have hurt the Seahawks on the defensive side as defensive tackle Chad Eaton was put on injured reserve due to a knee injury and cornerback Shawn Springs will miss eight weeks due to a broken shoulder.

STRENGTHS

Shawn Alexander should have another stellar year running the ball and Koren Robinson is starting to play like a first round draft choice should play. Hasselbeck has improved his play at quarterback, and can hurt you if he has time. The addition of defensive-minded Ray Rhodes should help the defense improve from the 28th ranking in the NFL.

WEAKNESSES

Their offensive line, particularly at tackle, should be suspect to a heavy pass rush, which will leave Hasselbeck running for his life. Their cornerbacks, Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant, while talented, are young, which could lead to a slow start for the pass defense of the Seahawks. They will also be starting a rookie safety in Ken Hamlin.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAINTS?

The Saints come out of training camp with more questions than answers, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Injuries have affected the starting lineup, with Mel Mitchell being the most devastating. Jay Bellamy, a former Seahawk, will take Mitchell’s place at strong safety, and it is still questionable as to whether either starting defensive ends, Charles Grant and Darren Howard, will be able to play this Sunday. Willie Whitehead and Kenny Smith will start if both Howard and Grant are unavailable. James Allen will start at weakside linebacker while Derrick Rogers serves his one game suspension.

On the offensive side of the ball, the unit is healthy with the exceptions of Donte Stallworth nursing yet another hamstring problem, and LeCharles Bentley suffering with a bicep injury. Both are expected to play, although Stallworth will probably be questionable on a weekly basis.

KEY MATCHUPS:

Saints WRs vs. Seahawks CBs: Joe Horn and Co. will be facing two young and up-coming cornerbacks in Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant. Damien Robinson of the infamous Kyle Turley helmet-tossing incident was scheduled to start, but is injured, and will be replaced with another rookie, Ken Hamlin.

LeCharles Bentley vs. Norman Hand: Bentley is establishing himself as one of the premier interior linemen in the NFL. Hand is reportedly in good shape and has had this game circled on his calendar since the Saints traded him on draft day.

Darren Smith vs. Shawn Alexander: Smith will be the starting middle linebacker and main run stuffer for the Saints. Alexander is one of the NFL’s top running backs, and will see the ball early and often.

Notes:

-The Saints lead the all-time series 4-3 (.571)
-The Seahawks won the last meeting 20-10 in 2000 at Seattle.
-The Saints and Seahawks met in 1991 in the first week of the regular season. The Saints won 27-24.
-The Saints are 3-6 when opening the season on the road. They have won the last two season openers, which both have been on the road. (Buffalo, Tampa Bay)
-In the Saints seven winning seasons, they have won the opening game four times.


SCOTT’S FEARLESS PREDICTION

Line: Seahawks favored by 3

What will the 2003 New Orleans Saints look like? My guess is that they will look just like the 2002 Saints. The defense will come around, but it is going to take some time. The offense will start slowly, but pick up speed with Deuce McAllister carrying the load. Norman Hand will get a few good shots in, but ultimately will be taken care of by Bentley. Look for McAllister to rush for close to 100 yards, and will score two touchdowns, one on the ground, one on a pass. Brooks will throw for 220 yards and two scores. The defense will register four sacks, but allow Alexander to get close to 100 yards on the ground. It will be a close game, but in the end, McAllister shows why he is the Saints bread and butter. Scott says take the Saints and the three points…Saints 27, Seahawks 24.

PICKS OF THE WEEK

Last year, I totally bombed on the parlay style picks, so this year, I will give what I think is a lock for the week.

This week’s LOCK O’ THE WEEK: St. Louis +1 over NY GIANTS

And now for the rest of Week One:

NYJ +3 over WAS
BUF –1 over NE
CAR –4 over Jax
Den –6 over CIN
Ind +1 over CLE
DET –4 over Ari
GB –5 over Min
SD +6 over KC
MIA –13 ½ over Hou
Bal + 5 ½ over PIT
Atl +2 over DAL
SF –7 over Chi
Oak +3 over TEN
PHI –3 over TB

Friday, August 29, 2003
2003 Preseason in the Books: Highlights and Lowlights
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:04 pm CST

Pre-season has finally ended in New Orleans, as the coaching staff gets ready to pare the roster down to 53, and every team in the NFL resets their records to 0-0. While there seemed to be more lowlights than highlights this preseason, all is not lost as the true test of the 2003 Saints starts next Sunday in Seattle. Let’s take a look at the highs and lows of training camp, and a projected cut list.

HIGHLIGHTS OF PRE-SEASON

While there are many things to be concerned with going into week one of the NFL season, there are several reasons to be excited about when the Saints line up against the Seahawks on September 7th. Here are some of the highlights of training camp:

-Deuce McAllister is poised to have an All-Pro year. McAllister is back at 100% strength, and is the true catalyst of the high-powered offense. He has enjoyed a healthy training camp, and looks to be in great shape.

-Michael Lewis has picked up where he left off last year. Lewis continues to amaze with his ability to take off like rocket with the ball on kickoff and punt returns, and has looked much more comfortable as a wide receiver, catching a one-handed pass for a touchdown vs. Miami.

-Aaron Brooks’ shoulder looks to be completely healed. His 18-yard bullet pass to Joe Horn for a touchdown vs. San Francisco should quell any speculation that his arm is not 100%. His leadership skills have improved, and with the improvements at tight end, Brooks has more weapons then he did last year.

-Montre Holland may be the steal of the draft. Holland, this year’s fourth round pick, has shown great run-blocking skills this training camp, and has shown that he can play in the NFL. Holland will be starting for the Saints one day soon.

-Grady Jackson showed up in much better shape than expected. Jackson’s play during pre-season games has been outstanding, quieting the rumors about his lack of desire to play football. Jackson will be the key to a run-stuffing defense, and if he can play at this level for all 16 games, the defense will be much improved.

-Two undrafted free agents, Lynaris Elpheage and Zach Hilton have made great strides in training camp. Elpheage was cut last week, but a sneaking suspicion has me believing he will be re-signed to the practice squad next week. With Mel Mitchell going down with a season-ending injury, the special teams unit took a hit as well as the starting defense. Elpheage is still far away from being a starting cornerback in the NFL, however he is a solid special teams player that can contribute. Hilton has made a favorable impression on coaches and fans alike with his height, speed, improved blocking, and red-zone receiving abilities. Hilton has the ability to play in the NFL, I only hope the coaching staff sees it that way as well.

-Todd Bouman has shown his ability to be a quality backup to Brooks. After Jake Delhomme signed with Carolina, this position was one of the biggest question marks going into the off-season. Bouman has not only proven he can handle the job, I believe he has upgraded the position.

-Ki-jana Carter was impressive against the Dolphins, giving the Saints a temporary fix at backup running back. Hopefully, the Saints will not have to rely on Carter, or any other running back besides McAllister this year, other than to give Deuce a breather.

-Kenny Smith has looked good playing both defensive tackle and end. Smith, who is known for underachieving, has been solid all pre-season long. He would be the starter opposite Grady Jackson if it weren’t for first round pick Jonathon Sullivan. Smith will make plays this year and establish himself as one of the top three lineman on the team.

-The new indoor practice facility has been all the rave of training camp from players and coaches alike. The ability to get every practice in without having to leave the facility has been a major help in running training camp smoothly, and the new fieldturf has been such a big hit that it looks like it will appear in the Superdome as early as next season.

LOWLIGHTS

There are PLENTY of lowlights that happened this pre-season. From injuries to poor performances, the Saints seem to have more questions than answers coming out of training camp than when they started. Let’s take a look:

-The season-ending injury to Mel Mitchell is devastating. Mitchell had been one of the highlights of training camp with his aggressive style and special teams prowess. Jay Bellamy is scheduled to start in Mitchell’s place against September 7th. While Bellamy has more experience in the NFL, the physical ability between the two is non-comparable.

-Injuries have been plentiful this training camp. Donte Stallworth’s hamstrings are acting up again, Darren Howard has spent more time in the training room than on the field, and David Sloan didn’t play in one game. Add LeCharles Bentley, Charles Grant, Henry Ford, and Mitchell to the list, and it doesn’t bode well going into the season.

-Speaking of David Sloan, the former Pro-Bowl tight end has yet to play up to expectations since putting on the black and gold last year. His mounting injuries are reminiscent of Cam Cleeland, and they seemingly never allow Sloan to play. It’s time for the Saints to cut loose the veteran and go with the future in Zach Hilton.

-Vanilla or not, the Saints’ defense has not done a good job this pre-season. No matter how you slice it or dice it, the tackling has been shoddy to say the least. While they have added more speed, they continue to be out of position, especially in passing situations. Rick Venturi and Co. better figure out how to get a good pass rush, otherwise the offense will have to score 30 points a game in order to have a chance at winning.

-Left Tackle Wayne Gandy hasn’t shown much this pre-season. While Gandy has never been confused with the Jonathon Ogden’s of the NFL, his level of play has not been that of the man he replaced, Kyle Turley. Gandy may not cause the distractions that the fiery Turley dished out, however, his play on the field must be equal to his predecessor.

-The Saints’ wide receivers are still continuing the trend of dropping catchable passes that started last season. They must do a better job of holding on to the ball, especially on third downs. The Saints have the fastest corps of receivers in the history of the franchise, but it won’t do them any good if they can’t catch the ball.

-The Curtis Keaton experiment is finally over. Keaton never lived up to the fourth round pick the Saints surrendered for him, and was mercifully cut last week. Keaton could never pick up the Saints’ playbook, didn’t run with vision, and showed less than great hands coming out of the backfield. The backup running back position is still up for grabs.

-Ashley Ambrose has lost a step. In his defense, he hasn’t had much pass rush to help him, but it is painfully obvious that Ambrose doesn’t have that extra burst of speed when covering wide receivers that he once had. Hopefully, his experience will put him in better positions in the regular season, but if I were the opposing team’s offensive coordinator, Ambrose would be whom I would pick on.

-Tebucky Jones has not made a big impact on the secondary so far. His open field tackling has been poor, and he has yet to show any play-making ability. He is an imposing figure on the field, and has shown his speed in catching receivers from behind, something that former Saint Mark Fields was good at. Hopefully, he will live up to the potential made him a number one pick.

-Orlando Ruff has not been able to beat out veteran Darren Smith at middle linebacker. Ruff has great physical tools, and is tough against the run, but has been outplayed by the 10-year veteran. Ruff will have to contribute on special teams until he can beat out Smith, or injuries force Smith to move outside.

POTENTIAL CUTS

Here is whom I think will be cut on Saturday:

QB Chris Finlen
QB Tory Woodbury
FB Jeremy Allen
WR Kareem Kelly*
WR Talman Gardner*
TE David Sloan
OL Terence Wagner
OL Melvin Paige
OL Peter Heyer
OL Scot Osbourne
OL PJ Alexander*
DE Greg White
DT Kendrick Allen*
DT Jovon Bush
DT John Schlecht
LB Travis Carroll
LB Roger Knight
CB BJ Tucker
CB Deveron Harper

*Indicates probable practice squad players

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
10 names Revisited (Vol. II)
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:25 pm CST

Training camp is starting to wind down as the Saints have two games under their belt. Several players have made the most of training camp, while others have floundered opportunities to make a lasting impression with the coaching staff.

With two-a-day practices all but over, and camp breaking in two days, time is of the essence for many of the players who are battling for a roster spot, and many may have only one more game to do so. Let’s take a look at how ten Saint hopefuls have performed so far in training camp.

1. Lynaris Elpheage CB-What can you say about Elpheage other than he continues to be a play maker. His 54-yard punt return was electrifying against the Jets, showing that he has the makings of being a great special teams player in the NFL. He still has a long way to go as far as playing cornerback in the league, but has improved all during training camp, which has enhanced his chances of making the final 53-man roster.

Despite his small stature and lack of explosive speed, Elpheage certainly has been a player to watch this training camp.

2. Zach Hilton TE-Hilton has been another player who has caught Saints fans imagination this training camp. He didn’t have as good of a showing against the Jets as he did against the Eagles, particularly while blocking. Hilton does possess solid receiving skills and with his big frame, he can become a dangerous target in the red zone.

Hilton may get caught in a numbers game at tight end as the Saints will keep four tight ends at the most, with Hilton being number five right now. Injuries could change everything, especially with the oft-injured David Sloan. Haslett has stated that they will not put good football players on the street, and Hilton is a good football player that will play in the NFL. With two weeks left, he needs to step up his blocking and continue to catch everything thrown to him. If he doesn’t make the final 53, he is certain to be a practice squad player for now.

3. Demetrius Smith FB-Smith has had a disappointing showing in both preseason games, dropping three passes that hit him in the hands. It has been painful watching him trying to catch passes out of the backfield. He is a solid run blocker, but will never beat out incumbent starter Terrelle Smith. He is a possible practice squad player.

4. Tavian Banks RB-Banks needs to get back on the field as soon as possible. The deficiency at backup running back was a perfect opportunity for Banks to come in and make this team, but has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. If he doesn’t play against the 49ers this weekend, you can bet he will be one name on the list of first cuts.

5. Travis Carroll LB-Unless the injury bug bites at middle linebacker, Carroll will not make the final 53-man roster. He is currently listed behind Orlando Ruff, Darren Smith, and Cie Grant on the depth chart, and hasn’t had an outstanding camp like last year. He is another name to look for on the first cut list.

6. Derrick Lewis WR-The New Orleans native has been a pleasant surprise all during training camp. Lewis continues to catch everything thrown his way and has almost assuredly wrapped up the fifth receiver spot. With Donte Stallworth’s hamstring problems, look for Lewis to not only make the team, but to contribute during the season.

7. Chris Finlen QB-Finlen has not played in either preseason game, likely signifying the end of his stay in New Orleans this year. Finlen was a long shot to make the club before the Saints brought in Tory Woodbury two weeks ago. J.T. O’Sullivan has outplayed both Woodbury and Finlen so far, and is looks to be the Saints’ third string quarterback.

8. Kenderick Allen DT-Allen has had a good training camp, and while he hasn’t set the world on fire, he also hasn’t done anything that would make anyone believe he can’t play at this level. He is caught in a numbers game, although it’s still early with all of the trade rumors involving one of the Saints’ defensive tackles.

Allen needs to continue to work hard in the next two weeks, and a strong performance against the 49ers could solidify a spot on the practice squad.

9. Curtis Holden LB-Holden’s name has been brought up in different trade rumors over the past week as the Saints are desperate for a backup running back. Holden has plenty of talent, but he can’t stay healthy. Roger Knight has distinguished himself as a solid backup, further clouding Holden’s future with the Saints. At this point, he could find himself looking for work in the next few weeks.

10. Todd Bouman QB-Bouman looked strong against the Jets, which should quell any worries of how the backup quarterback will do. The move to trade for Bouman in the off-season may turn out to be the Saints’ biggest and best move if Aaron Brooks goes down with an injury this year.

Monday, August 18, 2003
THE RIGHT STUFF: Saints Performance vs. Jets Is Encouraging
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:58 pm CST

The Saints made a strong statement Saturday night as they showed marked improvement on both sides of the ball and even found a gem on special teams.

OFFENSIVELY, Aaron Brooks again looked very sharp and aware in the pocket. Most notably, Aaron showed decisiveness in the passing game and less hesitance when deciding whether or not to run downfield. AB appears to be clicking on all cylinders and looks much more instinctive and natural on the field.

Todd Bouman looked much more comfortable in Saturday's game than he did Monday night, showing much better pocket presence and accuracy. The offensive line also looked stronger in pass protection and run blocking. Deuce McAllister looked sharp in his first live action since last season. He ripped off a 17 yard run that should have the Saints up for a big play via the play-action pass. Instead another running play was called and Deuce was stuffed, killing the drive's momentum.

Jerome Pathon started opposite Joe Horn at wide receiver with Donte Stallworth coming in on three-wide formations. Many people had written off Pathon, a free agent acquisition from the Indianapolis Colts in 2002, but after a year in the Saints system and putting on nearly 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, Pathon looks better than ever. Pathon also turned in an excellent week of practice, making headlines with at least one spectacular play per day. Make no mistake, this is a COMPETITION for the number two wide receiver position.

Derrick Lewis continued to impress and state his case to be important cog in the Saints rotation at wide receiver. He may very well become a key third down receiver in four-receiver sets, fitting the mold of a tall, possession receiver.

Another Lewis, who goes by the name of Michael, began to see in this game what he can expect during the season: squib kicks. Teams will design short kickoffs to keep the ball out of the Beerman's hands. Don't think that will keep him from making plays in the return game though. Expect another Pro Bowl season from the diminutive speedster.

Perhaps the loudest whisper among those involved with the New Orleans Saints is the backup running back situation. The Saints obviously need to acquire some depth via trade before the season begins. Even with Curtis Keaton's impressive 28 yard touchdown catch and run, he has yet to show any improvement in the running game. James Fenderson was awarded the majority of the snaps in the third quarter versus the Jets, while Keaton played in the fourth. While Fenderson lacks the natural talent to ever become a full-time running back, he shows effort and determination that I have yet to see from Keaton. The third year player out of Hawaii runs hard on every play, and even when he does hit the wrong hole he makes sure that he continues to drive his legs and push forward. Combine this with his value on special teams, and I would say Keaton is the bubble player while Fenderson is a lock to make the team.

While we are on the subject of personnel decisions, the Washington Redskins were rumored to have offered backup running back Ladell Betts in exchange for starting defensive tackle Grady Jackson after the season-ending injury to their starting tackle Brandon Noble. Do not expect Jackson to go anywhere as he has now distinguished himself as the best defensive tackle on the Saints' roster.

The offensive line looked solid Saturday night, opening up holes in the run game and providing adequate pass protection for the quarterbacks. Rookie Montrae Holland is the real deal and could start for just about any other team in the league. The competition at right tackle between Spencer Folau and Victor Riley is still neck and neck, but I do not believe Riley will beat out Folau until Folau beats out himself. The guy simply does just enough every week to hold off a more talented Riley, which is why Folau is still our starting right tackle.

Other offensive players who showed improvement were veteran left tackle Wayne Gandy, as well as tight ends Boo Williams and Ernie Conwell. Right now I believe Boo Williams has earned himself a roster spot and key role in the Saints offense for the upcoming season. While it is not likely that he will be released, one has to wonder how much faith the front office still has in David Sloan. Sloan seems to be having trouble kicking the injury bug and his absence has brought players such as Boo Williams and undrafted rookie Zach Hilton into the limelight. If Hilton does not make the final cut for the active 53-man roster, let's hope that he clears waivers and makes it onto the developmental squad.

OFFENSIVE POSITION BATTLE: Donte Stallworth vs. Jerome Pathon
While many fans and even front office personnel have, in their minds, already inserted Donte Stallworth into the starting receiver position opposite Pro Bowler Joe Horn, Jerome Pathon has refused to go quietly into the night. The former Indianapolis Colt responded to such speculation by dedicating himself to the offseason program and adding ten pounds of solid muscle. Pathon is a quiet competitor and a clutch player. He is fearless over the middle and took some serious shots last season, such as the one in which 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson separated Pathon's helmet from his head in week seven of last year (we've all seen the highlight at least 20 times since). Such incidents served as motivation for Pathon to bulk himself up. From a mental standpoint, Pathon seems to have the edge. Not only is he now more comfortable and natural after a year in the Saints' system, but he knows every receiver position, X, Z and Y (split end, flanker and slot) like the back of his hand. Stallworth is a spectacular receiver but will have to improve in consistency and stay injury free to dethrone a relentless Pathon. Stallworth is probably the most talented receiver in an extremely talented receiving corps, but Pathon simply refuses to step aside. Where Stallworth is explosive and physical, Pathon is fluid and acrobatic. The competition is friendly and intense, and will ultimately result in a better Saints' receiving corps that has arguably the best mix of power and finesse of any group in the league.


ON THE DEFENSIVE FRONT, the Saints showed a tremendous amount of improvement from the Monday night debacle. While the pass coverage was still a little bit loose and generous, the run defense showed infinite improvement, due in large part to the return of a healthy Darrin Smith. Because of Smith's spectacular offseason and performance as of late, the "cooperation" between he and Orlando Ruff has transformed into an all-out competition.

The Saints need Dale Carter to stay healthy and on the field this season. While Ashley Ambrose provides adequate depth, he has clearly lost a step. Santana Moss took Ambrose for a ride in the first half and most likely would have been mirrored by a speedier Fred Thomas if this had been a regular season game. Thomas is the undisputed starter at this point, but Ambrose will still see the field plenty in nickel and dime situations.

My heart goes out to Keyou Craver. He is an outstanding person and was a great role model during his time at Nebraska. He is very well liked by loyal ‘Husker fans to this day. The play he made on that sweep to his side showed a great deal of heart and I am glad he emerged without a serious injury to his neck or head.

Mel Mitchell just never ceases to impress me. The fifth round pick out of Western Kentucky could end up being the steal of the 2002 draft class. He has shown excellent instincts and ability to diagnose the run and the pass. He is perhaps the best tackler on the team right now from a fundamental standpoint. Tebucky Jones looked much improved from Monday night but still has to become more comfortable in the Saints' system.

The linebackers stood out Saturday night and finally began to silence the critics. Darrin Smith really seems to be a catalyst when he is on the field. He is instinctive and was extremely physical against the run. While he is regarded as more of a chase-and-run or finesse linebacker, he played the inside and outside run equally well. Sedrick Hodge is excellent at funneling plays and slowing them down but hasn't quite got the hang of making them. Such a thing will come with time, but the greatest improvement in Hodge's game has been in the mental area. The second year starter is much more confident and comfortable on the strong side than he was last year.

Derrick Rodgers has continued to impress me with his upfield style of play, often getting to the runner in the backfield, which is rare for an weakside linebacker. Despite being slightly undersized at barely 230 pounds, Rodgers is extremely physical and chooses to stick his nose in the action rather than wait for plays to be funneled to him. I just hope he doesn't cross the line from agressive into over-agressive.

Reserves James Allen and Roger Knight played much better Saturday night than they did Monday night. Allen looked like a different player, getting to the ball carrier and making the play on many occasions. He is a different style of player than Derrick Rodgers and brings more of a finesse aspect to the weakside linebacker position. Nevertheless, Allen looks mean out there and while he won't start, the second year player out of Oregon State should see his share of defensive snaps this year, especially on passing downs. The only linebacker I saw looking a little confused was rookie middle linebacker Cie Grant. This was Grant's first preseason game at a completely foreign position, so such a thing is to be expected.

Grady Jackson has responded to a disappointing offseason with spectacular play. Those who were calling for his head earlier in the offseason have quieted down as Jackson was solid and consistent Saturday while displaying flashes of dominance. At one point, Chad Pennington nearly soiled himself on a play in which Grady resembled a B-52 Bomber, taking his 330+ pounds airborne over a New York blocker and in the direction of the flustered Pennington. Grady is by far the best defensive tackle we have right and is in no danger of losing his hard-earned starting position.

Johnathon Sullivan looked much more comfortable Saturday night than he did versus the Eagles. While the sixth overall pick out of Georgia did continue struggle with leverage, he displayed a surprisingly effective club and rip move on a few plays that opened my eyes. Charles Grant seemed to perform better with Darren Howard in the lineup. Howard left the game with a minor MCL sprain but shouldn't miss extended time if all goes well. I wouldn't expect to see the Saints' sack leader on the field again, though, until September 7th at the earliest.

By far the most impressive lineman of the night was rookie fifth round pick Melvin Williams. After only practicing for a week, Williams recorded three sacks against the Jets reserves in the fourth quarter. Drafting Williams in the fifth round was a move criticized by many "experts" from around the league. Many of those near the Saints organization speculated that Williams would be placed on the injured reserve or PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, but the rookie pass rusher responded strongly Saturday night, possibly earning himself a spot in the defensive rotation at end. With Howard's injury concerns, Williams emergence couldn't have come at a better time.

DEFENSIVE POSITION BATTLE: Darrin Smith vs. Orlando Ruff
While Jim Haslett's original plan this offseason was to platoon Darrin Smith and free agent acquisition Orlando Ruff at middle linebacker, with Ruff playing on first and second down and Smith coming on the field in passing situations, the elder Smith may have changed the coaching staff's thinking for the time being. Smith's first action of the preseason was a key component in the Saints' improved play against the run Saturday night. Smith showed the same quickness and savvy that has kept him in the starting lineup this long. The former Dallas Cowboy is a highly intelligent player (only active player in the NFL with an MBA) and a vocal leader. Did I mention that he has Super Bowl ring? Smith has made it clear that he is still an every-down player and further stated his case on a 4th and one goal-line stand. Ruff showed solid play against the run, as well, but may end up becoming not much more than extremely solid depth.


FINAL THOUGHTS:
I'll start off by stepping forward and saying that I, for one, am very comfortable with Jay Bellamy as Mel Mitchell's backup. Jay came into this league as an undrafted free agent, blessed with neither size nor speed. Yet he has spent the majority of his career in teams' starting lineups. Jay was exposed last year due to the lack of pass rush and no speedy compliment at the other safety position. Despite his lack of physical talent, Jay plays with one of the biggest hearts I have ever seen and has taken his demotion in stride, displaying class and character. He is a ferocious hitter for his size and is always willing to step forward and sacrifice his body. Credit Bellamy for Saturday night's goal-line stand in the first quarter, a play in which Jay burst into the hole and took on the lead block from the full back, bouncing the play outside and freeing up middle linebacker Darrin Smith to chase down Lamont Jordan and make the tackle for a two yard loss. Jay may never have the talent to be an every-down safety again, but he does give his all every time he is on the field. That single play displayed his selflessness and team-first mentality.

I failed to go into an in-depth analysis of Kenny Smith's Saturday night performance, so let me say that he has displayed much improved consistency and effort during the preseason. Unfortunately, I see Kenny being the defensive tackle that we will wave goodbye to in exchange for a backup running back in the coming weeks. This is a shame because I believe Kenny is one of the most talented young defensive tackles in the league. But with Johnathon Sullivan and Henry Ford (who is too old to carry any trade value) manning the rotation at the 3-technique, Kenny sees to be the odd man out. I would much rather see Martin Chase traded but he will be needed to spell Grady Jackson at the nose tackle position since Sullivan is being groomed at the 3-technique and Ford is not built for the nose.

Saturday night, Lynaris Elpheage showed why he will make the final roster cut on a 54 yard punt return in which he eluded and escaped several tackles. He is a fluid athlete and has rare instincts in the return game. He lacks Michael Lewis' sprinter speed, but is an excellent punt return-man. The return game seems to be the most refined area of Elpheage's game, and I believe that by mid-season the undrafted cornerback out of Tulane could begin to see action returning punts, depending on how involved the Beerman becomes in the Saints regular offense.

I really believe that the Saints front office should push for a trade that would bring Packers' reserve running back Herbert Goodman to New Orleans. While the Packers' would be reluctant to let go of a player who is having such a strong preseason, they need a quality defensive tackle in the worst way. They recently signed veteran Larry Smith, but I think they know that will not be enough to even come close to replacing Gilbert Brown's presence against the run. They also know that the lack of a quality tackle could further hinder the development of rookie middle linebacker Nick Barnett. With Goodman officially listed as fifth on the depth chart (probably more like third or fourth), the Packers could afford to cut ties with the third year running back in exchanged for a player whom they need, especially with reserves Najeh Davenport and Lamar Smith almost sure bets to make the final roster. The question isn't whether or not the Packers CAN let go of Goodman, it is whether or not they will.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Don't Panic, It's Just Preseason!
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:44 am CST

So you are thinking to yourself, “How can this be the new and improved Saints defense? There is nothing NEW or IMPROVED about what happened Monday night.” Or maybe your concern is more offense-oriented. “What are we going to do about our running game? Why can’t our wide receivers catch any passes?” Well folks, I’m here to answer your questions. Relax. Don’t panic, it’s only preseason.

DEFENSE

First, let’s address the subject of tackling. Yes, the Saints did a poor job once again in this department. There were plenty of mistackles, many of them due to poor technique. In this day and age of highlight reels, players tend to forget the basic fundamentals of hitting the man with ball around the waist and wrapping up. Instead, many players go for the “kill” shot, something that Sedrick Hodge and Tebucky Jones were both guilty of in the first half. After the Eagles’ first drive, Jim Haslett chewed on Jones, Hodge, and the rest of the starters that displayed a poor effort coming out of the blocks. This is one area that has always plagued the Jim Haslett-era Saints, and it needs to be corrected A.S.A.P.

One thing to take into consideration is that the Saints did not game plan for the Eagles, they did not run any blitz packages, and were without starters Darren Howard, Darren Smith, and Dale Carter. Grady Jackson is still a few weeks away from being in prime shape, and rookie Jonathan Sullivan is still trying to catch up from his holdout. It is going to take time for the defense to gel with plenty of new starters and new players, and you can’t expect a defense that had no game plan and missing three important ingredients to turn in a top notch performance. Let me say this, if the Saints’ defense is still performing like they did Monday night by the time the calendar says September, then it will be time to worry.


OFFENSE

The offense was, well, offensive. There was no running game at all, and the offensive line looked flat. There were too many penalties and dropped passes. Curtis Keaton didn’t have any room to run, and didn’t make anything happen. Fullback Demetrius Smith showed why he is nothing more than a blocking back by dropping two passes and barely hanging on to a third pass. Donte Stallworth couldn’t catch a cold, and Aaron Brooks didn’t have much time to throw the ball. This certainly wasn’t the stuff that one of the highest-powered offenses in the NFL is made of.

But let’s look at things in perspective: the Saints #1 wide receiver (Joe Horn), #1 running back (Deuce McAllister), and #1 offensive lineman (LeCharles Bentley) didn’t play. Tight end Ernie Conwell was in for all of about five to ten plays, and Brooks only played in two series before taking the rest of the night off. The line was makeshift for most of the night, filled with rookies and free agents that are on the cusp of making a living playing professional football. Once again, they did not have any game plan for the Eagles, running basic plays out of basic formations.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Two words: Michael Lewis. Two more words: Lynaris Elpheage.

With the exception of the punt return for the touchdown, the special teams did a decent job for the most part considering all of the camp bodies that comprised the special teams’ lineup. Lewis looks like he is ready to go back to the Pro Bowl, and Elpheage looks to be a viable insurance policy in the event Lewis gets hurt. The fumble on the punt by the Eagles was ugly, and there is no way the Saints shouldn’t have come up with the ball, but they didn’t, which signifies the kind of night the Saints were having.

OVERALL

It’s hard not to be disappointed after a performance like the Saints displayed on Monday, especially with the lofty expectations of a new and improved defense, and the continuation of a high-powered offense. There were some bright spots; such has the performance of Zach Hilton, Tory Woodbury, Lynaris Elpheage, J.T. O’Sullivan, and Derrick Lewis. I would like to see more of Hilton and RB Walt Williams in next week’s game against the Jets, for I think these are two players who can play in the NFL and contribute to the Saints this year. The loss to the Eagles makes Jim Haslett 0-4 in preseason debuts, but is 26-24 during the regular season(which is when it really counts.) Don’t lose hope just yet Saints fans, we still have 19 more weeks to go.

Go Saints!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
PANIC ATTACK: Saints Preseason Performance Should Provide a Sense of Urgency
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:46 pm CST

The Saints' preseason opener against the Eagles should be anything but encouraging to Saints fans. The Saints displayed poor tackling, poor hands, and poor execution in all three phases of the game. But while the first game of the preseason was not encouraging, it should in no way induce panic among Saints fans or in the Saints organization. Here is a breakdown of the Saints Monday night performance:

OFFENSE
Aaron Brooks looked as good as ever in the first two series. His passes were sharp and crisp. Brooks displayed excellent pocket presence and made quick decisions on each play. Even with a starting line that was hampered by injuries and no Deuce McAllister to lean back on, Brooks displayed confidence, poise, and leadership.
Unfortunately the receivers seemed to have a case of the drops Monday night. Brooks' perfect lasers seemed futile as starting receivers Donte Stallworth and Jerome Pathon each had a pair of drops. Curtis Keaton also did not provide much flash or encouragement in the running game. He was timid hitting the hole and showed poor vision on the inside run as well as on screen plays. Perhaps he needed some reading glasses because the kind of illiteracy Keaton displayed is unacceptable. If Keaton did encourage the coaching staff of anything it is to start exploring trade options and the waver wires now, because the drop-off behind Deuce McAllister is more than even the pessimists expected.

MVP:
I give this award to Aaron Brooks. Even though he was only 3 for 6 for a little over 30 yards, he answered just about every question and speculation surrounding his maturity, the health of his shoulder and his mechanics. In pre-game interviews one could tell he was relaxed and at peace about the upcoming game. In the game he operated with barely adequate time from the offensive line, no running game and receivers dropping his passes. Nevertheless, each pass was on target and should have been caught. Individually, I did not see much difference between Brooks' play and the play of Donovan McNabb. Unfortunately, the Eagles were clearly the better team. Brooks hopefully earned some respect and fan support with his Monday night performance.

Biggest Surprise:
Wide receiver Derrick Lewis not only secured his spot on the 53-man roster, but he also secured his place as a contributor on the Saints' offense this season. Lewis was the only receiver that didn't seem to have butter on his hands Monday night, making a pair of excellent catches against an elite Eagles secondary. He showed great awareness near the sidelines as well, pulling in one spectacular catch and almost bringing in another.
J.T. O'Sullivan deserves mention as well. After many Saints fans had already offered to buy O'Sullivan his bus ticket back home, the second-year quarterback out of Cal-Davis displayed good arm strength, surprising mobility and other intangibles while leading the Saints to a scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The battle between O'Sullivan and Tory Woodbury for the third QB spot should be an interesting one.

Biggest Disappointment:
Aside from the Saints' lack of offensive movement, I must say that quarterback Todd Bouman was the biggest disappointment. While he displayed a very strong arm and some mobility, he was very inaccurate especially with the deep ball. Bouman's pocket presence left much to be desired as well. Hopefully as the preseason goes on he will become more comfortable in the Saints' system. Those who were saying Bouman was on the verge of unseating Brooks should have so such thoughts floating through their collective minds any longer.

Monday Night Goat:
Running back Curtis Keaton gets this award in a landslide. Keaton showed the same indecisiveness and timidness that Ron Dayne has over the past years, eventually leading to his own fall from grace. Keaton lacks vision and instincts to read blocks, both in the running and passing game. Many times instead of trying to make a forward push, Keaton would instead cower into a "hit-absorbing position" behind the line. He will have to show some serious improvement over the next few games to even make this roster.

Stating His Case:
Undrafted tight end Zach Hilton stated his case for landing a spot on the Saints' final roster Monday night as he displayed soft hands, great awareness (minus one misjudgement on a potential touchdown pass from Tory Woodbury) and dominant size, while handing the Saints' offense its first touchdown in the third quarter.

Victim of the Zebras:
This award goes to Michael Lewis on the opening kickoff for the Saints, in which the 2002 pro-bowler's spectacular touchdown was called back due to an inadvertent whistle by the officiating crew, headed by Johnny Grier. The botched ruling was only a preview of things to come.


DEFENSE
From the front line to the defensive backs, the Saints' new and "revamped" defense left much to be desired. Sticking primarily to zone coverage all night that strongly resembled Swiss Cheese, the Saints were picked apart on the opening drive by Donovan McNabb. The lack of pass rush (primarily a 4 man rush until the second half) did not make things any easier on the defensive backs.
In the running game, missed tackles ran amuck and just about every defender was caught out of position at one time or another. Hopefully this side of the ball is in for some serious tackling drills in the coming weeks.

MVP:
This award goes to second year strong safety Mel Mitchell. While Mitchell did not have a spectacular performance, his solid performance was more encouraging than anyone else's on the defense. Mitchell did not miss any tackles and was one of the only Saints' defensive backs not repeatedly caught out of position.
Derrick Rodgers also deserves mention after finding a groove in the second quarter.

Biggest Surprise:
The only thing surprising was how a defense with such touted and improved speed could look so slow. This unit must undergo some serious improvement and development before September 7th. Otherwise we are in for a long season.

Biggest Disappointment:
On a night of much defensive disappointment, free safety Tebucky Jones fit right in. His play Monday night left very much to be desired. Jones was hardly physical in the running game, missing two key tackles on Eagles runners. To ice his less-than-stellar performance, Jones left cornerback Fred Thomas hanging out to dry on the touchdown pass from McNabb to Freddy Mitchell. On the play, where Jones had over-the-top responsibility on the deep ball, he was caught out of position and behind the Eagles' receiver. Let's hope Jones lives up to the 25 million dollars that we are paying him.

Monday Night Goat:
While Tebucky Jones could rightfully win this award as well, I must spread the love and anoint rookie defensive tackle Johnathon Sullivan. While this hardly labels the kid a bust, it is evidence to why no rookie, despite where he is picked or how hyped up he is, should be relied heavily upon to make an instant impact. Sullivan got very little push from the 3-technique position and showed very few moves other than a futile bull rush. His performance strongly resembled that of his rookie counterpart, (4th overall choice) Dewayne Robertson of the Jets, in his first preseason game. At this point I would slate Kenny Smith as the opening day starter and bring Sullivan along more slowly.
Linebacker James Allen also deserves mention as he looked very lost and out of position playing mostly with the reserves. Derrick Rodgers may prove to be one of the smartest offseason acquisitions of 2003.

Stating His Case:
Defensive tackle Kenny Smith stated his case for being the opening day starter at the 3-technique. He provided perhaps the most consistent penetration of any of the defensive linemen and was a sight for sore eyes after the sub-par performance of Johnathon Sullivan.
Cornerbacks Deveron Harper and Lynaris Elpheage are also worthy of mention. Things should heat up in the battle for the fifth cornerback spot as both of the corners displayed solid coverage and instincts, as Harper recorded an interception and Elpheage deflected what would have been a touchdown pass. Elpheage also showed his value with a solid performance on punt returns.

Victim of the Zebras:
This award goes to cornerback Lynaris Elpheage in a landslide. The first call against Elpheage from the wonderful crew of Johnny Grier, also known as the Ringling Brothers, came when the undrafted rookie was flagged for pass interference on a play in which an Eagles' receiver actually pushed off of Elpheage and then fell to the ground on his own accord. The only thing Elpheage was guilty of was good coverage and playing the ball in the air. During the same series, Elpheage was flagged for a personal foul which he committed on an interception return by Deveron Harper.


SPECIAL TEAMS
The one symbol of consistency for the Saints last season did not buck Monday night's trend. The Saints' special teams turned in a very disappointing performance and was only outdone by the lowly defense on this fateful night.

MVP:
This award goes wide receiver Michael Lewis in a landslide. The balance, awareness, and agility he displayed in his opening kickoff return was awe-inspiring. Leave it to the officials (led by the Amazing Johnny Grier) to negate such a beautiful and praise-worth play.

Biggest Surprise:
Cornerback Lynaris Elpheage showed good vision and agility in punt returns. While his speed may only be slightly above average, he may be on his way to earning a roster spot with very solid returns.
Punter Mark Mariscal also displayed an extremely strong leg in place of the injured Mitch Berger.

Biggest Disappointment:
Speedster Kareem Kelly showed very little in the return game, actually fumbling and tripping over his own two feet all in one kick return. He provided very little support in coverage units as well, aside pushing linebacker Sedrick Hodge to the ground in a half-hearted effort to chase down Lito Sheppard on an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Monday Night Goat:
The Saints' entire punt coverage team brings home the gold in this category. On a Lito Sheppard punt return, Saints special teamers, including and most notably James Fenderson, missed a handful of tackles en route to allowing an 88-yard touchdown. This was just another example of poor tackling by the Saints in all phases of the game.
Linebacker James Allen also deserves mention after an illegal block in the back on a Saints' punt return where Allen actually pushed an Eagle defender into return man Michael Lewis.

Stating his Case:
Lynaris Elpheage stated his case Monday night on punt returns, showing excellent skills needed to backup Michael Lewis in the return game.
Many of the rookie "bubble players" have an excellent opportunity to make this team since the Saints will be looking for fast, physical players to step up on coverage units.

Victim of the Zebras:
This award goes to Michael Lewis, again, as he deserves to be mentioned twice for having such a beautiful play stripped away from him and the Saints by the Conniving Johnny Grier and his henchmen. I am of course referring to the 102-yard kickoff return which was negated due to an inadvertant whistle.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT
The Saints have a long way to go in all three phases of the game before the opener against Seattle. Many of us can remember the Rams during the preseason after their defense was rebuilt from the ground up, and remember that their defense strongly resembled ours at this point. The Rams went on to earn a Super Bowl bid and rank third overall defensively in 2001.

While Monday night's performance was gut wrenching, we should take it was it was: the Saints' first preseason game. Hopefully the lackluster play will provide the organization with a sense of urgency rather than a panic attack.

Friday, August 08, 2003
Game Day Primer
By
Ralph Malbrough - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 9:01 pm CST

Preseason football is like getting a bowl of fat free ice cream after a month long diet. You enjoy the first couple of bites because you are starving but after that you’re just bored. Same way with Preseason football, you are excited because it’s football season but after the first quarter you will probably start getting fidgety and by the third quarter you are looking at the watch and thinking,” It’s getting late and I have work Tuesday morning maybe I should leave early.”

The Saints open against Philadelphia Monday night and even though there is nothing that can be said or done to make the second half of a preseason exciting there are plenty of things to look for that will make the first half well worth your time. So besides just watching the preseason game and hoping no Saints players get hurt here are few things you should look for.

Upward Mobility

Haslett said all during the off-season the Saints needed to improve their team speed on defense to stop the mobility Michael Vick of the Falcons. Well Donavon McNabb is no slouch when it comes to mobile quarterbacks. It’s preseason and the play calling will be simple but if McNabb is breaking containment and is running free past the revamped line backing corps than all the questions surrounding the linebackers will grow louder during the rest of camp.

Screen Saver

The Saints had less success defending the screen pass last year than Ben Affleck and J-Lo’s latest movie. It’s too bad Duce Staley of the Eagles is a camp holdout because Eagles coach Andy Reid loves to roll McNabb one way and then run the throw back screen to Staley. Hopefully Philly will run a couple of screens even though Staley will be a no show and the Saints will get a much needed screen test.

Take a ‘Bou’

New Saints back up QB Todd Bouman’s arm has been the talk of camp. Team Brass feels really good about the off-season acquisition of Bouman. Bouman had some impressive moments in Minnesota and even though Brooks’ shoulder has been fine during camp a good back up quarterback can be the difference between the playoffs and 9-7. Just ask the Saints about Aaron Brooks’ shoulder and the Dolphins about Jay Fiedler’s thumb and how both were major reasons those teams watched the playoffs instead of playing in them. Bouman will get some live action and we’ll see if the Saints assessment of him is correct.

So there, three things to watch for that will at least make the opening preseason game a little more appealing. Hey it’s football season so just watching the Saints on the tube or sitting in your comfy familiar seat in the dome should at least get your juices flowing for September.

Ralph Malbrough can be reached at ralphmalbrough@hotmail.com for questions or comments. He welcomes them all even negative ones.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003
POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN: Middle Linebacker
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:26 pm CST

As the Saints new-look defense begins to come together early in training camp, many questions are still circulating in the minds of fans, and many of these questions concern the rebuilt linebacking corps.

So far in camp, Sedrick Hodge and Derrick Rodgers are both opening eyes. Rodgers, who was originally expected to provide veteran depth behind a young James Allen, has all but sealed the weakside linebacker position with his quickness in coverage and his somewhat untapped pass-rush ability. Sedrick Hodge is said to look like a new player, displaying much improved upper-body strength and even more improved instincts.

With what could, at least in training camp, end up being mainstays at the outside linebacker positions, middle linebacker still appears to be an enigma.

The three-tiered competition features a young utility man in Willie “Cie” Grant, a physical run stuffer in Orlando Ruff, and a savvy veteran in Darrin Smith. While Smith and Ruff seem to be the front-runners to man the position, each of these players brings something different to the table. Here’s how the competition breaks down:

DARRIN SMITH
This savvy veteran provides not only versatility and experience, but a collection of Super Bowl rings as well (earned as a starting linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys). Smith was the starting middle linebacker for the Saints in 2000, following Charlie Clemons preseason injury to his Achilles tendon. That season, Smith posted over 100 tackles for the Saints and also returned an interception for a touchdown.

Pros: Smith brings finesse to the middle of the Saints defense. While not powerful against the run, the 232 pound veteran knows how to get low and penetrate the offensive backfield. Smith, like many natural weakside linebackers, chooses to “slip” blocks rather than take them on head up. He uses anticipation and timing to get below the shoulder pads of blockers and almost “slide” into running lanes. While Smith may seem to put himself at the mercy of the blockers, he utilizes a type of linebacker “Tai Chi,” using the opposition strength to his advantage.

Against the pass Smith is very solid, especially in the middle of the defense. Being surrounded by younger more athletic outside linebackers should make up for any quickness that may be lost with age. Smith can still consistently run in the low 4.6's in the 40 yard dash, even if he is on the wrong side of 30. He is a consummate coverage linebacker who solidifies the middle zones of the field.

Cons: Smith is undersized and a liability against a power running game as he can wear down. His finesse technique, while it works well against straight-line runners, often takes him out of plays especially against cutback runners. While he has above-average range, Smith is not quite the player he used to be in terms of quickness. Smith can also be overpowered by blocking backs and requires a degree of protection from the interior linemen. He is suspect against isolation plays and plays where teams run directly at him as he thrives off of his ability to take good angles and strategically position himself. He does not provide a very intimidating presence in th middle, either.

ORLANDO RUFF
The 26 year old Ruff has taken the hard road into the NFL catching on with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent. The 6'4, 260-pound Ruff has never lead a defense in tackles, but was a key cog in the Chargers run defenses of 2000 and 2001 that ranked in the top of the league in statistics (top 5 both years) but in the bottom of the league in wins. After the signing of Donnie Edwards and emergence of rookie (2002 3rd round pick) Ben Leber, Ruff was demoted to backup duty. Even though he was courted heavily by the Chargers to come back as a starter due to the inevitable trade of Junior Seau, Ruff chose the Saints over the Chargers and other suitors, including the Eagles.

Pros: Ruff’s mere presence against the run brings another dimension to a team’s defense. He is extremely tough mentally and is very focused due to traveling the hard road. He engages in a number of mind-strengthening activities, including yoga and martial arts. A classic throwback middle linebacker, Ruff is instinctive and powerful at the point of attack, easily able to overpower blocking backs and fairing well at the point of attack with interior linemen. He does not need to be protected in the running game. Ruff uses good technique at the point of attack and more often than not positions himself into a position of control, thereby keeping himself in the play until he commits. He makes up for lack of speed with anticipation. Is an overachiever in pass coverage. While he may only average three to five solo tackles per game, he sets a tone with each hit. Is a motivator to a defense and to himself. Ruff is excellent at redirecting plays and disrupting the inside run, often taking away an entire running lane and sometimes two.

Cons: Was an undrafted rookie for a reason. Has barely average speed and only average range. Does not provide much pursuit outside of the tackles. Does not match up well against receiving tight ends or running backs. While he is able to over-achieve in zone coverage, he does not match up well man to man. Is a classic two-down middle linebacker. Must be surrounded with speed and cannot be expected to make plays outside of a defensive scheme. Can be taken advantage of with play-action passes that expose the middle of the defense. Does not provide much flash as a pass rusher. Is a role player who must be complemented with playmakers.

WILLIE “CIE” GRANT
The speedy rookie was a member of the Ohio State National Championship team. Made the memorable last-second hit on Ken Dorsey that forced the errant pass and secured the OSU victory. Was recruited at Ohio State as a safety and spent time at cornerback as a junior and weakside linebacker as a senior. The Saints see him as a project to man the middle linebacker position in the future.

Pros: Grant is extremely fast, quick, and athletic. He is a diligent worker who never becomes complacent. A consummate team player, Grant is willing to make sacrifices in an effort to achieve a greater goal. He has experience all over the field, having started at both cornerback and weakside linebacker at Ohio state while seeing time at safety. Grant is not yet molded into a position and has very few “bad habits” that come with most tweeners. He has the frame to consistently play close to 240 pounds and not lose much speed or quickness. He also possesses excellent change of direction skills that keep him in plays even when he makes mistakes. Is excellent in both zone and man coverage. Grant is an instinctive, athletic football player that could develop into an instinctive, athletic middle linebacker.

Cons: Grant is extremely raw at the MIKE position. Most NFL scouts saw his natural position at safety. Is a classic space player that does not display much technique when it comes to taking on and beating blocks. He can be overpowered at the point of attack and has not dealt with the traffic situations that come with manning the middle of the defensive front. Is a player who would rather run around a block than run through it. Has no experience at middle linebacker, so he is definitely a project. Requires a lot of protection against the run. Right now is an enigma that is battling injuries early in camp. Will not vie for the starting position this year and could ultimately be moved back outside in a year or two.

CONCLUSION
Ruff and Smith are clearly the frontrunners for the starting spot while Cie Grant will contribute mostly on special teams. Unless he proves to be somewhat of an anomaly, do not expect him to challenge any time during the year as long as Smith and Ruff are healthy.

Competition brings out the best in players and both Darrin Smith and Orlando Ruff will only benefit from such a competition. Ultimately, what is considered a competition now could soon turn into a collaboration, with Ruff manning the middle on rushing downs and Smith coming in during obvious passing situations. With improved speed on the perimeter of the defense, the middle linebacker position will be well protected and should be greatly improved this year.

10 Names Revisited (Vol I)
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:25 am CST

Training camp is in full swing and plenty of players are making waves on Airline Drive this year. The biggest star of training camp so far has been the new indoor practice facility, which has enabled the team to complete every scheduled practice. The battles for positions are really heating up as the Saints are less than a week away from their first preseason game. Let’s take a look at how ten Saint hopefuls have performed so far in training camp.


1. Lynaris Elpheage CB-Elpheage has impressed the coaches and fans with his athletic ability and his strong desire to make it in the NFL. His play on special teams will ultimately determine whether or not Elpheage makes the final 53.

2. Zach Hilton TE-Hilton has been getting more reps at practice since Boo Williams suffered an injury last week. He has looked good catching the ball, and his size gives him an advantage over the tallest of defensive backs. Hilton still needs to work on his blocking skills, but has really looked good overall. If he can continue to catch everything thrown to him, and take advantage of the extra reps, Hilton could be a sleeper to make the final 53.

3. Demetrius Smith FB-Smith has had a quiet camp so far. His chances of making the final roster will all depend on whether the coaches want to keep one or two fullbacks. Terrelle Smith has solidified the starting fullback position.

4. Tavian Banks RB-Banks has been impressive in camp until suffering a hamstring injury last week. If he has a shot at making the team, it will be imperative for Banks to heal quickly and get back on the field. As the old saying goes, “you can’t make the club in the tub.”

5. Travis Carroll LB-Carroll has not made the same impact this year as he did during last year’s training camp. He is a long shot a making the final roster this year with the addition of Orlando Ruff and Cie Grant at middle linebacker.

6. Derrick Lewis WR-Unless he suffers a major injury, Lewis will be the Saints’ fifth wide receiver this year. He continues to impress every practice, and could eventually beat out Michael Lewis for the fourth wide out spot. He still has to catch the ball more consistently, but the talent is certainly there.

7. Chris Finlen QB-Finlen’s chances of winning the third string quarterback spot have diminished with the addition of Tory Woodbury. Woodbury was impressive during the Black and Gold scrimmage, and will be given every opportunity to compete with Finlen and J.T. O’Sullivan. Finlen will have to step up his play to have a shot at sticking around after the first round of cuts.

8. Kenderick Allen DT-Allen has been impressive so far in training camp and has a legitimate shot at making the final roster. Allen benefited from Jonathan Sullivan’s temporary holdout, and has gotten the attention of the coaching staff. He will have to continue to play at a high level if he is to stick around, and could develop into a solid NFL defensive lineman.

9. Curtis Holden LB-Holden is another player who has had a quiet training camp so far. There are plenty of quality linebackers in camp this year, and Holden needs to distinguish himself from the rest. He certainly has the talent to be a quality backup, but will have to outplay JJ Jones and Roger Knight in order to stick around.

10. Todd Bouman QB-Bouman has displayed his powerful arm and NFL experience so far in training camp. He makes the departure of Jake Delhomme much easier to swallow for Saints fans, and has, in fact, improved the quarterback position. Bouman could start in the NFL for several teams this year, and the Saints are lucky to have him.

Sunday, July 27, 2003
Training Camp Report - 7/27
By
Keith Hill - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 8:49 pm CST

What a difference a day makes! Some good (defense) some bad (Brooks) and some ugly (Jones and Mitchell fight). Regardless of what direction you were looking, there was a lot more action and a crisp feeling of football in the air. The pads were on today, so there was little loafing to be seen. To quote Boomer from NFL Primetime......."And away we go!"

QB's:

Brooks - Regressed from yesterday's fine performance. Deep balls were short, as they were yesterday, but today he had some trouble with short passes as well. When he made mistakes, they were low. The deep balls just floated too long and ran out of steam. One such pass was intercepted by Mel Mitchell. He did have a couple of nice laser shots to Donte.

Bouman - Outperformed Brooks today. Showed his arm strength by hitting Michael Lewis for a 50+ yard score (Fakhir Brown on the "coverage") and also on another frozen rope to Lewis across the middle. He connected with Donte on an out route about 15 yards downfield that had some real mustard.

O'Sullivan - Took very few snaps today. Made a nice read beating the blitz to find Joe Horn across the middle, but struggled to find an open receiver a few times and had to run.

RB's:

McAllister - Had one particularly nice run today on a stretch play to the left. Everything else was pretty moderate. I have to say, I love the way this guy plays, but I really hate the way he practices. He just plods around as if he's half asleep and only runs to the cones when he has to. Once again, I'm not worried at all about how he'll play this year, but I do have my doubts about him being a leader, given his quiet demeanor and his lack of intensity in practice. I know this isn't what people want to hear, but that's just the way I've seen it the last two days.

Keaton - To me, he's the most improved player so far. He has been running hard and displaying tremendous cutting ability. His vision wasn't as good as it was yesterday, but twice he took the wrong hole and made a play anyway with his quickness. I would still be in favor of bringing in a veteran just in case, but this guy is really showing me something.

The rest - Fenderson and Banks didn't get many reps. Fenderson showed a little speed on a nice pitch play and Banks made a nice grab coming out of the backfield, leaving Hodge grasping for air. Smith made a catch on a jet route and then got popped and dropped by Jones almost immediately.

WR's:

Horn - Wasn't as impressive as yesterday but wasn't terrible either. He did drop a few balls which drew the wrath of coach Haslett. Jim twice yelled out to the receivers to "catch the damn ball" after subsequent drops by Horn and Derrick Lewis. Joe did look as though he was having fun today.

Pathon - Somewhat of a quiet practice for Jerome today. I don't recall him dropping any passes but he made less than ten grabs on the day in my estimation. His speed looks good, however.

Stallworth - Easily the best receiver over the first two days combined. Very tough to jam at the line, almost impossible to cover, and loses his own shadow when he cuts after the catch. Took a well-designed screen pass today from Brooks that looked almost exactly like his score against Green Bay last year. At the end of the run, he held out his hand just like he did to John Lynch in Tampa.

M. Lewis - Dropped the first punt today drawing chuckles from the stands. After that, he treated the crowd with his receiving abilities. See Bouman's summary in case you don't remember.

D. Lewis - Dropped the most passes today of anyone there. Probably just an off day for him. Still needs to improve on his concentration and route running.

Gardner - Dropped three balls today and was outplayed by Kareem Kelly. The battle for the last roster spot between these two will be fun to watch.

TE's:

Conwell - Just a big boy with good speed and solid hands to go along with it. He was being shifted all over the field and lined up again at H-back several times. I feel really good about our TE situation.

Sloan - Did what was asked of him today, caught a few passes and blocked very well. He caught a very low pass from Brooks that I didn't expect him to.

Williams - Boo looked like he had a bit of a limp to him today. He could have just been sore but he looked sluggish and didn't do much after the catch today like he did yesterday.

Hilton - Didn't get many snaps but made a great grab from Bouman right in the zone between the corner and safety (Smith and Hall I believe)

OL:

Just going to talk about the guys that stood out. Montrae Holland got a lot of push and also ran downfield very well. For some reason, he was on the starting line at RG, while Bentley didn't play in the second team session. I have no idea why. Gandy was beaten twice by Howard today and both could have resulted in sacks, but was solid otherwise. Folau is starting at right tackle. Jacox jumped twice today. Stinchcomb played well and will be a permanent RT when he builds up his legs a little.

DL:

Charles Grant is going to be a player, mark it down now. He is almost always in good position and just has all the physical tools in the world. Two years from now, he may be playing at RDE for us. Grady Jackson got some reps today in the team session and looked good. Whether or not he could keep it up for a whole game is a good question. Kenny Smith was stood up more than I'd like to see. Henry Ford was out there wearing #73, but wasn't wearing practice pants and didn't see any live action. Kendrick Allen looked good today.

LB's:

Ruff - Looked very good today. He was singled up with a running back a few times on passing plays and did an admirable job. He was much quicker towards the line of scrimmage today.

Smith - Still starting, but IMO, will be overtaken by Ruff before the season starts.

Grant - He still looks small compared to the other guys out there, but he did a great job today of getting his hands on receivers and knocking them off their routes.

Hodge - Played very physical at the line of scrimmage, but was just average in coverage. Not bad, just average.

Allen - Once again, I didn't see him out there much today. He didn't do anything that grabbed my attention, but wasn't a liability.

Rodgers - Ranks right up there with Conwell as best addition in the offseason. He will definitely be a starter on the weakside. I love his intensity and quickness.

Holden, Knight, Carroll - Not much to write about. I suspect the Saints will carry seven backers, and I think Holden will be the last one.

DB's:

Carter - He's having a terrific camp so far. He's flat-out shutting people down, being physical and really giving the crowd something to cheer about.

Thomas - It's amazing how underrated this guy is. He shuts his mouth and plays good football day in and day out and people just want to talk about how short he is. Just like yesterday, he was burned on the first man-to-man encounter, then made the far side of the field a quiet zone.

Ambrose - He's going to do a good job in the slot for us this year. He's a step slower than his previous stint here, but he plays with veteran savvy and knows what his responsibilities are.

Brown - Toast

Smith - He's a longshot to make the team, but he is very competitive and broke up more than one pass in the one-on-one drills.

Jones - Blitzed a lot today and was very physical in general, knocking Terelle on his backside once and giving receivers shoulder shots as they ran downfield. Also had a nice takedown of Mel Mitchell.

Mitchell - Had a nice interception of Brooks and again flashed the speed that made it easy to let Sammy go.

Hawthorne - The enforcer today! He leveled Jerome Pathon after a short catch in the flats, and knocked another receiver silly on the far side of the field (D. Lewis?) He definitely brought an attitude to practice today that was fun for the crowd.

Overall today's practice was a blast and I am happy to report that the defense looks much improved. The coverage out there was excellent as the quarterbacks had a tough time finding an open man to throw the ball to. Also, there was little running room for the backs as the linebackers were much more effective running to the line of scrimmage than they were yesterday.


Wednesday, July 23, 2003
10 Names to Watch For During Training Camp
By
Scott Balot - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:05 pm CST

OK football fans, it’s that time of the year when tropical storms are brewing in the Gulf, the summer heat is melting the sidewalks, and the chance of afternoon rainstorms are around 100 percent in New Orleans. It’s also that time of year that every Saints fan craves: the start of training camp.

Every year, there are several players that impress during training camp, many of them long shots to make the final 53-man roster. Competition usually brings out the best in the players, and there will be plenty of competition this season for starting roles as well as roster spots. This is the time of year that can mean the beginning of a lucrative career, or the ending of one. Some players capitalize on the opportunity (see Michael Lewis), while others seem to falter in the southern Louisiana heat (see Onome Ojo). There are times when players get caught in a numbers game here in New Orleans, yet find a home elsewhere (see Marc Bulger).

Let’s take a look at ten players that could be making waves during this year’s training camp and may be in that number by the end of training camp:

1. Lynaris Elpheage-CB: Elpheage was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent this year. His lack of size is made up with blazing speed and game-breaking ability. He was an exciting player to watch at Tulane, but his stock dropped after poor workouts leading up to the NFL draft. Elpheage has a legitimate shot at making the final 53-man roster if he can prove to the coaches that he can contribute on special teams immediately. While his cornerback skills need much refinement, there will be several teams waiting to pick him up in the event that he is put on waivers. He won’t last long enough for the Saints to put him on the practice squad.

2. Zach Hilton-TE: The Saints haven’t had an impact tight end since Cam Cleeland’s rookie season in 1998 when he led the team in receptions. The Saints brought in Ernie Conwell in the off-season to help bolster the position. While Conwell is solid when healthy, none of the tight ends currently on the roster have shown game-breaking ability. Hilton will have to show a knack for getting open, particularly in the red zone, where he can use his 6’8” 262 lb frame to his advantage. While he is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster, an outstanding camp could skyrocket him up the depth chart, leaving the coaching staff with a difficult decision between Hilton, Boo Williams, and Walter Rasby.

3. Demetrius Smith-FB: Demetrius Smith is an imposing figure that will push incumbent Terrelle Smith for the starting job at fullback. While Terrelle has been a solid lead blocker for two different 1000-yard tailbacks, his lack of ball handling skills has tarnished what has been a relatively solid NFL career. Because Terrelle is used mainly as a blocking back, the Saints offense has become predictable when he is in, and they need more of a threat at the fullback position. The coaching staff seems high on Demetrius, but he will have to show that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as pound it up the middle while protecting the ball. Demetrius will have to perform at his highest level in order to have a chance at making the club, unless Terrelle goes down with an injury.

4. Tavian Banks-RB: Banks is trying to resurrect his football career after sustaining a serious knee injury. The Saints are in desperate need of a quality backup for Deuce McAllister. Curtis Keaton has not lived up to the fourth round pick the Saints gave up to acquire him, so Banks has a shot at winning the backup job. The Saints will give Keaton every opportunity to keep the backup role, however, the job will go to the most capable opposed to the most expensive. Banks has a shot to make the club if he can outperform James Fenderson, who has been a serviceable backup, but nothing special. Banks’ future will solely depend on how well he comes back from the knee injury.

5. Travis Carroll-LB; Carroll was one of the surprises from last year’s training camp, made the final cut and contributed on special teams before getting injured early in the season. Carroll will have to have another spectacular training camp in order to stick this year. He will have to prove himself invaluable on special teams, and will be fighting an uphill battle at middle linebacker with Orlando Ruff, Darren Smith, and Cie Grant. Carroll may get caught in a numbers game at the linebacker position, so it will be important for him to stay healthy to get in as many reps as possible.

6. Derrick Lewis-WR: New Orleans native Derrick Lewis has the upper hand on the fifth receiver spot on the roster. Lewis went to camp with the Saints last year, was released and signed to the practice squad, and then was activated for the final two games of the season last year. He will be battling two late round draft picks, Kareem Kelly and another New Orleans native, Talman Gardner. Lewis is a tall, lanky receiver that has good speed, and could be a solid fourth receiver if given the chance.

7. Chris Finlen-QB: The battle for the third string quarterback will heated between Finlen and second year quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan. Finlen spent time in NFL Europe playing for the Barcelona Dragons, completing 55.6 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 87.1. Finlen has all of the physical tools to play in the NFL, but like O’Sullivan, lacks experience. O’Sullivan still has a long way to go before becoming an NFL-caliber quarterback, but has one more year than Finlen in the Saints system. Finlen can push O’Sullivan for the third spot due to Finlen’s superior physical attributes.

8. Kenderick Allen-DT: Allen suffered a knee injury before his senior season, and never played up to his potential while at LSU. Allen possesses great size (6’6” 318 lbs) and could be a force in the middle if shows any passion in playing. Allen has battled injuries and a seemingly willingness to take plays off. While he is a long shot to make the team, Allen could benefit if Grady Jackson doesn’t report in shape, Jonathon Sullivan has a long holdout, or if Kenny Smith doesn’t blossom into the player he should be at this point. Injuries could also come into play with Allen’s chances of making the team. Ultimately, it will be up to Kenderick Allen.

9. Curtis Holden-LB: Once again last year, Holden was injured and never was able to contribute to the team once he was placed on injured reserve. Holden possesses all the physical skill needed to be an outstanding linebacker in the league, but injuries have slowed him down. Once again, if he stays healthy, he will make the team as a backup. If he suffers another injury, Holden’s time in New Orleans will probably end.

10. Todd Bouman-QB: It’s a no-brainer that he has the second-string quarterback position sewed up. Bouman will get plenty of work during training camp while Aaron Brooks rehabs his surgically repaired shoulder. Why does Bouman make the list? Bouman has a rocket for an arm and could be a starter in the NFL for a few teams. It is rare that quarterbacks in the NFL last the whole season without missing time, so the chances of Bouman seeing action this year are pretty good. Expect plenty of news out of training camp with Bouman being the subject, touting his arm strength and his ability to lead this team in the event of Brooks going down with an injury.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Change for the Better
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:38 pm CST

Dear Saints Fan,

Visions of the 2003 season are slowly coming into focus for Saints Fans. The "dog days" are nearly over as we count down the days to the opening of training camp and the preseason.

Now that the draft and initial free agent periods are completed, it's a safe assumption that the players on the current depth chart are the candidates to survive the final roster cut and take the field opening day. The question is whether this year's edition of the New Orleans Saints will come together as a team and return to the playoffs?

Following an inaugural 2000 season that defied all predictions and resulted in the first-ever playoff victory for the franchise, Haslett's Saints suffered two late season slumps and elimination from the playoffs. The 2001 setback resulted in a 7-9 record that included an 0-4 finish. It was largely blamed on troublemakers in the locker room. The suspect players were jettisoned but the 2002 season also ended with an enigmatic slide that kept the Saints from post season play.

Injuries accounted for part of the problem last season, but the failure of a few key players to perform up to snuff in the final stretch had Saints Fans shaking their heads in disgust. After completing a sweep of Tampa before a national television audience to raise their record to 8-4, the Saints limped home at 1-3 and out of the playoffs again. What followed was another off-season of "addition by subtraction" that saw the roster purged of more former contributors including Sammy Knight, Norman Hand and Kyle Turley.

If the Saints are to reach the Promised Land this time around it will be on account of the talent the organization ultimately assembles to take the field in 2003. Since the off season started, new players have been acquired to replace former members of the team. On paper the Saints appear to be improved. But the rest of the competition has also spent the past several months attempting to get better. The surest road to the playoffs is to win the Division. But as witnessed last year, the NFC South was extremely competitive and this year should be no different.

Atlanta traded its first round pick in the 2003 draft to Buffalo for wideout Peerless Price. Mike Vick's arm strength and accuracy is often overlooked, but the option to throw to a top-notch receiver will make the Falcon offense even harder to contain. Price is expected to stretch the field and force opposing defenses to respect the Falcon deep-ball threat creating even larger gaps in the secondary for Vick to exploit if he decides to take off with the ball. Ex-Cardinal Mar Tay Jenkins was also added to the receiving corps. If this unit comes together the Falcon offense will be very difficult to stop. The Panthers have one of the league's top defenses in place and spent the off season addressing needs on offense. Stephen Davis, Kevin Dyson and former Saint Jake Delhomme are among the veteran players acquired to give Carolina a scoring threat to compliment the defense. The Panthers drafted OT Jordan Gross with the eighth pick in the first round and then selected OC Bruce Nelson in the second and TE Mike Seidman in the third to further bolster the offense. Tampa opens the year as defending Super Bowl Champions with a full year of learning Jon Gruden's offense under their belt. If Tampa's offense can become the scoring machine that Gruden developed in Oakland, then the Buc's will be legitimate favorites to return to the Super Bowl. Even a modest gain on the offensive side of the ball could be enough to compliment a defense that needs very little cushion to secure a win. The Bucs have not made much noise in free agency and were without a first round pick for the second consecutive year as part of the deal to lure Gruden from the Raiders. The Buc's have to hope that the players who managed to go all the way last year will rise to the occasion again.

The key to the Saints' success this season will turn on the expected development of younger players including Deuce McAllister, Donte Stallworth, LeCharles Bentley, James Allen, Sedrick Hodge, Charles Grant and Mel Mitchell. First round draft pick Johnathan Sullivan could be the only rookie who sees regular action considering the number of solid first and second year players on the team who are poised to come into their own. However, an interesting competition could develop at the left guard position as the preseason unfolds giving fourth round pick Montrae Holland a chance climb the depth chart. Veteran newcomers Wayne Gandy, Tebucky Jones, Orlando Ruff, Ashley Ambrose, Ernie Conwell, Derrick Rogers and Mitch Berger are all expected to produce. Another new starter could emerge on the defensive line if third year DT Kenny Smith continues to take advantage of Grady Jackson's absence from the team. Aaron Brooks has a new backup in Todd Bouman who has a very good chance to lead the offense unless Brooks can overcome offseason shoulder surgery and then stay healthy enough to take every snap of the season.

Throughout the ups and downs of the 2003 season the underlying story will be whether Jim Haslett survives as Head Coach of the Saints. Can Haslett who was named Coach of the Year a few years ago actually be on the hot seat? Songstress Lisa Loeb lamented that "The time before meeting and finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love." Such is the relationship fans have with coaches in the NFL. If Haslett wants to prolong the love-fest, the Saints will have to avoid the meltdowns that defined the last two years.

The Haslett Era cannot be completely judged until his final day on the job but he may be reaching a defining moment as head coach of the Saints. His legacy in New Orleans will take a turn for better or worse this season as the Saints take aim at winning the NFC South on their way to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. If these goals seem too lofty, then Haslett & Company are in the wrong business. In the NFL, "coming close" is not included in the definition of a successful coach-that is, until he's being eulogized.

Until Next Time,

The Editor

Seasons Greetings! Football Season, that is....
By
RJP - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:28 am CST

The Christian churches divide the calendar into several seasons--Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter as well as Ordinary Time, the roughly 34 counted weeks that stretch from the Monday after Epiphany until Lent and from Pentecost Monday until Advent. With a touch of religious fervor, football fans use a similar calendar, dividing the year into Preseason, which begins with the late July opening of the training camps; the Season, which customarily begins on the first Sunday in September; the Postseason, which ends on Super Bowl Sunday; and our own Ordinary Time, which like the liturgical calendar has high moments, notably free agency and the draft.

Preseason marks a beginning, a new year, when the doubts subside and optimism nurtured during our Ordinary Time grows. Perhaps we can avoid key injuries. Perhaps Brooks' leadership and decisions will match his physical ability. Perhaps Johnathon Sullivan will quickly mature and Kenny Smith will finally mature. Perhaps Hodge and Allen and Mitchell will silence their doubters. Perhaps this December we will peak and not flounder. Perhaps this is the magical year for which we have waited for 36 years and through eight presidents.

Perhaps.

But that Saint fans can say "perhaps," still dream, still welcome another season, is a tribute to our character and a reflection of our culture. Football fans make up tribes. Being a fan of a particular team provides community a sense of belonging and identity. It is sports' great appeal. With our history of disappointment, Saint fans often take solace in the failures of the Red Sox and Cubs, teams that have played longer and produced comparable hurt. But our true spiritual sibling is the Cubs. Red Sox fans are a surly lot, though a reason is their team has enjoyed some success. The Red Sox have seriously contended. They have played for championships. And they play in a city that claims the immodest sobriquet "Hub of the Universe" and in a region that historically has known good fortune and attributed success to virtue. Boston's failures at critical moments Russell Erxleben never shanked a kick in game six of the World Series have burdened Red Sox fans with a brooding sense of tragedy and bitterness. Not so for the Cubs, for whom success has been less frequent and expectations have been lower. Cheering for the Cubs has produced a sense of humility an admiration for the valiant effort, a recognition however grudging that life can be unfair, and a knack for finding cheer and humor during tough times.

Our Saints fit snugly the city in which they play. Among the great American cities, New Orleans is truly unique with a fatalism more common to Latin lands. In its history, New Orleans has been savaged by yellow fever and cholera that at times buried thousands. As Frederick Starr noted in a delightful collection of essays called New Orleans Unmasked, the city's principal airport for decades was named after the aviator Moisant who was killed in a plane crash Texas cities do not name their airports after pilots who crash; Gravier Street in downtown New Orleans after a bankrupt speculator; and Faubourg Marigny after once the city's richest man who died a pauper. Starr wrote: "Sometimes one senses that success in New Orleans is transitory and only failure is permanent." Was he writing about us?

Our memories seem like battle ribbons--the games, the seasons, the trades like difficult campaigns. We remember defenses that made great for one Sunday mediocre quarterbacks and halfbacks (for the first, try Washington's Ray McDonald in game two in 1967). We remember the inexplicably bad first round draft picks (in the 1970's, we had Royce Smith, Larry Burton, Kurt Schumacher, Joe Campbell, Russell Erxleben and Rick Middleton, the last an Ohio State linebacker drafted amazingly before his college teammate Randy Gradishar). We remember Monday night games like the 1979 loss to Oakland when the Saints wasted a 35-14 lead, and like the 1990 season opening loss to the 49ers when our defense dominated before Montana's last minute play led to a 13-12 San Francisco win and when Fourcade's game-long play led to the Steve Walsh trade. We remember Mike Ditka whose judgment was inversely related to his bluster. We remember the first winning season took 20 years to achieve and the first playoff win 34 years.

But the memories are not all bleak. Those older still remember John Gilliam's 1967 touchdown return on our team's first kickoff ever, pregame hot air balloons, season tickets for kids at $1.50 per game, fans angry at officials stomping Tulane Stadium stands and halting games, a ruddy-faced Billy Kilmer, a glue-fingered Danny Abramowicz, Tom Dempsey's 63-yard field goal, and a one-year safety named Obert Logan whose jersey number 0 and Bunny Bread commercials were both notable. Many remember an explosive offensive with Archie Manning, Chuck Muncie, Tony Galbreath, Wes Chandler, and Henry Childs. Most remember the Mora years when winning seasons were achieved, and the bar was raised, and for the first time with the greatest quartet of linebackers in the history of the game we could dream goals that fans of other teams dreamed. And all remember against the overbearing Rams the 2000 playoff win, which exorcised demons and produced the sweetest sports memory many of us have yet known.

I tell my cardiologist that though no man knows the future, I believe God will not take me until the Saints win a Super Bowl. He smiles. Perhaps other patients now deceased have professed the same belief. With knowledge of my medical history and some knowledge of football, he suspects I am slightly daft. Perhaps.

But it's early July, and the major league box scores hold little interest, and the NBA playoffs have long faded, and if only we can avoid major injuries and our young defensive players step up. I no longer recall the questions I had in May about our defense. And, you know, this might just be our magical year after all. Preseason is near. And I can't wait.

Monday, July 07, 2003
Early Look at the top senior prospects for 2004
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:18 pm CST

** Means Junior Eligibility

Quarterbacks:
1. Eli Manning- Mississippi 6-4, 225
2. Cody Pickett- Washington 6-4, 220
3. J.P. Losman- Tulane 6-3, 212
4. Luke McCown- Louisiana Tech 6-4, 205
5. Jared Lorenzen- Kentucky 6-4, 280
6. John Navarre- Michigan 6-6, 232
7. Casey Clausen- Tennessee 6-4, 224
8. Matt Schaub- Virginia 6-5, 230
9. Adam Hall- San Diego State 6-3, 220
10. Ryan Dinwiddie- Boise State 6-0, 200

Halfbacks:
1. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams Auburn 5-11, 205 **
2. Steven Jackson- Oregon State 6-2 , 228 **
3. Greg Jones- Florida State 6-1 , 242
4. Kevin Jones- Virginia Tech 6-0 , 215 **
5. Cedric Benson- Texas 6-1 , 209 **
6. Michael Turner- Northern Illinois 5-11, 227
6. Mewelde Moore- Tulane 6-0 , 210
7. Brandon Miree- Pittsburgh 5-11, 233
8. Clarence Farmer Arizona 6-0 , 222
9. Anthony Davis- Wisconsin 5-8 , 198 **
10. Julius Jones- Notre Dame 5-11, 225
11. Duron Croson- Fort Valley State 6-1, 225
12. Jason Wright- Northwestern 5-11, 215
13. Fred Russell- Iowa 5-7 , 192
14. Chris Perry- Michigan 6-1, 227
15. Derrick Knight- Boston College 5-9, 210

Fullbacks:
1. Mike Karney- Arizona State 6-0, 258
2. Lousaka Polite- Pittsburgh 6-0, 242
3. Judd Davies- Nebraska 6-0, 252
4. Alex Wade- Duke 6-0, 255
5. Carey Davis- Illinois 6-0, 230
6. Troy Fleming- Tennessee 6-1, 228
7. Luke Lawton- McNeese State 5-11, 242

Wide Receivers:
1. Reggie Williams- Washington 6-4, 218 **
2. Roy Williams- Texas 6-3, 215
3. Rashaun Woods- Oklahoma State 6-2, 195
4. Michael Clayton- LSU 6-4, 194 **
5. Fred Gibson- Georgia 6-4, 188 **
6. Braylon Edwards- Michigan 6-3, 208 **
7. Lee Evans- Wisconsin 5-10, 189
8. Michael Jenkins- Ohio State 6-3, 205
9. Bernard Berrian- Fresno State 6-1, 190
10. Darius Watts- Marshall 6-2, 189
11. James Newson- Oregon State 6-1, 208
12. B.J. Johnson- Texas 6-0, 195
13. Devery Henderson- LSU 6-0, 194
14. Ernest Wilford- Virginia Tech 6-4, 220
15. Keary Colbert- USC 6-1, 205
16. Jerrico Cotchery- North Carolina State 6-1, 202
17. Mike Standeford- Purdue 6-3, 195
18. Maurice Brown- Iowa 6-2, 212
19. Derek Abney- Kentucky 5-10, 177
20. Fred Stamps- Louisiana-Lafayette 5-11, 189
21. Tramon Douglas- Grambling 6-0, 205

Tight Ends:
1. Kellen Winslow, Jr.- Miami (Fla.) 6-5, 235 **
2. Ben Watson- Georgia 6-3, 255
3. Ben Utecht- Minnesota 6-5, 258
4. Ben Troupe- Florida 6-4, 255
5. Michael Gaines- Central Florida 6-3, 265
6. Jeff Dugan- Maryland 6-4, 262
7. Chris Cooley- Utah 6-4, 262
8. Tim Euhus- Oregon State 6-5, 250
9. Alex Holmes- USC 6-2, 265
10. Chris Coleman- Alabama State 6-3, 255
11. Kris Wilson- Pittsburgh 6-3, 245
12. Nick Eller- Eastern Illinois 6-2, 255
13. Bobby Blizzard- North Carolina 6-3, 272
14. Landon Trusty- Central Arkansas 6-6, 272
15. Keith Willis- Virginia Tech 6-5, 257
16. Ronnie Ghent- Louisville 6-2, 245

Offensive Centers:
1. Alex Stepanovich- Ohio State 6-3, 310
2. Kevin Bailey- Virginia 6-6, 297
3. Todd Bachert- Washington 6-4, 310
4. A.J. Ricker- Missouri 6-4, 300
5. Jake Grove- Virginia Tech 6-3, 295
6. David Pearson- Michigan 6-3, 298
7. Hugh Riley- Georgia Tech 6-3, 295
8. Scott Wells- Tennessee 6-2, 300

Offensive Guards:
1. Justin Smiley- Alabama 6-4, 300 **
2. Vernon Carey- Miami (Fla.) 6-4, 340
3. Nick Leckey- Kansas State 6-3, 295
4. Stephen Peterman- LSU 6-3, 315
5. Adrien Clarke- Ohio State 6-4, 330
6. Shannon Snell- Florida 6-5, 310
7. Nick Zuniga- North Texas 6-3, 300
8. Tyson Clabo- Wake Forest 6-4, 314
9. Monreko Crittenden- Auburn 6-4, 340
10. Joey Forster- Oregon 6-4, 290
11. Sean Mulligan- Notre Dame 6-4, 305
12. Marwan Hage- Colorado 6-3, 305
13. Regis Crawford- Arizona State 6-3, 300
14. Lenny Vandermade- USC 6-3, 288

Offensive Tackles:
1. Shawn Andrews- Arkansas 6-5, 355 **
2. Nat Dorsey- Georgia Tech 6-6, 330 **
3. Robert Gallery- Iowa 6-6, 310
4. Jammal Brown- Oklahoma 6-6, 315 **
5. Jacob Rogers- USC 6-5, 300
6. Shane Olivea- Ohio State 6-5, 330
7. Carlos Joseph- Miami (Fla.) 6-5, 320
8. Brian Rimpf- East Carolina 6-6, 315
9. Tony Pape- Michigan 6-6, 310
10. Antonio Hall- Kentucky 6-5, 310
11. Chris Colmer- North Carolina State 6-5, 315
12. Brandon Westbrook- Middle Tennessee St. 6-5, 300
13. Travelle Wharton- South Carolina 6-4, 320
14. Rob Droege- Missouri 6-5, 305
15. Max Starks- Florida 6-6, 345
16. Mark Wilson- California 6-5, 295
17. Branden Hall- Troy State 6-4, 315
18. Chris McKelvy- Penn State 6-4, 320

Defensive Ends:
1. David Pollack- Georgia 6-2, 272 **
2. Will Smith- Ohio State 6-3, 265
3. Antwan Odom- Alabama 6-4, 270 **
4. Jason Babin- Western Michigan 6-4, 272
5. Claude Harriott- Pittsburgh 6-4, 262
6. Kalen Thornton- Texas 6-3, 275
7. Bo Schobel- TCU 6-5, 270
8. Isaac Hilton- Hampton 6-5, 265
9. Shawn Johnson- Delaware 6-4, 255
10. Jason Kaufasi- Utah 6-3, 260
11. Nathaniel Adibi- Virginia Tech 6-3, 258
12. Jared Allen- Idaho State 6-6, 272
13. Andrew Shull- Kansas State 6-4, 270
14. Greg Gathers- Georgia Tech 6-1, 268
15. Dave Ball- UCLA 6-5, 275
16. Howard Hodges- Iowa 6-2, 264
17. Kevin Emanuel- Florida State 6-4, 250

Defensive Tackles:
1. Vince Wilfork- Miami (Fla.) 6-2, 330 **
2. Tommie Harris- Oklahoma 6-3, 292 **
3. Randy Starks- Maryland 6-4, 310 **
4. Darnell Dockett- Florida State 6-4, 290
5. DeMarco McNeil- Auburn 6-2, 310
6. Marcus Tubbs- Texas 6-3, 300
7. Dwan Edwards- Oregon State 6-3, 310
8. Darrion Scott- Ohio State 6-3, 280
9. Brandon Kennedy North Texas 5-11, 320
10. Chad Pugh- TCU 6-2, 310
11. Isaac Sopoaga- Hawaii 6-3, 312
12. Cedric Hilliard- Notre Dame 6-2, 295
13. Rodney Leslie- UCLA 6-4, 305
14. Chad Lavalais- LSU 6-3, 292
15. Jordan Carstens- Iowa State 6-4, 300
16. Tim Anderson- Ohio State 6-3, 295
17. Corey Williams- Arkansas State 6-4, 290
18. Doug Goodwin- Boston College 6-1, 288
19. Louis Gachelin- Syracuse 6-1, 290
20. Tommy Kelly- Mississippi State 6-5, 295

Inside Linebackers:
1. Rod Davis- Southern Mississippi 6-2, 245
2. Lance Mitchell- Oklahoma 6-3, 245
3. Dontarrious Thomas- Auburn 6-3, 245
4. Jonathan Vilma- Miami (Fla.) 6-2, 228
5. Richard Seigler- Oregon State 6-2, 230
6. Daryl Smith- Georgia Tech 6-2, 232
7. Niko Koutouvides- Purdue 6-3, 235
8. Jeff Mack- Wisconsin 6-0, 242
9. Nick Duffy- Northern Illinois 6-2, 234
10. Maurice Sonnier- Louisiana-Monroe 6-2, 245
11. Chad Mascoe- Central Florida 6-3, 252
12. Roderick Royal McNeese State 6-1, 244
13. Sean Tufts- Colorado 6-3, 240
14. Jonathan Harrell- Northern Iowa 6-1, 232
15. Ryan Fowler- Duke 6-2, 235
16. Drew Wood- Colorado State 6-2, 235
17. Gino Capone- Penn State 6-1, 230
18. Kevin Mitchell- Oregon 5-11, 225 (Outside)

Outside Linebackers:
1. Derrick Johnson- Texas 6-3, 230 **
2. Karlos Dansby- Auburn 6-5, 232
3. D.J. Williams- Miami (Fla.) 6-2, 242
4. Kendyll Pope- Florida State 6-2, 230
5. Teddy Lehman- Oklahoma 6-2, 233
6. Michael Boulware- Florida State 6-3, 225
7. Maurice Jones- South Florida 6-3, 245
8. Courtney Watson- Notre Dame 6-1, 232
9. Eric Pauly- Colorado State 6-4, 230
10. Grant Wiley- West Virginia 6-1, 232
11. Pasha Jackson- Oklahoma 6-2, 240
12. Leon Joe- Maryland 6-1, 228
13. Brooks Daniels- Alabama 6-2, 210
14. Steve Baggs- Bethune-Cookman 6-2, 235
15. Josh Ott- Boston College 6-2, 228
16. Rod Day- Louisville 6-1, 225
17. Josh Buhl- Kansas State 6-0, 215 (Safety)
18. Demorrio Williams- Nebraska 6-1, 222
19. Greg Carothers- Washington 6-2, 225
20. Bryan Hickman- Kansas State 6-2, 233


Cornerbacks:
1. Marlin Jackson- Michigan 6-1, 190 **
2. DeAngelo Hall- Virginia Tech 5-11, 195 **
3. Derrick Strait- Oklahoma 5-11, 194
4. Chris Gamble- Ohio State 6-2, 184 **
5. Nathan Vasher- Texas 5-11, 183
6. Matt Ware- UCLA 6-3, 205 **
6. Keiwan Ratliff- Florida 5-10, 180
7. Lawrence Richardson- Arkansas 5-10, 184
8. Corey Webster- LSU 6-0, 193
9. Greg Brooks- Southern Mississippi 5-11, 189
10. Joey Thomas- Montana State 6-0, 195
11. Keith Smith- McNeese State 5-11, 190
12. Shawntee Spencer- Pittsburgh 6-1, 192
13. Marcell Allmond- USC 6-0, 200
14. Curome Cox- Maryland 6-0, 205
15. Christian Morton- Illinois 5-11, 193
16. Vontez Duff- Notre Dame 5-11, 195
17. Michael Jolivette- Arizona 5-10, 185
18. Kevin Milhouse- Hawaii 6-0, 202
19. Dexter Wynn- Colorado State 5-10, 172
20. Jenaro Gilford- Brigham Young 6-1 , 184
21. Benny Sapp- Northern Iowa 5-10, 175
22. Jonas Rutledge- SMU 6-0, 192
23. Chris Thompson- Nicholls State (LA.) 6-0, 190
24. Jabari Greer- Tennessee 5-10, 177
25. Lenny Williams- Southern (LA.) 5-11, 189

Safeties:
1. Sean Taylor- Miami (Fla.) 6-2, 220 (F.) **
2. Stuart Schweigert- Purdue 6-3, 210 (F.)
3. Atari Bigby- Central Florida 5-11, 215 (S.) **
4. Etric Pruitt- Southern Mississippi 6-1, 195 (F.)
5. Madieu Williams- Maryland 6-1, 194 (F.)
6. Brandon Everage- Oklahoma 6-0, 188 (F.)
7. Rashad Washington- Kansas State 6-3, 215 (S.)
8. Dexter Reid- North Carolina 6-0, 190 (F.)
9. Glenn Earl- Notre Dame 6-1, 205 (F.)
10. Medford Moorer- Colorado 6-2, 195 (F.)
11. Maurice Sikes- Miami (Fla.) 5-11, 195 (S.)
12. Keith Lewis- Oregon 6-0 , 200 (F.)
13. Michael Woods- Middle Tennessee State 6-1, 207 (S.)
14. Gerald Jones- San Jose State 6-0, 194 (F.)
15. Rashad Baker- Tennessee 5-11, 189 (F.)
16. Guss Scott- Florida 5-10, 205 (S.)
17. J.R. Reed- South Florida 5-11, 205 (F.)
18. Brandon Ratcliff- New Mexico 6-0, 205 (S.)
19. Levy Brown- Florida A&M; 5-11, 189 (F.)
20. Kentrell Curry- Georgia 6-1, 199 (S.)
21. Eli Ward- Minnesota 6-0, 205 (F.)
22. Quintin Williams- Wake Forest 6-2, 205 (F.)
23. Craig Jones- North Texas 6-0, 210 (S.)
24. Elbert Craig- Oklahoma State 6-1, 212 (F.)

Saturday, July 05, 2003
College Football's Very Best..
By
Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:46 pm CST

The college football season is less than 60 days away and so here is my list of the top 112 players in the country, regardless of pro potential or grade classification.

It's always great to debate on who the top college players are, so here are my pre-season selections of the very best. Just remember this has nothing to do with how high they project for the pros.

1. Maurice Clarett- Halfback Ohio State (Sophomore)
Clarett's the early Heisman Trophy favorite and the most dominant offensive player in college football.

2. David Pollack- Defensive End Georgia (Junior)
This Bulldog has a non-stop motor and superb football instincts.

3. Reggie Williams- Wide Receiver Washington (Junior)
Reggie is cut from the same cloth as 2003 NFL first round picks, Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson.

4. Brad Smith- Quarterback Missouri (Sophomore)
Smith is the most talked about young quarterback in college football. The Mizzou signal-caller combines outstanding speed and running skills, with a super strong arm.

5. Roy Williams- Wide Receiver Texas (Senior)
This speedy wide-out is looking to put an exclamation point on a signature college career.

6. Rod Davis-Middle Linebacker Southern Mississippi (Senior)
Davis is a ferocious performer who has been a tackling machine for the Golden Eagles.

7. Chris Gamble- Cornerback/Wide Receiver Ohio State (Junior)
This speedy playmaker is the best all-around football player in the college ranks.

8. Eli Manning- Quarterback Mississippi (Senior)
Archie's son is smart, 'iceberg' cool under pressure and a super accurate passer.

9. Kellen Winslow Jr.- Tight End Miami (Fla.) (Junior)
With his speed and athletic ability, Winslow is making Hurricane fans forget just how good Jeremy Shockey was in college.

10. Shawn Andrews- Offensive Tackle Arkansas (Junior)
The most dominant offensive lineman in college football.

11. Rashaun Woods- Wide Receiver Oklahoma State (Senior)
He is a carbon copy of former Dallas Cowboy All-Pro end Michael Irvin.

12. Karlos Dansby- Outside Linebacker Auburn (Senior)
This 6-foot-five predator swoops down on opponents like an eagle going after unsuspecting prey. His great foot speed and backside pursuit skills are his strengths.

13. Tommie Harris- Defensive Tackle Oklahoma (Junior)
The best Sooner defensive lineman since Lee Roy Selmon.

14. Larry Fitzgerald- Wide Receiver Pittsburgh (Sophomore)
I haven't seen a freshman receiver this good since Randy Moss.

15. Steven Jackson- Halfback Oregon State (Junior)
Jackson is a hidden star in the Pacific Northwest, but new head coach Mike Riley is fixing to spring him loose for another 1600-yard rushing year.

16. Cody Pickett- Quarterback Washington (Senior)
With star-wide receiver Reggie Williams catching his pinpoint throws, PAC-10 opponents will have their hands full trying to stop this talented passer.

17. Brandon Kennedy- Defensive Tackle North Texas (Senior)
Brandon's only 5-10, but he plays like a mini-version of Warren Sapp.

18. Teddy Lehman- Outside Linebacker Oklahoma (Senior)
This Sooner linebacker makes so many plays, it looks as though his twin brother is out there on the field with him.

19. Marlin Jackson- Cornerback Michigan (Junior)
Longtime Wolverine followers say that he is a better cover man than Charles Woodson.

20. Ell Robertson- Quarterback Kansas State (Senior)
Playmaker deluxe, who opponents never get a good shot at tackling him due to his quickness and open field running skills.

21. Mike Williams- Wide Receiver USC (Sophomore)
He will miss not having Carson Palmer making those picture-perfect throws to him, but few players in college football have his size, speed and big-play ability.

22. Derrick Johnson- Outside Linebacker Texas (Junior)
D.J. has been overshadowed by over-hyped offensive talent in Austin, but all that is fixing to change this year.

23. Josh Harris- Quarterback Bowling Green (Senior)
There may be more accurate throwers in college football and faster runners, but no quarterback posses the rare combination to do both better than this Falcon signal-caller.

24. Matt Grootegoed- Outside Linebacker USC (Junior)
He lacks ideal size, but he has a red-hot motor, outstanding foot speed and there seems to be no where on the field you can get away from him.

25. Michael Clayton- Wide Receiver LSU (Junior)
He's the Tigers best wide receiver and the team's best safety also. Clayton is the most feared big-play threat in the SEC..

26. Carnell Williams- Halfback Auburn (Junior)
If the "Cadillac" is healthy, he has a great combination of speed, quickness and tough inside running skills.

27. Jason Babin- Defensive End Western Michigan (Senior)
No, he's not from South Louisiana, but this fierce pass rusher is the best defensive player in the Mid-American Conference..

28. J.P. Losman- Quarterback Tulane (Senior)
I really believe Losman is going to be a better football player than former Wave QB. Patrick Ramsey, now the starting signal-caller for the Washington Redskins.

29. Kevin Jones- Halfback Virginia Tech (Junior)
This super talented runner is on the verge of a breakout campaign.

30. Nat Dorsey- Offensive Tackle Georgia Tech (Junior)
Mammoth lineman (6-6, 335-pounds), but he has the foot speed and quickness of a middleweight boxer. How did LSU's Nick Saban ever let him get out of Louisiana?

31. Bruce Eugene- Quarterback Grambling (Junior)
Eugene is the most dominant offensive force to play in the SWAC since Steve McNair was lighting them up at Alcorn State.

32. Greg Jones- Halfback Florida State (Senior)
Before he suffered a knee injury late last season, he was playing just a notch below
Miami's Willis McGahee.

33. T.A McClendon- Halfback North Carolina State (Sophomore)
Clarett got almost all the freshman publicity last year at Ohio State, but this Wolfpack's accomplishments of 1,101 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns are nothing to sneeze at.

34. Sean Taylor- Safety Miami (Fla.) (Junior)
Sean is next in a long line of great Hurricane defensive backs due to his sprinter's-type speed and linebacker style hitting skills.

35. Fred Gibson- Wide Receiver Georgia (Junior)
Former basketball star, who is now a sky-high receiver prospect.

36. Courtney Watson- Outside/Inside Linebacker Notre Dame (Senior)
Watch how many big plays this speedy Irish linebacker makes this fall.

37. Matt Ware- Cornerback/Safety UCLA (Junior)
Maybe the biggest secret in college football. Superb football player who has the foot speed and quickness to be an upper echelon CB. and the hard hitting skills to be a tremendous safety.

38. Lance Mitchell- Middle Linebacker Oklahoma (Senior)
His aggressiveness nature and his quickness to the ball reminds me of Pittsburgh Steelers MLB. Kendrell Bell when he was at Georgia.

39. Justin Smiley- Offensive Guard Alabama (Junior)
Tough, physical player, who rarely loses a one-on-one battle. Super-strong OL., who also has cat-quick feet.

40. Anthony Davis- Halfback Wisconsin (Junior)
Football warrior, who has outstanding running skills and stamina.

41. Robert Gallery- Offensive Tackle Iowa (Senior)
At 6-6 ½, 320-pounds, he is technically sound and getting better each day. Left tackle, who is the best OL. in the Big-Ten and just a notch behind Arkansas' Shawn Andrews and GT's Nat Dorsey.

42. Philip Rivers- Quarterback North Carolina State (Senior)
He's the Wolfpack version of what Danny Wuerffel was to Florida. Super-smart QB., who is a very accurate passer, and a real winner on the field.

43. Braylon Edwards- Wide Receiver Michigan (Junior)
Braylon's big, fast, strong and on the verge of developing into one of college football's elite players.

44. Justin Miller- Cornerback Clemson (Sophomore)
Made a huge splash as a freshman cover-cornerback last season. Now Tommy Bowden plans on using him some as a receiver.

45. Jonathan Vilma- Middle Linebacker Miami (Fla.) (Senior)
This Cane big-play performer never seems to be out of position and he is a 1st rate tackling "cash-register", always ringing up tally.

46. Jamaal Brimmer- Safety UNLV (Junior)
Came on to the college football scene last year like a comet. The way he hits, opponents think they have dice rolling around in their mouths.

47. Lee Evans- Wide Receiver Wisconsin (Senior)
Back from the knee injury and ready to cause some big-time havoc in the Big-Ten.

48. Ben Roethlisberger- Quarterback Miami (Ohio) (Junior)
He's has the make-up of a proto-type NFL starting quarterback and he's making better downfield throwing decisions.

49. DeAngelo Hall- Cornerback Virginia Tech (Junior)
If he can improve some little technical deficiencies, he has a chance to be the Jim Thorpe Award winner this year. He has the size, speed and athletic skills, the pros love in a cornerback.

50. Derrick Strait- Cornerback Oklahoma (Senior)
He gives up a big-play from time to time, but Strait has excellent foot speed and cover skills. Derrick is also a very good run-support corner.

51. D.J. Williams- Outside Linebacker Miami (Fla.) (Senior)
D.J. is ready to live up to his prep clippings. Very few LB's can match his Run/Hit ratio.

52. Randy Starks- Defensive Tackle Maryland (Junior)
E.J. Henderson got most of the ink on the Terps defense last year, but this is the season this big run-stuffer gets his due.

53. John Navarre- Quarterback Michigan (Senior)
"Big-John" has great size and a cannon for an arm, now let's see if he can gain some passing consistency.

54. Jammal Brown- Offensive Tackle Oklahoma (Junior)
Dominating right tackle, who has outstanding drive blocking skills and very good pass protection ability.

55. Michael Jenkins- Wide Receiver Ohio State (Senior)
Has the tools to develop into one of college football's most feared WR's, especially with Chris Gamble playing opposite him.

56. Claude Harriott- Defensive End Pittsburgh (Senior)
He's not just a pass rush specialist, he's also very strong against the run.

57.Grant Wiley- Outside Linebacker West Virginia (Senior)
Wiley rings up more tackles than Hugh Hefner has girlfriends.

58. Andrew Walter- Quarterback Arizona State (Junior)
Watch if Walter runs Dirk Koetter's wide-open offense to a record breaking scoring pitch.

59. Nathan Vasher- Cornerback Texas (Senior)
Vashar played at a very high level last year, despite having some ankle woes. He's healthy now and ready to establish himself as an elite cover man and top-notch return man to boot.

60. Darren Sproles- Halfback Kansas State (Junior)
He's not very big, (5-7 and 175 pounds), but he is lightning quick and a threat to score everytime he touches the pigskin.

61. Shaun Cody- Defensive Tackle USC (Junior)
Shaun missed about ½ of the 2002 season due to a knee injury, but when healthy, he's the most physically talented player on the defensive squad.

62. Cedric Benson- Halfback Texas (Junior)
Tremendous athlete, who is making UT fans forget about Ricky Williams. Will be called upon more this year without Chris Simms behind center.

63. Vince Wilfork- Defensive Tackle Miami (Fla.) (Junior)
If his weight his down, Vince has a chance to dominate just as strong as Jimmy Kennedy did last season for Penn State.

64. Madieu Williams- Safety Maryland (Senior)
Former Towson University transfer, who walked-on the Terps football club and he is one hell of a player.

65. Kenechi Udeze- Defensive End USC (Junior)
Power-type end, who is strong against the run and developing some pretty good pass rush maneuvers.

66. Devard Darling- Wide Receiver Washington State (Junior)
Gets overshadowed in the PAC-10 due to Reggie Williams, but this young man can change a game faster than you can say... touchdown.

67. Mewelde Moore- Halfback Tulane (Senior)
His mix of speed, power and all-purpose skills reminds you of another former Baton Rouge native- Warrick Dunn.

68. Etric Pruitt- Safety Southern Mississippi (Senior)
A ferocious hitter, who has outstanding ball awareness skills and he is also a 1st rate special teams performer.

69. Matt Schaub- Quarterback Virginia (Senior)
Matt has emerged as one of college football's most efficient passers and a super productive offensive threat.

70. Michael Turner- Halfback Northern Illinois (Senior)
Has the speed and power similar to former Wisconsin and current Minnesota Vikings big-play back, Michael Bennett.

71. Bernard Berrian- Wide Receiver Fresno State (Senior)
Coming off of a knee injury, but he's 100% now and ready to again terrorize opponents due to his blazing speed. Berrian is also a feared return man.

72. Chance Harridge- Quarterback Air Force (Senior)
Outstanding field general, who drives opposing teams crazy due to his slippery openfield running moves and his nose for the endzone.

73. Dontarrious Thomas- Inside Linebacker Auburn (Senior)
He's not as flashy or as fast as teammate Karlos Dansby, but he is a more physical player and a very strong openfield tackler.

74. Tim Anderson- Defensive Tackle Ohio State (Senior)
Tough, hard-nosed tackle, who never takes a down off. He isn't a great athlete, but he's a great college player.

75. James Newson- Wide Receiver Oregon State (Senior)
Another underrated big play receiver from the PAC-10.

76. Antwan Odom- Defensive End Alabama (Junior)
Antwan is a quarterback-sacking deluxe performer..

77. Stuart Schweigert- Safety Purdue (Senior)
This Boilermaker has superb range and a radar that is constantly locked on the football.

78. Nick Leckey- Offensive Center/Guard Kansas State (Senior)
Versatile, talented tough guy, who is one of the leaders of a high-powered KSU offensive attack.

79. Keiwan Ratliff- Cornerback/Wide Receiver Florida (Senior)
Terrific athlete, who was developing into a true shutdown corner and now Ron Zook will give him a shot to play some wide receiver.

80.Will Smith- Defensive End Ohio State (Senior)
If he continues to play as strong as he did late last season, he will be a 1st Team All-American. Outstanding speed pass rusher, who has a great initial step off the snap.

81. Kevin Burnett- Outside Linebacker Tennessee (Junior)
Before he tore knee ligaments in the 1st game of the 2002 season. many SEC insiders thought Burnett was just as good as Auburn's Karlos Dansby.

82. Bradlee Van Pelt- Quarterback Colorado State (Senior)
He's not going to dazzle you with his passing, but has excellent running skills and he is a super tough guy out on the field.

83. Frank Gore- Halfback Miami (Fla.) (Sophomore)
Just remember before he injured his knee in the spring, he had Willis McGahee on the bench. He isn't the power runner that McGahee was, but he was just as quick and fast.

84. Jordan Carstens- Defensive Tackle Iowa State (Senior)
Jordan is not an overachiever, he's an achiever. Carstens is real strong and he roams the inside with "The Undertaker" type mentality.

85. Fred Russell- Halfback Iowa (Senior)
Fred's not real big, (5-7 and 192 pounds), but he has excellent foot speed, he's very strong and a very dangerous openfield threat.

86. Luke McCown- Quarterback Louisiana Tech (Senior)
Better pro prospect than his brother (Josh-Arizona Cardinals) and he is ready to rebound from a somewhat disappointing junior campaign. His strong arm and his field presence are his greatest strengths.

87. Maurice Jones- Outside Linebacker South Florida (Senior)
Tremendous athlete, who could project to any of the three LB. prospects and he has the speed to roam the field from sideline to sideline with great effectiveness.

88. Ryan Dinwiddie- Quarterback Boise State (Senior)
Underrated college passer, who is one of the most accurate throwers around. He's got a wild streak in him, but he can really light it up when he's hot.

89. Stephen Peterman- Offensive Guard LSU (Senior)
He's got a lot of former Tiger Alan Faneca toughness in him and he's a little more athletic player.

90. Nathanial Adibi- Defensive End Virginia Tech (Senior)
Tremendous natural pass rusher who seems to be in the opponents backfield before the snap at times.

91. Michael Boulware- Outside Linebacker Florida State (Senior)
Former high school wide receiver star, who has developed into a 1st rate range-roamer. His foot speed and instincts are clearly evident.

92. Tony Pape- Offensive Tackle Michigan (Senior)
Rough, tough mauler who opens up some huge holes for Wolverine backs and he keeps QB John Navarre's backside clean.

93. Richard Seigler- Middle Linebacker Oregon State (Senior)
This guy never takes a false step to the ball and opposing coaches seem to always be scheming to avoid him.

94. Darren Williams- Safety Mississippi State (Sophomore)
This hard-hitter is on the verge of super-stardom in the SEC.

95. Roydell Williams- Wide Receiver Tulane (Junior)
If he's completely healthy, he's the most feared big-play threat in Conference USA.

96. Atari Bigby- Safety Central Florida (Junior)
I love the way this guy plays the game. He's a heat-seeking missile, who doesn't miss his target.

97. Casey Clausen- Quarterback Tennessee (Senior)
Seasoned signal-caller, who has "True-Grit" toughness and he has really improved his passing accuracy.

98. Jason Kaufusi- Defensive End Utah (Senior)
The most dominant defensive linemen in the Mountain West.

99. Calvin Armstrong- Offensive Tackle Washington State (Junior)
King-sized left tackle, (6-7 ½, 320 pounder), who is fixing to develop into the best offensive lineman in the PAC-10.

100. Ben Watson- Tight End Georgia (Senior)
Almost entered the 2003 NFL draft, but now he is ready to blossom into a big-maker deluxe for the Bulldogs. His speed and athletic ability set him apart from the rest of the group.

101. Dexter Reid- Safety North Carolina (Senior)
He plays the run like an All-star linebacker and he is a super open field tackler.

102. Darius Watts- Wide Receiver Marshall (Senior)
He doesn't have Leftwich throwing to him anymore, but his speed and big play skills make you real nervous, if you have to line up against him.

103. Eric Pauly- Outside Linebacker Colorado State (Senior)
Well coached and a super disruptive defensive force for the Rams.

104. Bo Schobel- Defensive End TCU (Senior)
Conference USA's best pass rusher and he is quite an athlete.

105. Marcus Spears- Defensive End LSU (Junior)
Former tight end, who has the physical skills to develop into 1st round pick for the pros.

106. Greg Gathers- Defensive End Georgia Tech (Senior)
Before the kidney ailment, he was the most feared pass rusher in the ACC.

107. Michael Boley- Outside Linebacker Southern Mississippi (Junior)
He hasn't received the pub. Rod Davis has, but this speedy LB. can roam around the field with great ease and he is very good also in pass coverage.

108. Terry Caulley- Halfback Connecticut (Sophomore)
A pint-sized back with outstanding running instincts and quick feet.

109. Rob Petitti- Offensive Tackle Pittsburgh (Junior)
Tenacious OL. who has excellent flexibility and strong in-line run blocking skills.

110. Josh Buhl- Outside Linebacker Kansas State (Senior)
Four-star quality performer, who has great foot speed and chase down instincts.

111. Vontez Duff- Cornerback Notre Dame (Senior)
Excellent man-to-man cover cornerback, who also excels as a kick returner.

112. Brian Rimpf- Offensive Tackle East Carolina (Senior)
Rimpf has shut down some of the elite pass rushers in college football and he is only getting better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Saints Defense: Read Between The Lines
By
TCU Dan - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:30 pm CST

We've heard it all before. Cliches such as "speed kills" and "you can't coach speed" or "the best offense is a good defense" and "defense win championships." In a league of trends and copycats, these catchy phrases have started to dominate the psyche of fans, players, and coaches alike.

If you hear it enough, there must be some truth in it. Right?

So is speed and speed alone what makes championship defenses? Or offenses for that matter? What constitutes "team speed?" Is it as black and white as the average 40 yard dash times of particular teams?

If this were true, we would have Super Bowl predictions down to an exact science.

Enough questions, let's get to some answers. Great defenses are built on more than just speed. A great organization knows how to create the near-perfect balance of speed and savvy, veterans and youngsters — role players and play-makers.

Role Player: player who executes and takes care of assigned responsibilities within the parameters of a given scheme.

Play-Maker: Gifted athlete with the ability and skill to operate outside of the parameters of a given scheme (and therefore make plays as opposed to having plays made for him).

Case in point: in the 2002 offseason, Dan Snyder signed perhaps the highest profile group of linebackers of any team. Jeremiah Trotter, Jessie Armstead, and LaVar Arrington had each played in the Pro Bowl the previous season. Snyder then proceeded to sign Baltimore Raven defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to tutor this corps of athletes in hopes of recreating the historical Super Bowl defense the Ravens had in 2000.

While the Redskins' defense held their own against the run, their pass defense was horrendous and the linebacker play was not what one would expect from three perennial Pro Bowlers and a coach who had tutored such greats as Ray Lewis and was responsible for the Ravens' defense of 2000. So what went wrong in Washington?

So now we're back where we started. If Marvin Lewis and a collection of All-Pro linebackers couldn't create a Super Bowl defense, who can?

The answer lies in this simple philosophy: too many play-makers, not enough plays to go around. The Saints should not encounter this problem.

The revamped Saints defense should showcase an encouraging collection of complementary players. This offseason could prove to be almost as awe-inspiring as the influx of 32 free agents in 2000 that produced such stars as Joe Horn and Aaron Brooks (acquired via trade). The front office, instead of going out and signing the most expensive high profile players (pieces too big for the puzzle), has beautifullly pieced together a defense that should exceed the expectations of even the most optimistic Saints fan. I took the liberty of breaking down the new-look Saints defense.


DEFENSIVE LINE

The acquisition of Johnathon Sullivan should provide a much needed cog in the middle. And while our instincts may tell us to expect instant record-breaking statistics from the young newcomer, we should fight these thoughts and instead observe the other three players on the line, most notably the defensive ends.

What Johnathon Sullivan brings to the Saints line is speed and athleticism to not only collapse the pocket on passing plays, but also to redirect many running plays simply off of presence alone. It is a lot easier for a running back to read and find his hole when the defensive bodies nearest to him are stationary.

Last season Grady Jackson and Norman Hand simply carried too much weight to provide any penetration and also lacked mobility to pursue the ball carrier and collapse the pocket. Expect Sullivan to provide play-makers Charles Grant and Darren Howard with more sack opportunities while grabbing a respectable 4 or 5 for himself along the way.

The run-stopping production from the linebackers should increase statistically as well as the playmaking opportunities for the safties and cornerbacks. Kenny Smith will provide a decent compliment and Willie Whitehead should get in the mix inside as well.


LINEBACKERS

Many of us frowned early in the offseason when the Saints announced the free agent signing of ex-Charger middle linebacker Orlando Ruff. This signing could prove to be the smartest of all. Last season, the Saints lacked a run-stuffing presence at the MIKE (middle linebacker) position. Like Sullivan, Ruff's presence alone should disrupt many running plays. At 6'4 and nearly 260 pounds, Ruff has the instincts, tenacity, and size to crush fullbacks and seek out ball carriers between the tackles. What many will fail to recognize is how he will effect the production of youngster Sedrick Hodge and especially WILL (weakside) linebacker James Allen (assuming he holds off newly acquired Derrick Rogers for the starting spot).

Expect for James Allen to win the starting spot and benefit from the competition. The Saints scheme should provide many playmaking opportunities for Allen, both against the run and the pass. Expect him to lead the team in tackles and put up respectable sack numbers as well. While he will remain very prone to mistakes, this play-maker will greatly benefit from the presence of a veteran role player in Orlando Ruff and tutor in Derrick Rogers.

Darrin Smith will provide a reliable replacement for Ruff in obvious passing situations and will allow the Saints to stay in their base defense and keep things simple.

Cie Grant should be exciting in a year or two and could become the poster-boy for the Saints "speedy" defense.


DEFENSIVE BACKS

The acquisition of Tebucky Jones has completely changed the look of the Saints secondary. He is another example of how the Saints brass stressed presence as much as ability this offseason. Jones imposing size and blazing speed should improve the entire secondary.

Mel Mitchell will benefit from having Jones next to him and his job will be simplified greatly, allowing his progression to follow a pattern similar to James Allen's in their first year as starters. Jones range will allow Mitchell to play closer to the line of scrimmage and make more plays against the run, as well as be used as a blitzer.

An improved pass rush combined with excellent speed at the safety spots will allow the Saints to play more zone, keeping the defensive backs fresh and allowing veterans in Dale Carter and Ashley Ambrose to make plays on the ball.

What Jones speed as well as his experience at cornerback also brings is the ability to match him up man-to-man against receivers on blitz plays. His man-to-man ability will also allow the Saints to stay in their base defense and keep things simple. Jones is a play-maker who will be used in specific roles, as well, since the New Orleans secondary should not be short on play-makers.

Expect Fred Thomas to build off of his breakout 2002 season.

On paper, the Saints have a defense with top-ten ability. Fortunately, all they need is one that can take pressure off of their offense. If the players can gel and stay focused down the stretch we may be finally looking at the complete football team New Orleans has always lacked.


Please e-mail me with any suggestions or questions for my next article.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
Saints Caravan: A Speed read
By
Lightningbug - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 3:20 am CST

It’s not hard to guess the one thing you need to combat Michael Vick.

Not when he’s scampering through defenses – did you see the ending of that Minnesota game? – with the ease and grace of a downhill skier.

That need would be … speed.

New Orleans, though fans like to cuddle up to the memory of beating the Super Bowl champion Bucs twice, was swept by Vick’s zippy Falcons team last year. Or by Vick, anyway.

And this was before Atlanta upgraded to a new angular and oddly disquieting helmet logo. Well, and before free agency and the draft, too.

The kickoff date for this offseason’s Saints Caravan, held Wednesday in Monroe, found each of the team’s representatives staying on message.

That would be … speed.

Having one of Vick’s ex-teammates on hand helped.
“Like I told these guys, Michael Vick is an outstanding player,” said returning Saints defensive back Ashley Ambrose, during the question-and-answer period for VIPs and news organizations. “He just did a lot of things on his own.”

Ambrose left the Saints in 1999, after leading the team in interceptions, to join Atlanta. There, he was in the catbird’s seat for Vick’s unlikely and meteoric rise.

“He’s still young in the game, but he made a few plays,” Ambrose said. “I think the best thing to do is concentrate on containing him. He won a lot of games in Atlanta, making some long runs, doing some outstanding things – getting out of a sack and throwing it 80 yards for a touchdown or something. We have to remain focused on him.”

The Saints will do it by using fast, young guys on defense, Saints coach Jim Haslett said during the same public Q&A; session.

But that isn’t the only facet of this new fascination with speed.

Ambrose knows it, too.

“I told coach during minicamp, it’s unfair – all these guys,” the New Orleans native said, reminding the Holiday Inn Holidome crowd that he had to cover those receivers during camp. “This is my 12th year. Just to see how receivers have gotten bigger and stronger and faster. It’s unbelievable to me.”

Haslett stepped up to the mic for a quick rundown.

“If you look at our football team right now, (kick returner and sometime receiver) Michael Lewis is probably the fastest guy we have; he’s probably around 4.2. Then Donte (Stallworth, one of the team’s two 2002 draft picks). And then Jerome (Pathon, a free-agent pickup from Indianapolis), and Jerome has put on maybe 8 pounds. Then, probably (No. 1 receiver) Joe (Horn). Then we’ve got a couple of young guys – Talman Gardner from Florida State, a local kid. He can run.”
Light bulbs flashed throughout the room.

“All of our receivers are extremely fast. Add to that Deuce, and a couple of other guys – we’ve got Ernie Conwell now – and we feel like we’re pretty good on offense. You’ll see a lot of speed out there,” he said.

Ambrose stepped back up to the microphone.

“An Olympic track team,” he said, “is what we’ve got.” He does have to cover these guys during camp.

Pathon referenced a different kind of speed, when asked by a member of the audience about new backup quarterback Todd Bouman, a free agent from Minnesota.

That would be … ball speed.

“He’s probably got as strong – if not a stronger arm – than Aaron. He can zip it in really good,” Pathon said. “He made some pretty good throws in the minicamp … some really tight throws, especially in cover-two coverage – which is a pretty good sign of your arm strength, if you can get that ball in there.”

But, in the end, the focus of all this need for speed is, rightly, on an often-times congenial defense that somehow managed to turn a season where the Saints (!) led the NFC in scoring into one where they missed the playoffs.

The rebuilding starts up front.

“We’re very, very young,” says defensive end Darren Howard, a star coming off injury who led all NFL rookies in sacks back in 2000. “Kenny Smith is a third-year guy coming up. Myself, I’m a fourth-year guy. Charles Grant is a second-year guy. Then there’s Johnathan Sullivan, a rookie. We’re coming out young and energetic. Some guys talk, some guys don’t. But those things mix together and make a good team.”Haslett is doing the right thing on this line, building outward from ends Grant and Howard.

“Darren’s probably one of the better pass rushers in the league,” Haslett said. With the additions of Grant and Sullivan, “we feel like we got a lot more speed than we’ve had in the past to chase Michael Vick down.

They’re all physical and they’re all talented.”

So, that would be … speed upfront. Haslett says he’s not done.

This ex-Buffalo linebacker – he was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1979 and an All-Pro in 1981 – hasn’t forgotten about what comes next.

“We have three fast linebackers. We have Sedrick Hodge, who runs a 4.4. James Allen, a kid we drafted last year from Oregon State, probably around a 4.5,” he said Wednesday, as fans took pictures and jockeyed for autograph position.

He seemed particularly high on New Orleans’ third-round pick, last seen forcing Miami’s Ken Dorsey into a wild pass that sealed the national championship for the Buckeyes.

“Then we drafted a kid this year, who probably won’t play a lot, but there’s a chance: Cie Grant, from Ohio State,” Haslett said. “He was a corner his first year, a safety his second year and he played inside linebacker his third year. He’s six foot, 240 and he ran a 4.27. So, he’s got Ray Lewis-type speed. We’re going to play this kid right in the middle someday. I don’t know when. But he’ll end up playing for us.”

I’m not sure if all this speed is going to help. After all, Pathon and Stallworth both were laid up for parts of the last season.

But, after muddy and painfully drawn-out endings during the past two years, I’d say moving faster can’t be a bad thing – whether you are winning or losing.

North by Northwest? Nope: The Saints have not been able to put together an exhibition game – or even a caravan visit for Shreveport, where Dallas is regularly shown on Sundays.

New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis was asked about that during the early news conference of the team’s Monroe caravan stop. “It’s hard for us to move a preseason game to a neutral site, the way the league is set up,” he said.

There is hope for seeing the team in the northern portions of the state, however.

“We’ve got a scrimmage, and we can move those around the state,” Loomis said. “What we’re hoping to do is move practices against other teams and the scrimmage to different parts of the region. I think there is a good opportunity for that to happen.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Saints free-agency: Character counts
By
Lightningbug - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:00 am CST

New Orleans coach Jim Haslett talked about how new safety Tebucky Jones can also play corner -- shoring up a backside that was badly exposed last season.

He mentioned that fellow free-agent grab Ernie Conwell's last two seasons have been his best ever. A credible receiving threat at tight end is about the only thing the New Orleans offense lacks.

Haslett discussed Xs and Os this week. He said the arrival of Conwell and Jones will alter the team's draft plans.

But he kept coming around to the ideas of character, of maturity, of leadership.

"He's very intelligent, a good person," Haslett said of Jones, "and that kind of fits what we're looking for."

Welcome words for those sick of a series of shenanigans that sound like scenes from the cutting-room floor of that great pigskin prison movie "The Longest Yard": Locker room thievery. Guys wearing sun visors for interviews. Marital, ah, discord. Speeding tickets for driving in excess of 100 miles per hour. Mandatory anger management courses.

Nobody -- least of all, me -- is saying that the getting of athletes who can help you win isn't important.

It's just that winning, all apologies to Vince Lombardi, isn't the only thing.

"There are a couple of things you're looking for: Guys who are winners -- obviously, you're looking for guys that have great athleticism, good football players -- and good people," Haslett said. "We're not going to bring in people that are bad people. I think that we learned that from a couple of years ago."

As for the winning, Jones and Conwell have done that. Jones had his best season as New England beat St. Louis two years ago in the Super Bowl. Conwell played on both of the Rams' NFC championship teams -- including the 1999 team that beat Tennessee to win it all.

"Between him and Tebucky, they both have Super Bowl rings," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "We think we've added something to our team -- not only in terms of players, but in terms of leadership. Guys that have been to the place that we want to get to."

Haslett also mentioned that Jones was taken in the first round by the Patriots.

"If you look at history, teams with first- and second-round picks (on their roster) are the teams that usually win championships," he said, "so we're trying to accumulate talent. He's a talented guy. I think it's just a great upside, a great thing."

A well-disciplined team might not win the championship on good habits, but it will look better in losing. (For a handy primer on losing badly, see "Saints; Mike Ditka, 1999.")

At the very least, Jones and Conwell open up things a bit for the four remaining picks the Saints have in the first three rounds of this Saturday's NFL draft.

The talk right now is pretty muddled. Drafting for talent, rather than need, will do that.

There could now be a move up, or down -- or the team could just stay where it is: 17th and 18th picks in the first round. The second first rounder is from the Ricky Williams trade to Miami last year.

(Time for a Saints Fun Fact!: This will be the fourth time the team has had two picks in the first round to play with. New Orleans used its top two picks last year on wide receiver Donte' Stallworth and defensive end Charles Grant — who became solid starters. The team also had two selections in the opening round in 1993, used for tackle William Roaf and tight end Irv Smith; and in 1975, where the Saints selected wide receiver Larry Burton and guard Kurt Schumacher.)

New Orleans' remaining six picks in 2003 are in the second, third, fifth and seventh rounds. Other than a defensive tackle, I don't see any pressing team need now that can't be addressed in those later rounds, should the team decide to trade up.

Jones and Conwell, then, are reason for rejoicing on several levels. Argue over the money if you want, but these trades provide a canny mix of athleticism, character and draft-day flexibility.

"He's got great leadership abilities," Haslett said of Jones, "and he's a good family man. He's been married a long time. He's got kids. His older daughter's older than mine. That's what we're looking for, the whole picture.

"Ernie's the same way," Haslett continued. "Ernie's a good person, a true Christian, a good football player and all he kept saying to us is: 'All I want to do is win games. You guys have as good a shot as any to win games. Hopefully, I can put you over the hump.' "

In the end, it might be the character part that counts the most.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003
The Free Agent Dance
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:20 pm CST


The NFL off-season has many different twists and turns. At times it can resemble a testosterone driven soap opera. Athletes develop wandering eyes and flirt with every team that glances twice at them. Playing the field to see if they can land the love of a team with deep pockets. And NFL front offices have become the sugar daddy to these philandering flirts… sometimes referred to as free agents.

Free agency can be separated into basically two segments. The first being “The Flurry.” Which largely consists of quickly signed and grossly overvalued contracts that are written to bring in that one missing piece of the puzzle. These supposed impact performers often make their biggest impact on the salary cap and can cripple a team financially.

The smart GM will only target a select few first wave signings and wait for the second wave of free agency… “The I need a Job phase” …to gather the bulk of his free agent diamonds.

Because once training camps begin and these free agents, that were holding out for a big pay day, come to the realization that unless their demands are brought down… they could be out of a job next season. The prices plummet and it becomes a buyers market. This is the perfect time to secure a few valuable role players and maybe even a starter or two. So here is a look at what’s left in the free agent market.


POSSIBLE JUNE CUTS


1. MLB/OLB Junior Seau 6’3” 245 Chargers- He is a top notch overall talent that can play inside or out. He still has great speed, amazing bursts towards the hole, and most importantly Seau is a leader. In our defense he would fit right in as the perfect new breed of MLB- similar to Keith Brooking of Atlanta and Brian Urlacher of Chicago.

Would pursuing him be a slap in the face to newly signed MLB Orlando Ruff’s face? Yep… but talent shouldn’t be overlooked just to protect someone’s feelings. Seau would elevate this team to a top 10 defense over night. The only problem is he wants to stay on the west coast, but there is No Excuse not to make an attempt at acquiring one of the best LB’s ever. Ask the Raiders how much a veteran leader can improve and motivate a team.


2. MLB Marvin Jones 6’2” 250 Jets- A strong veteran that is falling out of favor with head coach Herman Edwards because of supposed “personality conflicts.” He recently signed a contract with a good bit of guaranteed money that could force the Jets to hang onto the veteran for at least one more season, but if he becomes available GM Mickey Loomis should be one the phone immediately. Though he isn’t as fast as he once was Jones would bring in more needed leadership and add another talented starting caliber player to a porous defense.

OFF THE MAP… and out of the NFL


1. FS Travares Tillman 6’1” 195 Bills- The former second round pick didn’t play last season and has had a string of nagging injuries that have held him back throughout his career. If healthy he can be an impact player on special teams and a wonderful project that could pay huge dividends because of his great speed and good size. For the league minimum he is a wonderful gamble.

2. SS/FS Raion Hill Bills 6’0” 195 Bills- Another good special teamer that fell off the radar. He has decent range, nice instincts, and appeared to have starting ability at one point in his career. He is definitely worth the risk if he can pass a physical.


THE BARGAIN BIN


1. OG/OT Mo Collins 6’4” 325 Raiders (Really a nacho platter away from 345)- He is a road grader at OG and has played LT in the past. Right now his contract demands are a bit high, but once the price drops we should be right there waiting. His situation is playing out very similarly to that of OG Kendyl Jacox last off-season. Collins could immediately step in and man the LG position because the Raiders run a similar West Coast Offense… allowing Jacox to slide to center. That would give the Saints a very formidable and large interior.

2. OC/OG Bill Conaty 6'2" 300 Bills- Originally an undrafted free agent he has had to earn everything he has gotten. He is a heady player, but limited athletically. In some ways he is reminiscent of a young Jerry Fontenot.

3. OC Todd McClure 6’1” 285 Falcons- He is a decent player that doesn’t possess the bulk that most teams would like in the middle. He relies on good technique, leverage, and smart play. He’s not a superstar, but a very capable starter or top notch reserve.

Naturally there are many different factors that affect where a free agent will sign, but it never hurts to invite a player to your party and simply ask for a dance. So GM Mickey Loomis needs to slick back his hair, put on his best sports coat, smile real big, and start looking around for the prettiest deal he can find.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
The Turley - His Own Worst Enemy
By
JoshuaBranning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 8:41 am CST

Kyle Turley has fallen far from Sainthood and even farther from the Saints good graces. He has berated his GM- describing Mickey Loomis as an inexperienced bean counter and questioned Head Coach Jim Haslett’s personal loyalty. He is doing his best to depreciate every facet of the Saints organization… right down to the spring session chefs. Yes, even the food the Saints provide isn’t good enough for The Turley.

The Turley is not the same Kyle Turley that was drafted in ’98. Kyle Turley was a workout warrior with a lunch pail and a nasty on the field attitude. Recently our beloved Kyle Turley has transformed into The Turley and this new personality appears to stem from his newfound ESPN coverage and nationally known status as Helmet Tossing King of the World.

Now with every derogatory remark directed at the Saints The Turley’s ego grows larger and his potential money grows smaller. He doesn’t appear to understand that other teams in this league are becoming reluctant to trade for the self-described superstar… little alone sign him to contract extension with a huge signing bonus.

Still despite The Turley's revelation of supposed terrible management and even worse food, he is full of love for the New Orleans fans saying, “They are the best fans in the world.” And out of pure love and loyalty to the fans he was willing to put up with the ineptness of the Saints organization if, and only if, GM Mickey Loomis would show him the money.

Mickey Loomis decided to do just that and offered a five year deal with a $8.5 million signing bonus. Turley was thoroughly unimpressed, which is fine and is all part of the negotiation process, but Kyle stated his displeasure and did so in true The Turley fashion proclaiming- “I could make more money wrestling.” This little statement seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Negotiations took a nosedive and The Turley was put on The Trading Block.

Now we find ourselves trying to figure out where The Turley will end up. The top teams still appear to be Denver, San Diego, and Houston (The Texans recently traded for an OT, but don’t count them out.) The very same teams SaintsReport.com reported in January. The only thing that has really changed is the outside perception of the enigmatic OT. His public worth is plummeting and the Saints brass are weathering the storm for a high pick this year. Which is a very good idea for them personally- because another mediocre season could produce a massive housecleaning, but a first rounder with a conditional later round pick in ‘04 would be the ideal long term solution for the Saints organization.

The reason being it would be very difficult cap wise to sign and develop three first round picks in the same draft class. To be honest this draft class isn’t that deep in impact performers anyway. So unless an unbelievable talent emerges from this mediocre pack of performers, holding out until next year would provide us with more value and yet another year of multiple first round picks.

These multiple high round picks are how championship teams are built. Of course staying on par with our “win now” approach to the offseason we could trade up into the top 10 using Turley as part of the deal. Possibly trying to land CB Marcus Trufant, DT Dewayne Robertson, or even the next NFL cornerstone LT Kwame Harris- who is a well spoken sensationally gifted athlete. Also don’t believe the rumors that we could outright release Turley. We will not let The Turley leave with out proper compensation… my god we’re not the Bengals.

Saturday, March 08, 2003
Mt. Turley Erupts on WWL
By
Dan Indest - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:05 am CST

Kyle Turley was a guest tonight on “The Game” hosted by Kaare Johnson on WWL radio in New Orleans. Kyle did not hold back at all on letting his feelings be known about his relationship with the New Orleans Saints organization, the coaches, and the fans.

The show started off on a light note as Kyle Turley has been enjoying the off-season thus far. He recently visited Daytona Beach spending some time on his Harley with friends. Turley held nothing back though when it came to discussing the recent developments with the Saints.

Turley made it quite clear that he believes the team has a multitude of problems, especially in their recent dealings with himself and other key veteran players on the team. The failed negotiations on a new contract, which Turley said were initiated by himself and his agent, have not resulted in the five-year vet signing a new contract. Recent signings by tackles Flozell Adams of the Cowboys and Luke Pettigout of the Giants have now raised the bar even higher as to what a quality tackle in the NFL must be paid. The Saints are seeking a first round pick as compensation for Turley, yet are not willing to give him the ten million dollar signing bonus that top tackles are receiving during this free-agency period. Seattle’s Walter Jones, considered one of the top free agent tackles this year, has already turned down a 12 million dollar signing bonus. The St. Louis Rams put the franchise tag on Orlando Pace after he had even higher expectations for his signing bonus

Turley was not only concerned with himself in recent negotiations, he also mentioned that the organization has low-balled other free agents this off-season. He inferred that the team gave pathetic offers to Sammy Knight, Jerry Fontenot (offered league minimum), Michael Lewis, and Toby Gowin. All of them had very productive 2002 seasons. Gowin subsequently signed with the Cowboys. On Mickey Loomis, Turley said, “He’s a bean-counter playing General Manager”. He believes that Mickey Loomis is more interested in the bottom line than fielding a championship team. It is obvious to this writer that the disgruntled left tackle wants out of New Orleans.

Kyle also made it clear that he has problems with head coach Jim Haslett as well. As player rep, he often has to bring the complaints of the players to the coaching staff. He implied they are not willing to do the little things that can help make a team better such as supplying quality food at training camp. He mentioned that moldy food, swarmed by flies, is not very appealing to the players.

Turley was quite sincere when he made it abundantly clear that he loves the Saints fans and his teammates as well. He feels that the fans of New Orleans are the greatest and that he very much appreciates the support they have given him. At every mini-camp and training camp since he has been with the Saints, Turley has always been more than willing to go the extra mile to please the autograph seekers. He has always made time for the fans.

Kyle’s biggest problem though may be with the New Orleans media, in particular, the Times Picayune newspaper. He told them he would not discuss or go into the details of his divorce. He also warned them that if they did delve into the details, he would no longer talk to the media. They did not comply with his request and took unfair shots at him. Turley took Picayune writer Brian Allee-Walsh to task for a recent article that alleged that Turley and quarterback Aaron Brooks had a heated argument on the sidelines during the game with the Detroit Lions. He denied that they had any disagreement, and that the only time things got heated on the sidelines during a game was in the first game against the Carolina Panthers. He said that everybody was pointing the fingers during that game and that things got a little out of hand. He went on to say that when they returned to the field that he and Aaron Brooks shook hands and were determined to win the game, which they did.

From tonight’s radio show, it is very obvious that Kyle Turley is not a happy camper with the New Orleans Saints. He shot one across the owner’s bow when he said, “Mr. Benson does not deserve to own a football team”. He also referenced a recent article in the Picayune that discussed Benson grooming his granddaughter as a possibility for taking over the team in the future. Turley’s comments were, “Get me out of here. Trade me now. I demand a trade.”

Kyle Turley did not hold back at all tonight. Are his controversial statements the ramblings of one disgruntled player, or those of a team player representative that express the feelings of most of his teammates? My gut tells me it’s the latter.

Monday, March 03, 2003
Mickey…Jim…Anyone?
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 11:17 pm CST
March 3, 20

Dear Saints Fan,

Football has become a year round event for diehards. As soon as the final gun sounds on the season we replace our jerseys and coaching caps with visors and sharpies. We’re still in our armchairs but now as GM’s. Predictably, the debate this time of year over player prospects is as heated as the second-guessing that occurs after game day.

Like the people who actually get paid for it, more of us than ever look at the tape, grade the roster and prioritize need to prepare for the player-acquisition period of the season. No rest for ardent Saints Fans who can’t wait to say, ”I told you so,” whenever retrospect confirms the few times we are right. After all, we’re working hard on this!

So what has our expertise revealed? The consensus is that the defense needs help practically across the board, the tight end has been a virtual non-factor on game day and if Deuce gets hurt we’re sunk. Word’s out that Kyle Turley, Sammy Knight, Charlie Clemons, Jake Delhomme and Norman Hand are among those who will be playing elsewhere.

Okay, with those players gone and the upgrades needed...Hmmm… by my calculations we need about seven new players on defense and four on offense, most of whom will have to start and all will be expected to see action.

So far, Wayne Gandy has been signed to play left tackle in anticipation of Turley’s departure. Ashley Ambrose will rejoin the team at corner and Orlando Ruff will leave San Diego in hopes of becoming a starting Middle Linebacker in New Orleans. So, now we’re down to five new defenders and three “needs” on offense.

If only it were that simple!

There is no doubt that the Saints’ defensive shortcomings last season are accurately revealed in the stats-at least when compared to our Division rival and Super Bowl champs in Tampa.

Tampa’s World Championship defense allowed only 236 first downs while the Saints gave up 327. The Saints’ secondary surrendered 30 more first downs than Tampa (191 to 131) and opponents rushed for 108 first downs against the Saints versus 79 when facing the Bucs. By the end of the regular season, Saints’ opponents tallied over 362 yards per game compared to Tampa giving up about 252. Opposing teams scored 388 points against New Orleans. Tampa Bay held theirs to 196. The list goes on, but the point is made. The defense has a lot of catching up to do if the Saints are to seriously contend in the post season. Oh yeah, the offense can still get better too.

So what’s all the fuss about? There’s a long way to go between now and opening day. The Saints are stockpiled with draft picks and there are still free agents to be signed. Even now the roster is better than it was a few days ago when the free agent frenzy officially began.

While our patience as fans might be tested when Internet reporting services aren’t reporting hourly updates about Saints’ free agent signings, you can bet that the front office is working each of those hours to improve the team.

Will they get it right this time? Ask me later, it’s time for a nap.

Until Next Time,

The Editor

Saturday, March 01, 2003
Gandy- A Knee Jerk Reaction?
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:22 pm CST

With the opening of the free agency period coming and going without our expected defensive splash- there are number of sports enthusiast left nodding our heads over the possibility of signing LT Wayne Gandy of Pittsburgh to a monstrous six year deal that averages $15 million over the first three seasons.

This is a reach in terms of value. Sure the free agent OT market is a bit bare, but $5 million a year for a 32 year old LT, whose best days are behind him, seems to be an organization grasping for straws. Is this a knee jerk reaction to the possibility of trading OT Kyle Turley? It certainly seems plausible, but the truly disturbing part of this entire facade are the contracts on the table for Wayne Gandy's services. Lets take a look at them one by one...


Dolphins- A little more than $3 million a year

Steelers- A little less than $3 million a year.

Saints- A Whopping $5+ million a year.


If doesn't take a rocket surgeon to see that we have nearly doubled the other available options, yet Gandy needs a chance to sleep on the idea of playing for the Saints. Does this seem like a player that truly wants to be here? I sincerely hope that the Saints are just a negotiating tool for Gandy and his agent because that is an obscene amount of money for an ancient LT.


Best of the TidBits

 According to www.Bengals.com- Head Coach Marvin Lewis is prepared to release LB Takeo Spikes from the Transition Tag- If the Bengals can sign a replacement, but noted "that is looking to far down the road" as of Friday.


 The Saints have scheduled a visit with LB Barry Gardner of the Eagles. Gardner is a starting quality player, but is far from an impact performer. He can play MLB or SLB, but lacks instincts at both positions.


 The Saints also have unconfirmed interest in...

1. SS Rodney Harrison Charger- who is savvy and a strong hitter, but slow.

2. FS/SS Cory Hall Bengal- a young improving player.

3. LB Orlando Ruff Charger- A former starter that was replaced by a phenomenal Donnie Edwards. The Chargers have attempted to replace the former starter every year since his first full season as one- Not an encouraging fact.

4. MLB Jay Foreman Texans - A statistically encouraging performer that doesn't appear to be a very fluid athlete on film.


 QB Jake Delhomme to visit with the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday. New head coach Bill Parcells worked Delhomme out the first time the Saints cut him and really liked what he saw, but decided to go with a veteran backup then. Now Delhomme has a bit more seniority and could be an intriguing option for a club in transition.


Monday, February 24, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:06 pm CST

TIGHT ENDS

The TE position was supposed to become a focal point of the offense, but the inconsistency that plagued the unit caused the collapse of that idea. There were a lot of excuses made, but in the NFL you have to overcome the rough spots and perform at a high level.


KEEPERS

1. David Sloan- He did a wonderful job blocking this year, but his hands were like stone. Two years ago he was a top 5 TE and a red zone threat for the Lions. During his stint with the Saints he has been a non-factor in the passing game. The physically impressive Sloan needs to spend the off-season getting over the nagging injuries and prepare with Aaron Brooks for a more prominent role in the passing game. He can be a great player when healthy.

2. Boo Williams- The former WR has bulked up to nearly 250 pounds. He has good speed for TE and the body control to shield DB's from the ball. He can also line up at HB which will only improve his team worth. Physically he is what the Saints want, but the biggest question surrounding Williams is his mental capacity to grasp the offensive scheme. This is his chance to prove himself and it may be his last chance as a Saint.


GONE

1. Lamont Hall- Hall is one of my favorite Saints. He is a nasty player that does the dirty work in the trenches and he has a great team attitude. He doesn't have the receiving ability of Boo Williams, but he is a premier blocking talent. Still with Hall's cap value going up and the Saints need to find a young complete TE this could spell the end of line for the free agent.


DRAFT

1. Teyo Johnson 6'6" 245 Stanford- The most athletically gifted TE available. Has great speed, good size, and can make plays over the top. He is a former QB so his ability to grasp a WCO should not be in question. He is an instant option in the red zone and will be a matchup headache for defensive coordinators. His blocking ability is suspect so he could last until the early second round, but he should be the #1 TE on the Saints draft board. Another concern with Johnson is his stubbornness to play WR when most scouts consider him a TE.

2. Mike Pinkard 6'5" 255 Arizona State- Inconsistency plagues the speedy TE. He is a decent blocker and has the physical tools to dominate a game, but his inability to run crisp routes could hurt him. Pinkard is a player that is strictly a boom or bust type of gamble. With David Sloan manning the top spot Pinkard is an acceptable gamble in the mid rounds.


OVERALL

The NFL offenses are shifting away from FB's and leaning towards the matchup headaches that multiple TE sets present. So having two good TE's is a rare luxury that can make offenses truly dangerous, but their is a lack of TE talent league wide. This lack of talent prevents most offenses from exploiting the middle of a defense. If we can get consistent production from this position we could have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. This is how the TE's could look next season...

1. David Sloan
2. Teyo Johnson
3. Boo Williams


Some of you have followed my offseason analysis regularly and have sent in numerous E-Mails, but because of the amount sent I don't have time to respond individually so I would just like to say Thank You to everyone in this the last installment of the Off-Season Analysis Series.


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Thursday, February 20, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:09 pm CST

RUNNING BACKS

Duece McCallister delivered a wonderful first season as a starter. He became the homerun threat that the offense has lacked, but when he went down the entire offense sputtered because of the lack of an explosive threat out of the backfield. So a dynamite backup is a big need this offseason.


KEEPERS

RB

1. Duece McCallister 6'1" 230- Was everything he was advertised to be. He developed into the best RB in the NFC and has that rare second gear that makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He needs to work on his blitz pickup and his ability to read defenses before the snap, but there is no denying that he is simply a quiet star.

2. Curtis Keaton 5'10" 220- Great size, great speed, and a newfound hesitancy that makes him tip toe to the line of scrimmage. He needs to get comfortable in this offense and get comfortable with his OL so he can hit the holes like lightning. If he keeps baby stepping in the backfield he could be cut, but this is the money year for Keaton. It is his best chance to prove he can be an every down RB. So a triumphant return to form is a very likely possibility.

3. James Fenderson 5'9" 200- A great special teamer that has done everything that has been asked of him. He served as the #2 RB for most of the year, but isn't particularly special in any facet of the offense. He is a capable reserve that should come back for another year of special teams duty. He has become a young version of Fred McAfee on special teams.

4. Fred McAfee 5'10" 190- The old man on kickoffs still has the juice to hang with the young guns. He is a wonderful leader and keeps his body in great shape. He isn't much of an offensive threat, but his on the field coaching and special teams ability have landed him in the Pro-Bowl. Even if he is squeezed off the roster he has a future in coaching- maybe with us.


FB

1. FB Demetrius Smith 6'2" 250- A huge RB. He is a very effective short yardage back and has good speed for a man his size. His hands need some work and his on the run blocking needs a lot of work. Still the raw tools are there to be a very good FB and he could possibly be our starter next year because the FB position is very minimal in our offense and even if we did need a pounding FB they are always available- even in the middle of the season.


GONE

1. FB Terrelle Smith 6'0" 245- A brawler that is a monster blocker, but he is one dimensional. The saints want a big back that can be a short yardage specialist, catch, and be a good blocker. Smith doesn't fit that description. There is a very good chance he could make the team, but his back problems, his tendency to fumble, and the fact he isn't a scoring threat could squeeze him off the roster.


DRAFT


RB's

1. RB Justin Fargas 6'1" 210 USC- Is a very muscular player similar to the former Viking Robert Smith in many ways. They both have good acceleration, decent size, and great top speed. He is not a tremendous cut back runner, but he has the abilities to be a starter in this league. A nice prospect, but he has some injury concerns. I have him ranked as the #3 RB in the draft, but most don't rank him that high.

2. RB Onterio Smith 5'10" 205 Oregon- A wonderful all around talent that has some durability concerns. A true breakaway threat that without the injury concerns could be considered a first round pick. He has good hands, Great Balance, and a second gear that tops most in the league. He is also a great return specialist. Right now he is a late second rounder that could turn out to be a very good starter in the right offense.

3. RB Sultan McCullough 5'10" 195 USC- FAST and can catch. He is an outstanding prospect with the tools to contribute immediately as a third down back and return specialist. If he can add a little more weight he could develop into a starting everydown RB, but even as a role player he is worth a mid to late rounder.


FB's

1. FB Justin Griffith 5'10" 230 MSU- Has great hands out of the backfield and is very good on blitz pick up. He is a bit of a tweener because he isn't big enough for the classic FB position and not fast enough for a RB, but he's a very capable West Coast Offense FB that would fit in very well here. He plays a lot like Richie Anderson and if he found the right niche he could blossom into a very capable role player. Right now it appears he will be undrafted or a late rounder. So bringing him to camp wouldn't be a huge gamble. Remember the Giants brought in a rookie free agent FB Charles Stackhouse last year and he started the season for them.


OVERALL

With an emphasis on special teams it is a strong possibility that we will only carry one FB on the roster and he will not be a classic bruising FB. Also with Keaton entering unrestricted free agency after this year we need to secure the future of the backfield with a young explosive back. Here is what my roster would look like...

RB- Duece McCallister
2. Curtis Keaton
3. Justin Fargas
4. James Fenderson
5. Fred McAfee

FB- Demetrius Smith

Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 7:55 pm CST

QUARTERBACKS

In our hybrid West Coast/ Run and Shoot Offense we demand a QB with a tremendous arm, good mobility, and he must be a playmaker. These ideals are centered around QB Aaron Brooks abilities and he will either be our catalyst for success or failure.


KEEPERS

1. Aaron Brooks 6'4" 215- He is a franchise QB and was rewarded with a franchise size contract. Some might point to the late season collapse and claim that he didn't deserve that big money deal, but the collapse wasn't his fault. He is a competitor and thought he could get it done despite a messed up arm, but we all know how that turned out. Haslet should have recognized that Brooks was not able to carry the team with such a serious injury holding him back. So the blame resides with Haslet- Not Brooks. Let's support Brooks and the Saints.


GONE

1. Jake Delhomme 6'2" 210- He is a winner plain and simple. He is a very good player and could even be a capable starter in a lot of offenses. If Miami had him they would have made the playoffs this year. The Saints would like to bring him back, but it appears the call of a bigger contract and a chance to start will lead the local boy to greener pastures. Some likely landing zones for the fair haired #2 are Chicago, Dallas, or even Baltimore. Good luck Jake!

2. J.T. O'Sullivan 6'2" 220- A mobile QB with a decent arm, decent footwork, and a decent grasp of the offense, but having just decent skills makes you wonder if he is worth the time it takes to develop a project QB. J.T. has the tools to maybe, and that's a big maybe, be as good as Delhomme one day, but we are kidding ourselves if we think he will ever be anything other than a good second stringer. The Saints are going to bring in some competition in the form of late round/ free agent type player that could spell the end for this project.


FREE AGENCY

1. Kordell Stewart 6'1" 220 Steelers- He is one of a handful of QB's with physical abilities comparable to that of Brooks, but his inconsistency has left him on the outside looking in. He is a local product and a homecoming would seem very probable with Haslet publicly backing him over Maddox. If he isn't given the chance to be a starter elsewhere- he would be a great #2 (IF we can convince him to take a backup role) and a perfect fit for our offense.

2. Shaun King 5'11" 220 Bucs- At one time he was considered an up and coming star, but inconsistency landed him on the bench and soon he buried himself in doubt. The Tulane star doesn't have a great arm, but it is good enough. He is somewhat mobile and would fit in well here. A nice #2 for someone.

3. Charlie Batch 6'2" 220 Steelers- He is a very good backup and has all the necessary tools to succeed in this offense. He is another former starter that fell out of favor due to his inconsistency (Bet you didn't see that one coming), but the ability to carry a team is evident. There is a very good chance he could return to Pittsburg as a #2 or pursue a starting job with the Bears or Carolina.


DRAFT

1. Jason Thomas 6-4 245 UNLV- At one time he was a Franchise QB hopeful, but now he is a strong armed kid with a lot of question marks. He has terrible mechanics and throws off his back foot a lot. Still he has the biggest arm in college and is very mobile. He will be a very good developmental prospect and is worth a late round flyer just for his arm strength alone. He also has the tools to be a very good TE... that is just another feather in his cap.

2. Marquel Blackwell 6'0" 205 South Florida- A very athletic QB with a nice arm. He is also a good leader and is just a playmaker in the Doug Flutie mold, but his height is a big concern and his ability to grasp an NFL offense is a big question mark. A late rounder that would make a nice #3.


OVERALL

I know you are looking at the roster I have outlined here and thought- "Wow we could have the most inconsistent trio of QB's in the league", but don't be so quick to judge. Brooks is a solid starter, Kordell Stewart is a former Pro-Bowler, and if you're #3 QB has to start your season is in big trouble anyway. So step back and take another look and keep repeating "We could have the most athletic (not inconsistent) trio of QB's in the league." It works for me and maybe it'll convince you also. So here is what my ideal set of QB's would look like...

QB-Aaron Brooks
2. Kordell Stewart
3. Jason Thomas


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Friday, February 14, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 6:21 pm CST

SAFETIES

The lack of pressure up front caused a ripple effect and the tidal wave exposed our lack of speed at Safety. This is alarming because speed is the name of the game and hopefully two new safeties with speed will be brought in, but this is a terrible offseason for FS's in free agency. Teams are dumping classic SS's and going with two speedy defenders. This has led to a FS drought in free agency. So we are going to have to be very fast and decisive if we plan to increase the speed in the defensive backfield.


KEEPERS

1. SS Mel Mitchell 6'1" 215- The '02 sixth round pick is expected to step into the starting lineup at SS. He has great speed and enjoys the contact of the position. Still this is a huge gamble that will either pay off big or we will go down in flames. It's a tough call, but one I would take as long as I had a veteran waiting in the wings.

2. FS/SS Jay Bellamy 5'11" 200- I know what you are thinking, but Joshua you said last offseason he should be cut and replaced with a speedy FS or we would give up too many big plays. Well live and learn. The lone wolf still went for highlight hits and was still giving up big plays, but in a reserve role he is capable. Let's hope he stays on the bench and Mel Mitchell plays to his potential.


GONE

1. Sammy Knight 6'0" 205- He has great instincts and very good hands. He makes plays all over the place, but his lack of footspeed will slowly walk him right out the door. He voided his contract and is looking for the big pay day, but remember Safety isn't a premium position and Sammy's situation reminds me a lot of Brock Marion, a pro-bowl performer, who is another slow footed ballhawk. Marion tried his hand at free agency two years ago and ended up re-signing with the Dolphins for a mid-tier contract. So I doubt Sammy gets a big money deal, but I still don't see him in Black and Gold next year.

2. Steve Gleason 5'11" 210- He is slow and unathletic, but he has the heart of a lion. He is a special teams standout that could be brought back for that alone. Still it's hard to see where he fits on a revamped roster that puts an emphasis on speed.

3. Micheal Hawthorne 6'3" 195- He has the tools, but isn't physical enough for safety and doesn't have the hips for CB. He is a RFA that could be tendered, but don't hold your breath waiting on him to produce. Two years ago I thought he would be our starting FS, but he has completely let the team down.


FREE AGENCY

1. FS Tebucky Jones 6'2" 215 Patriots- Tremendous physical tools, but has yet to become a superstar. He is a solid player that uses his athleticism more than his brains. He isn't afraid of contact and has the speed to get anywhere on the field. He wants big money, but Safety isn't a big money position so we could probably get him for $2.5 million a year with a decent signing bonus.

2. FS Izelle Reese 6'2" 195 Broncos- I pushed for the speedy FS last offseason also, but Denver signed him and he became a steady FS. Now he is back on the market and could really help our secondary with his unique blend of size and speed.


DRAFT

1. FS/CB Charles Tillman 6'1" 195 Louisiana-Lafayette- Good speed and is a playmaker. Has good hands for a DB and could even slide over to CB on occasion. He is solid in every facet of the game and he would look great in Black and Gold.

2. FS/CB Rashean Mathis 6'1" 195 Bethune-Cookman- A great ballhawk that can play FS or CB. He simply dominated the MEAC. He has a nice combination of size and speed. He really proved himself at the senior bowl practices and appeared to catch on quickly. A nice prospect that would fit this defense very well.

3. FS/SS/CB Jesse Sowells 5'11" 205 Houston- Great speed and range for a safety. Can even play CB in a press defense. Has a lot of pop in his hits. Finds the ball carrier and makes the play. Isn't afraid to play close to the line of scrimmage. Has the physical tools to be a very good FS or SS and should be an impact player on special teams.


OVERALL

With a good pass rush and some speed at safety we could see a big improvement in the defense. Also there are so many good developmental prospects in the draft we should be able to cash in on these potential players. This is what my revamped roster would look like...

FS- Tebucky Jones
SS- Mel Mitchell
3. Jay Bellamy
4. Charles Tillman


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Monday, February 10, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 4:33 pm CST

WIDE RECEIVERS

The WR corps was the team strength and maybe one of the best units in the NFL. Every WR on the roster (with the exception of Jake Reed) could burn you deep, but the Saints used 3 and 4 WR sets sparingly. Next season we should see the multiple WR sets as our primary offense. If we don't- offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy and crew will be looking for new jobs. McCarthy didn't utilize his talent to its fullest potential and claimed he had "too many weapons." One question Mike- did Mike Martz complain about too many weapons during the Rams superbowl runs?


KEEPERS

1. Joe Horn 6'1" 210- He has proven himself to be among the elite. His mouth might turn some off, but his fearless routes across the middle turns them right back on. He is the total package physically and has a great work ethic. Horn wants a new contract that is more on par with his abilities. He will threaten to hold out and might even miss some of the pre-season, but the Saints brass will eventually pay because they know he is the symbol of the Saints newfound success.

2. Donte Stallworth 6'0" 205- The first rounder turned short slants into TD's. He has great strength, a nice burst, and can get behind DB's for the deep ball. His only weakness are his hamstrings and they will always hamper him, like most explosive athletes, but he needs to learn to fight through the pain. Stallworth had a few rookie mishaps, but his explosiveness outshined his mistakes and he looks like a long term fixture in the starting lineup.

3. Jerome Pathon 6'0" 180- He earned every penny of his money. A clutch player that was the cream of the free agent signings last year. He is able to get deep and he'll make the catch in traffic. He needs to stop jumping unnecessarily in the air during his receptions because it could lead to injury. He is a wonderful player that will allow the Saints to spread the field on opposing defenses.

4. Micheal Lewis 5'7" 155- The return specialist became one of the best at his position. The field position that he provided kept the Saints competitive and allowed Lewis to earn more playing time as a WR. He is too small to be a starting WR, but he has the heart to take the pounding as a role player. One thing that most don't notice is his great special teams COVERAGE ability. He is a heck of a player and the best overall special teamer the Saints have.


GONE

1. Jake Reed 6'3" 210- He is still a good backup, but the team needs to get more speed in the lineup and that is Reed's biggest weakness. The only gamble with losing Reed is will CB Dale Carter, Reed's brother, revert back to his old form. It's a gamble, but a roster spot for a babysitter is a waste.


DRAFT

1. Kassim Osgood 6'3"205 4.4 San Diego State- He has amazing body control and great size. He has the frame to add even more weight if needed. His routes are very polished and reminds me of a young Jake Reed. He will be a steal for anyone that needs a solid WR to contribute immediately. He dominated the Hula Bowl and is the best WR in the mid-rounds by far. I cannot say enough about him... In the right offense he could get 30 receptions his rookie year.

2. Tyrone Calico 6'3" 215 4.4 Middle Tennessee State- The physical tools to dominate. He isn't afraid of contact and has great size. He has long arms, big hands, and great strength. He should blow away the combine attendees. He rounds his routes off too much and many are anxious to see his wonderlic scores. Calico is definetly a project, but his measurables are perfect for our offense.

3. Kelley Washington 6'3" 220 4.4 Tennessee- A top 10 talent with a late round attitude. He is big, fast, and a super athlete. Washington also has a great arm and some time at QB wouldn't be out of the question on trick plays. He has some serious injury concerns and there is some bad blood between Washington and Donte Stallworth. The entire incident revolved around both coming out for the draft together, but at the last moment Washington backed out in hopes of a big season without Stallworth taking some of his spotlight. Well it backfired on the egocentric star and he had a very average injury riddled season. If he is there in the second round there is no way the Saints should pass on him and a reunion of college teammates wouldn't be hard to conceive because Stallworth is a team player and would eventually forgive him.


OVERALL

If we trade OT Kyle Turley for a first rounder then we could see a few offensive players drafted early because we can spend our three first rounders on defensive playmakers. This extra pick will allow us to become more flexible in the entire draft and if we plan on becoming a force in every phase of the game we need to be able to take the best available player- not draft the biggest need.

When you start drafting for need your team will be full of NEEDED backups and because this draft is so deep at WR some very talented players will be available a lot later than they usually would be slotted. So just because we have a very solid corps already- it doesn't mean that a super talent couldn't be added with an eye towards the future.

This group could become the best the Saints have ever had if Mike McCarthy becomes more creative and spreads the defenses out with 3,4, and even 5 WR sets to best utilize our talent. Plus with the size of our WR's across the board the matchup possibilities could be very difficult for any defensive coordinator to contend with. Let's hope the offense can actually reach it's potential and become the best the Saints have ever had. This is what our WR's could look like next year...

WR- Joe Horn
WR- Donte Stallworth
3. Jerome Pathon
4. Kassim Osgood
5. Micheal Lewis


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Thursday, February 06, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:15 pm CST

CORNERBACKS

The CB's were a pleasent surprise and the depth in the unit was exceptional. Everyone seemed to bond together and play as a unit. Still this unity didn't flourish throughout the defense because the CB's were often left without help over the top and the lack of pass rush up the middle hung them out to dry.


KEEPERS

1. Dale Carter 6'1" 190- A series of suspensions and injuries forced Carter out of the lineup for much of the year, but when he was in- he was a #1 CB. Despite his success, father time catches up with us all and a replacement needs to be groomed. If all of his problems are behind him the Saints could have a very solid CB corps, but they need to have players in place to take up the slack just in case.

2. Fred Thomas 5'9" 170- The speedster is a wonderful #2 CB. He also has a warrior's spirit for battling through injuries all year and even playing a large portion of the season with a broken hand. The cast was a hindrance, but he still recorded 5 interceptions. Thomas proved himself as a starter and is the most reliable CB on the roster.

3. Ken Irvin 5'11" 185- The nickelback was forced into starting duty for most of the year. He responded very well and showed the Saints why he played so many seasons as the Bills starting CB. He is an UFA, but the Saints want him back in a reserve role. If no other teams offer him a starting position, with a contract to match, the nickelback will gladly come back to New Orleans.

4. Keyou Craver 5'10 190- He is very similar to a young Ken Irvin, but is more of a ballhawk. He is very average physically. He always finds a way to put himself in a position to make plays. He is a young player with room to improve and should be given the chance to compete at the nickelback position.

5. Fakhir Brown 5'11" 195- He earned his keep on special teams, but showed the skills to make it onto the field in Dime situations. He has good size, good speed, and is a physical player. He was also very consistent and appears to be a diamond in the rough that could develop into a solid role player.


DRAFT

1. Andre Woolfolk 6'1" 195 Oklahoma- A former two way star that has the ability to be the best CB in the draft, but he has only played CB for one full season and that will hurt his draft status. The physical package he brings is exceptional. He is big and can run with any WR in the draft. A Dale Carter clone that would benefit greatly from watching someone with similar abilities perform at a high level. He might take a little longer to develop than the other top CB's, but the Saints have the time to mold his talent.

2. Marcus Trufant 5'11" 190 Washington State- An exceptionally gifted athlete that is the total package. He will be the second CB taken in the draft behind KSU's Terrance Newman, but he isn't far behind Newman in the rankings. He has the hips to turn and run with anyone and is unafraid to take on the team's top WR. A special player that will immediately help a team. There is a very good chance he will not be available when the Saints pick.


OVERALL

We have a good group of CB's, but Carter,Thomas, and Irvin are all over 30. We need some young blood in the ranks and a high pick seems very likely. With our eyes toward the future we could increase our depth and will be afforded the opportunity to develop project type players. This is what my ideal lineup would look like...

CB- Dale Carter
CB- Fred Thomas
3. Andre Woolfolk
4. Ken Irvin
5. Keyou Craver
6. Fakhir Brown


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:08 pm CST

LINEBACKERS

The entire defense needs to be overhauled and the LB's should be where we start. The jury is still out on Winston Moss as LB's coach, but Haslett seems stubborn enough to overlook his deficiencies. We could, and should, see as many as 4 new LB's next season. Let's hope we can walk away with some bang for our buck.


KEEPERS

1. WLB Sedrick Hodge 6'4" 240- He has the goods to get it done. I still see the potential to dominate a game, but he should be switched to WLB. He doesn't appear to have the bulk to take on blockers continuously. They need to put him in a position to make plays.

2. WLB James Allen 6'2" 240 (There is no way he is 240... more like 220)- A bit small and his back problems are still a concern. He has great speed and a certain something that playmakers have. He just has "it." Still his constant backaches are a reason for concern. With a healthy back and some seasoning he could be special.


GONE

1. MLB Charlie Clemmons 6'2" 250- I have been in Clemons corner since he came to New Orleans. He is a good player, but he thinks he's great. He fully expects to be paid like a top 5 MLB and he simply isn't a top 10 MLB. In this LB rich offseason, Charlie could find himself locked into a one year contract with another team.

2. MLB Bryan Cox 6'4" 250- Too old, too slow, and not the leader he was thought to be. He's a goner.

3. MLB/OLB Darrin Smith 6'1" 235- He has lost a step or two, but he is still good depth. He must become a more vocal leader and take a paycut to remain on the team. Even if he decides to drop his pay he could still be cut to make room for younger players.

4. Travis Carrol, Curtis Holden, J.J. Jones, J.R. Johnson, and Roger Knight are all caught in the numbers game. These guys simply will not fit as contributing LB's, but one of them could secure a spot as a special teams performer.


FREE AGENCY

MLB

1. Takeo Spikes 6'2" 245 Bengals- No weaknesses to speak of. He simply does it all. One of the best in the game and will be paid accordingly. Could be Franchised which would put us out of the market. There is no way we give up the mandated two #1's the franchise tag requires. The Bengals could also cheap out, surprise surprise, and slap the Transition Tag on him. Which only gives them the right to match an offer, but there is no draft pick compensation involved. Cross your fingers on this one because everything would have to go perfect for it to happen.

2. James Darling 6'0" 250 Jets- He has good size, good speed, can plug the run, and is good in coverage, but he is inconsistent. That inconsistency cost him the starting job in Philidelphia and allowed Jeremiah Trotter a chance to shine. Trotter took over and Darling has been on the back burner ever since. If he can put everything together he could become a very solid performer. Our scheme will allow him to run and flow with the game- Which are his strong suits. Darling can also play SLB which would only enhance his value with this club.


OLB

1. Keith Newman 6'2" 250 Bills- How this guy fell out of favor in Buffalo is beyond me. The Bills miscast him and forced Newman to become a coverage backer. He did it and did it well, but his strong suit is rushing the passer. Newman has great speed and in our scheme he could even play MLB. He has tremendous potential and Buffalo will regret losing him. He would be my first signing on defense if I were GM.

2. Anthony Simmons 6'0" 240 Seahawks- Speed, speed, and more speed. In an attacking defense he could be a star. Has the total package and is the best OLB in free agency, but he could be franchised if Walter Jones is signed before free agency starts. Newman will give us more bang for the buck, but Simmons is simply a stud.


DRAFT- If we can secure Takeo Spikes in Free Agency then we will have no need for a LB early in the draft. Basically by signing Spikes we get to spend that first rounder on the best available without sweating the afterthoughts.

1. MLB Terry Pierce 6'2" 250 Kansas State- Nice athlete and can man the middle or strongside for us. Has a nose for the ball and simply makes plays. Tremendous speed for a man his size and is quite agile, but would be well served to drop some body fat and pick up some more speed. Imagine Charlie Clemons with instincts and you have a good idea of how good Pierce can be.

2. MLB Gerald Hayes 6'3" 245 Pittsburg- I am a big fan of Hayes, but he doesn't have the tremendous sideline to sideline speed of Pierce. Hayes is going to be a good one though. He drops back in coverage well and has nice overall athletic ability. He is also tough and will fight through injuries. He just doesn't have the raw tools that Pierce brings to the table.


OVERALL

The ideal would be to get Takeo Spikes, but that is a real longshot. The Bengals hate to lose talent, despite the fact they should be used to it by now, and could Franchise/Transition Tag Spikes. So this is a realistic look at how the LB's could look next season.

SLB- Keith Newman/Special Teamer

MLB- James Darling/Terry Pierce

WLB- Sedrick Hodge/James Allen


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Sunday, February 02, 2003
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 2:03 pm CST

DEFENSIVE LINE


DEFENSIVE TACKLES

The heavy lunch bunch were a massive disappointment. And maybe if they weren't so massive we would have an inside pass rush. The lack of pressure up the middle forced our defense to take chances we shouldn't have had to consider. So a rush specialist in the middle of the DL is a definite need this offseason.


KEEPERS

1. DT Gravy Jackson 6'2" 375- The big man in the middle was a lukewarm success, still he should be brought back next year, but his weight must be controlled. The rumors have him ballooning to as much as 400 pounds- that is simply unacceptable. At 340 this guy is a better DT than anyone in the draft and is a top 10 talent. Lets hope we see a slimmed down Grady Jackson next season.

2. DT Norman Hand 6'3" 340- The other big man in the middle never seemed healthy this season, but excuses mean nothing in this business. His huge contract should be restructured and Hand should be given a one year deal that will give him incentive to prepare for a free agent year. Hopefully Mackie Shilstone, the New Orleans speed guru, will help Hand with his burst and reaction skills while helping him drop the pounds because when healthy and his weight under control Hand is a great player, but that hasn't happened in two years.


DEFENSIVE ENDS

The Defensive Ends were a bright spot on the defense. They are young and talented. Our starters are set for years and we should be able to take chances on "Potential" type players that will give us the most bang for our buck.


KEEPERS

1. DE Charles Grant 6'3" 285- This man child played like he was full grown. He combined great strength and a good burst to justify his first round selection and proved the doubters wrong. He is a wonderful player that has All-Pro potential and should be moved over the LT. He has earned the opportunity to be the Saints premier DE.

2. DE Darren Howard 6'3" 285- Had some nagging injuries this year, but still had a good season. He has great strength and is strong against the run. He has some good moves, but should be moved back to Base DE to best utilize his skills and let him control the run.


ON THE BUBBLE

3. DE/DT Kenny Smith 6'3" 295- He has the talent and athleticism to be a good player, but his inconsistency is frustrating for both the coaches and his teammates. Everyone knows how good he can be and this is what makes you want to grab him by the ears and make him listen. In this environment he isn't forced to step up and fight for a spot. He is a Haslet guy and that has earned him playing time, but the time is up. This is his last season as a saint if he doesn't become a steady contributor. I would replace him either way.


GONE

1. DE/DT Willie Whitehead 6'3" 285- The former diamond in the rough will finally get his chance to cash in on all his hard work. This is his last chance to do so and he should jump at the opportunity of a starting job. He has performed at a high level everytime he was given the chance and hopefully Whitehead will be given a nice contract that he has earned all on his own. I really wish him the best!

2. DT Martin Chase 6'2" 325- He is still pushed around and cannot collapse the pocket. A situational player whose situational skills have never developed. He should go to camp, but will be cut. Of course I said this two years ago and he is still on board. The coaches must see something I don't.


FREE AGENCY


1. DE/DT Montae Raegor 6'3" 285 Broncos- He came into the league an undersized DE, but he has bulked up and has become a great role player that has never been given a chance in Denver. In a more prominant role he could blossom into a capable starter at DE or great rush specialist at DT.

2. DE/DT Chukie Nworkie 6'3" 285 Colts- A rookie free agent that is coming into his own. He has the look of a complete DE and could even slide inside to DT on passing downs. A nice prospect that could become a steady playmaker in the right situation.

3. DE Chike Okeafor 6'4" 265 49ers- A pass rush specialist that always seems to be on the brink of being something special. One thing that it is holding him back is Jim Mora Jr. Mora is not a great teacher or a great coordinator for that matter, but Chike's raw talent is plainly evident when he burst around the edge of OT's.


DRAFT

DT

1. DT Dewayne Robertson 6'2" 315 Kentucky- The raw skills to be the best of the first round group of DT's and incidentally the only one I would be excited about bringing aboard. Tremendous power, great burst, and decent handspeed set him apart and will allow him to become a star. A special player that might fly up draft boards and right out of our reach.

1-B. DT/DE Antonio Garay 6'4" 295 Boston College- Some teams envision him as a DE, but he could be groomed into a rare complete DT. He has had some really tough breaks with injuries throughout his collegiate career, but is just a freak of nature and regenerates extremely quick. A physical specimen that is currently listed as a late rounder, but I would take him in the mid-rounds to ensure we can land him.

3. DT Colin Cole 6'0 310 Iowa- A short squatty run stuffer that is surprisingly quick and agile. Has good overall skills, but his lack of height is a concern. A player that if he was three inches taller would be a first round possibility. A nice prospect that is currently a mid-rounder I would gladly gamble on.


DE

1. DE/OLB Shurron Pierson 6'2" 245 South Florida- Genetic freak of nature is going to showcase his tremendous physical abilities a year early. Most would expect a small school product like him to finish his full four years, but this guy is exceptionally gifted. He runs a 4.4 forty, benches 500 pounds, and has an amazing 42" vertical. He could man our "Buck End" position like a stud. A guy that can be a role player and a special teams standout sounds like a mid to late round winner to me.

2. DE Osi Umenyiora 6'3" 275 (more like 265) Troy State- Another high risk/ high reward player that seems to have every physical ability you could ask for. He has great burst, good pursuit ability, and a nice base of strength. A mid to late rounder that would be worth the risk.


OVERALL

The Heavy Lunch Bunch spent too much time in the cafeteria and it cost us late in the season. The fat boys simply wore down and couldn't keep up with the pace. This is when La'Roi Glover's loss was truly evident and this lack of pressure up the middle hung our DE's out to dry. It was the root of our defensive problems, but with an active offseason reforming the DL depth, through at least two draft picks and one free agent signee, we will see a marked improvement in late season performance. This is what our DL could look like next year...


RDT- Norman Hand
LDT- Grady Jackson
3. DT Dewayne Robertson
4. DT/DE Antonio Garay


RDE- Charles Grant
LDE- Darren Howard
3. DE/DT Montae Reagor
4. DE/DT Kenny Smith
5. DE/OLB Shurron Pierson


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Wednesday, January 29, 2003
Offseason Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
By
Joshua Branning - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 1:36 pm CST

OFFENSIVE LINE

The interior of the OL was superb. We revamped it for our hybrid West Coast/Run and Shoot offense and the changes were both masterful and cost effective. It wouldn't have been very surprising to see the entire interior of our OL in the Pro-Bowl. The OT's, on the other hand, were just adequate and never allowed us to dominate the trenches.


KEEPERS

1. OC Jerry Fontenot 6'3" 290- The captain dropped some weight and gained the confidence of his new linemates within one game. He performed at an All-Pro level the entire year and called some great adjustments in the trenches. He is the total package, but he is getting old and is contemplating retirement. Fontenot voided the final two years of his deal, possibly posturing to see how his best friend Kyle Turley's situation will play out. If we treat the Turley right then Fontenot will definetly be back for at least one more season.

2. RG LeCharles Bentley 6'3" 305- In one word- WOW! The guy came in and dominated from day one. He is a top 5 OG right now and within two years could be the best in the league. Bentley was brought in to be a center, but the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes into play here. Leave him at RG for the next decade and everything will be okay.

3. LG Kendall Jacox 6'2" 330- He tried to hold out for a big pay day, but it back fired on him and was a home run for the Saints. He has great size, power, and is surprisingly agile for a man his size. His versatility could also prove to be very useful. Because Jacox insists center is his best position, but I would hate to see him moved after the great year he had.

4. RT Victor Riley 6'5" 335- Huge former first rounder was another great value pickup that the Saints extended for two more years. Has some off the field troubles, but on it he has the ability to dominate. Tremendous power and good footwork make him a perfect fit for this offense. With a full offseason with the Saints he should take over the starting RT job for the next two years.

5. OT Spencer Folau 6'5" 300- He is a hard worker, versatile, and has decent footwork. All of these attributes will keep him on board for at least one more year. Folau did a decent job at RT riding the DE's out of the play, but he is not strong enough to manhandle a player and that will cost him his starting job. He is a good RT and a good backup LT, but if the Saints go into the season with him as their starting LT then we might as well pack it up and mail it in because Brooks will be eaten alive.


GONE

1. OT Kyle Turley 6'5" 295- His WWF antics have alienated him from the local media and even some teammates. With only one year left on his deal and the fact that he has given the Saints no indication that he wants to continue blocking for a "QB that can't do his job." A trade appears to be the best option for the Saints. Here are the most likely situations for a trade...

Chargers- He has stated numerous times that he would love to play in front of his hometown crowd and with Damion McIntosh, a RFA who is still learning the position, returning at LT. They definitely need to upgrade if they want to win now. Turley and Vaughn Parker would be a good set of bookends for a mere first rounder.

Texans- The number #3 overall pick is too much for Turley, but if they trade down with a team like Denver then the #20 pick would be worth it. The Texans have Tony Boselli, who hasn't played in two years, and Ryan Tucker, an UFA that wants a big money deal, manning the OT spots. A swingman like Turley would be a perfect fit for their situation.

Broncos- They want a long term solution at LT and are unhappy with Emphraim Salaam. Turley would fit their offense like a glove and could be a great addition for them.


2. OG/OC Wally Williams 6'2" 340- Norman Hand's cousin has neck problems and a gut the size of a Toyota. Couple that with a huge cap figure and you have one released player. Washington or Baltimore seem to be likely landing spot for the Big Man.

3. OT Scott Sanderson 6'6" 300- He is an UFA that might want to try for more money. If he wants to play for the minimum we could bring him back. Good depth at OT.


FREE AGENTS

OT's

1. LT Blake Brockermeyer 6'4" 300 Broncos- The former first rounder is a legit starting LT. He is getting a bit old, but he is still the most viable option for the Saints. His aggressive style fits the offense like a glove and with Denver looking to get younger on the OL, Brockermeyer could slide right out the door and start heading south. Who wouldn't want to block for the leading NFC rusher, a top gun at QB, and a trio of good WR's... No Turley doesn't count.

2. LT John Fina 6'5" 300 Cardinals- The Bills were having trouble with the salary cap and Fina was one of their first victims. He landed in Arizona and hasn't been heard from since. He has the talent, but are the legs still able to go 16 games or more. I really don't believe he has enough left in the tank, but I would definitely grab him if I couldn't land Brockermeyer.

OC/OG

1. OC/OG Bill Conaty Bills 6'2" 300- Being an undrafted free agent he has had to earn every bit of playing time he has gotten. He is a heady player, but limited athletically. In some ways he reminds me of a young Fontenot, but no where near as good. A decent value player in free agency if he doesn't get a big money deal.

2. OC/OG Grey Ruegamer Patriots 6'5" 300- At one time the Dolphins thought he could be a sensational player, but those days passed and his attitude remained the same. Reality didn't set in until the former #1 center in the draft was given his walking papers. New England picked him up and since that he has become a valued contributor. He would be a good value in free agency and will give us some insurance in case Fontenot decides to retire.


DRAFT

1. OT Derrick Brantley 6'4" 305 Clemson- Has never been a full time starter, but the JUCO transfer was in line to be a star this season, but a torn ACL cut that dream short. Has the skills to be a solid player if he can come back at 100%. A late round gem that will have to be cleared medically.

2. OT Damian Lavergne 6'5" 330 Louisiana Tech- Has first round ability. Is a bit lazy and just seems indifferent at times, but when he is playing to his potential- Look Out! He is a late round gamble that could pay off big time.


OVERALL

Turley is the toughest situation to deal with and we are already sending out feelers. The asking price is a 1 and 3, but if we can secure a first rounder we should definitely pull the trigger. As long as we don't turn this into a mud slinging trade Fontenot should come back and lead our way to the playoffs.

In the midst of this turmoil we could see up to 3 new starters on the OL again this offseason, but if we are creative and remain on top of free agent market then we can easily overcome this. This is what my ideal OL would look like...

LT- Blake Brockermeyer
--Spencer Folau- backs up both LT and RT.
LG- Kendall Jacox
C- Jerry Fontenot
RG- LeCharles Bentley
--Bill Conaty- top back up at both OG and OC.
RT- Victor Riley


Related Stories:

Off-Season Analysis: TE's- The Forgotten Men
Off-Season Analysis: The Real Deal at RB
Off-Season Analysis: QB's in Transition
Off-Season Analysis: A Need for Speed at Safety
Off-Season Analysis: WR's Leading the Way
Off-Season Analysis: CB's Need New Blood
Off-Season Analysis: LB's Needed... Apply Inside
Off-Season Analysis: Free Agency Key to OL
Off-Season Analysis: DL Needs a Rush

Monday, January 27, 2003
Super Saints Weekly 33
By
Jarrod Breaux - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:20 am CST
Super Saints Weekly 33

Venturi Deserves Second Chance?

With no word from the Saints on defensive coordinator Rick Venturi's future, the possibility is growing that they may not make a change. This leads one to ponder the question, does he deserve another chance? At first one would think not, but when you consider the talent level he had to work with along with his past record, then one would think that maybe he does deserve one last chance. Venturi has shown before that he can make the most of what limited talent he has.

For the past several years when he was a defensive backs coach, he made that group respectable considering the lack of talent. His impact with that group is shown even more so when you look at how they performed this year, his first year not as a defensive backs coach. Both safeties struggled which leads one to believe that possibly his schemes had been covering for their mistakes for the past few seasons. If this is the case, then perhaps he was simply short handed on the defensive side of the ball and needs one or two more players to make things work.

No one can argue that he is not solely to blame for the collapse this past season. Three players were expected to step up and make major contributions and none of them did so. Those three were Sammy Knight, Charlie Clemons, and Norman Hand. Their lack of production definitely helped to cause several of the problems on the defensive side. The only solid game Sammy Knight had was the final game of the year, which also happened to be the best defensive game the Saints squad had. This makes you question whether it was the coach or actually just one or two players that really helped to drag down the defense.

Whether the Saints decide to keep Venturi at defensive coordinator or reassign him remains to be seen, but one thing was determined as the season drew to a close… that he may have been to blame for some of the problems but he wasn't the sole reason.


Off-Season Conditioning Key

While flipping channels recently, I came across a show I have begun to watch more frequently. The show was HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." This particular episode dealt with football players and the health concerns that some offensive and defensive linemen must deal with due to the fact that they carry so much extra weight. Two of the players that were mentioned were the defensive tackles for the Saints, Norman Hand and Grady Jackson. While Hand will most likely be released Jackson will probably remain on the team next season. He is listed at 330 but weighs in according to unconfirmed reports at closer to 400 pounds.

Jackson has shown that when in shape he can be difficult to stop. This leads one to think that if the Saints defense is going to make a change and turn things around next season that off-season conditioning programs will have to be a major key to doing so. If the Saints can get their linemen for both sides of the ball to start and stick to an off-season conditioning program, then it may help to limit their injuries and allow them to have more stamina through a full NFL season.

While they can't force players to take part in these programs, one would have to wonder if perhaps it would be a good idea to add incentives into certain players contracts that give bonuses if they weigh in under certain weight limits and take part in certain training programs. That would allow the Saints to keep an eye on their players and give the players a reason to continue to work. Doing so would not only benefit the Saints later in the season but would also help to limit future health problems that many of these players will endure down the road.


News & Notes

I would like to state that if anyone has a particular college player that they have kept an eye on and would like to speak about, then they are welcome. Beginning in the coming weeks we will begin to cover certain college prospects. If you have a player you would like people to know about email me at SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com with the subtitle Saints Draft. List the players name, college, and position along with whatever information you would like to share. It will then be included in what will shortly be a recurring section to the SSW.


Rumor Mill

The whispers have begun and the rumors are flying about whether or not the Saints are interested in LSU linebacker Brady James. James is projected as a mid-round selection in this years draft but don't be surprised if the Saints grab him in the third round with one of their two third round selections. He is an impact middle linebacker who could step in and play a significant amount of time his first season if needed.

The word around the Saints organization is to expect them to try and fill a lot of their needs through free agency. Apparently the Saints staff would like to go into the draft and have the flexibility to move up or down to acquire the best available player rather than having to draft due to need. If the Saints are able to do this then it would allow them to add depth which would limit the sting they would feel if any starter went down with an injury.


Birthdays

This week we would like to wish a happy birthday to the following player(s).
DE = Willie Whitehead
CB = Michael Hawthorne


Weekly Position Breakdown

This week we are going to cover the receiving positions. Those are the wide receivers and tight ends.

WR = The wide receiver core for the Saints is perhaps one of the strongest in the league. With three receivers that could be number one players for many other teams, this position definitely has depth. Add into the mix Michael Lewis and his improved receiving skills along with two new prospects the Saints have been bringing along, Derrick Lewis and Nate Turner and they appear to be solid for years to come. With the exception of possibly re-signing Jake Reed to a one year deal, I wouldn't make any changes to this squad.

TE = This position has been a sore spot since Haslett took over the Saints. First they had problems keeping their tight ends healthy, now the players they have added are having problems catching passes. Expect to see Boo Williams possibly let go if the Saints look to the draft to add a young tight end to mold under Sloan. If the Saints do go that direction, then possibly they can get some production from this position for the first time in a long time. When the quarterback is pressured, it is usually the tight end that is his check down man; if the tight end doesn't catch the pass, then it usually brings up a punting situation. That situation was exploited in the final three games this season due in large part to Brooks' arm injury and the inability of the tight ends to hold onto the passes he threw to them.


Fan's Improvements

This is the Fan Improvement section where those of you out there who think you know a way the Saints can improve themselves can write in and state your opinion. You never know who is reading each issue of the Super Saints Weekly and we do have a large following, so if you have an idea you'd like to share then email me at SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com and it will be included in the next week's issue.
1) The Saints need to find a new starting quarterback. Aaron has had two years to get it done and has failed both times. He is void of leadership and lacks the focus and stamina required to be an effective quarterback for an entire 16 game season. Also, Jim Haslett needs to do a better job of motivating the Saints and keeping them motivated throughout the course of each game. Too many times this season I saw him dropping and shaking his head in disgust when players make mistakes and when things went wrong. He needs to keep his chin up and support his players when they make mistakes to re-establish their confidence and keep the team in high spirits. It's easy for any coach to be happy and positive on the sidelines when things are good, but it takes a real leader to exhibit those same traits when things aren't going so well. = Mike

2) First of all I must say I agree with 'Nick' from last week who wrote and suggested we pick up Takeo Spikes. Recent articles have him expressing a desire to leave the Bengals and who can blame him. The plot thickens

with a new head coach who is obviously partial to defense and will more than likely slap a transition or franchise tag on him. With that being said, I think we should ante up for Spikes, provided the price isn't too high. We have two first round and two third round picks so I think it would be all right to give up a one and three for him. That way we could have Hodge and Spikes at the OLB positions. Move Allen to start at MLB and have Clemons, Knight as back ups at the OLB position and pick up Chris Claiborne (UFA, Lions) to back-up or compete with Allen for the MLB position.

Next I would sign Chris McAlister (UFA, Ravens) to man the opposite corner spot from Dale Carter. We could then move Fred Thomas to be our third CB and continue grooming Craver as the fourth CB and heir apparent to Carters spot when his play tails off. We would have two shutdown corners and more than respectable help when teams go to three and four wide receiver sets.

Lastly, we need to pick up a QB to back up Aaron Brooks. Rumor has it Delhomme will leave so we need to address this position as well. I was going to suggest Charlie Batch, but word has it that the Steelers are going to resign him. One name that comes to mind is Akili Smith. He's still young, has a strong arm, is mobile and perhaps a change of scenery may help. I don't think many teams will give him serious consideration but similarly, I think he is far from washed up. I would use our draft picks for immediate help at the safety, cornerback, tight end and defensive tackle positions. = Brian


Young Star of the Week

This week's young star of the week is defensive end Charles Grant. Grant was the second selection for the Saints in last year's draft at the 25th spot. While he didn't have a big impact year, he still has a lot of talent and appears to be what the Saints are looking for in a defensive end. If the Saints can add another effective defensive tackle to help limit double teams on him, then he should have the chance to put up double digit sack totals for several years to come.


Psycho's View

I'd like to begin by saying how impressed I am by many of the responses to the Fan's Improvement section. While I disagree with several comments that I read, I have to admit that many of the arguments have a good base behind them. Unlike many publications we here pride ourselves on being an open forum. If you put out an argument that has a sound theory that can be supported by facts, then you will definitely be allowed to have it put in the following issue. I also like what I am hearing from most fans, everyone seems very excited unlike most years about the free agency period and the draft. Usually people don't really talk about free agency and only discuss the draft a little bit, but this year I sense more of a buzz already than I recall around the peak times. It's good to see the fans still supporting their team even during the dark times.

Sunday, January 19, 2003
Super Saints Weekly 32
By
Jarrod Breaux - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:39 pm CST
Different Look Defense

When the training camp rolls around 8 months from now, expect to see a completely different looking defense.  Many of the Saints coaches were very unhappy with the performance many of the players put out this past season and they are expected to make changes.  A few of the players you can possibly expect to see gone are ILB Charlie Clemons, S Sammy Knight, DT Norman Hand, and S Jay Bellamy. 

All of these players were expected to be key players this past year and failed to produce up to expectations.  By allowing these players to leave, it will free up more cap space to pursue free agents in the coming weeks.  Expect the Saints to try and bag one or two key free agents that will be able to step in and learn the system quickly and making an immediate impact. 

One player of note that may become a free agent if all goes as expected is CB and New Orleans native Aeneas Williams.  Williams is a Pro Bowl cornerback who spent most of his career in Arizona before being traded to the Rams.  Aeneas would be a great addition to play across from Dale Carter and would possibly be cheaper to the Saints than to most teams since he is originally from the area. 


Odds & Ends

Aaron Brooks successfully underwent shoulder surgery this past week to repair a rotator cuff injury.  This was the injury he suffered towards the end of the season that hampered his play down the stretch.  All reports were good after the completion of the surgery, and Saints officials said that he will begin to rehab the shoulder shortly.


Free Agency Mistake

Over the past several weeks I have heard several names batted around that will be free agents.  I have also heard many fans loudly voicing their opinions over signing these players.  While some of these players would be good additions, many of them are players who play positions the Saints don't need to address.  If the Saints add players at positions where they are already solid, they would use much needed cap money without filling any of their problem areas.  While the draft is a good place to pick up players, many of the players you draft won't be able to make an impact until their second or third year.  This would mean that next year would be a growing year and it would scrap any chance for playoff competition. 

If the Saints want to have a chance to compete and make waves next season, they need to use their salary cap money wisely and invest in players who fill needs and use the draft to add depth.  This would allow them to take the next step next season and hopefully be a legit contender. 


Rumor Whirlwind

If Jake Delhomme is back in a Saints uniform next season, it will be a surprise.  While Delhomme has stated on several occasions that he would like to remain a Saint for his career, it is no secret that a starting job could lure him away.  With free agency approaching, his name is quickly being tossed around with several ball clubs as the hot player to sign.  While he lacks the quick feet and strong arm he is still a well balanced player who has shown poise under fire and the ability to lead a team.

Q&A;
Q - Have you heard anymore on what they plan to do downtown?  Last I heard they were debating on building a new stadium or not, any news?
A - Recently that subject has been quiet.  The last report I received is that the people who looked into it were reporting the Saints could build a new stadium for the same price as remodeling the Super Dome.  Call me old fashioned, but I think there is something about the Super Dome that really represents the Saints and would like to see them simply give it a face lift, but if they do build and move into a new stadium, I would be there for their first game in the new home. 

Q - What picks in the first round do the Saints have?
A - The Saints get the 17th and 18th selections in the first round of this year's draft.

Birthdays
This week we would like to wish a happy birthday to the following player(s).
C - Bubba Miller
DT - Grady Jackson


Weekly Position Breakdown

This week the SSW is going to break down the running back and fullback positions.  Overall these two positions performed well this season and allowed for the Saints to utilize them in ways they haven't been able to in the past.  While they did put up solid numbers, depth is apparently a weakness at these positions.

RB = The running back position has proven itself invaluable with the play of Deuce McAllister.  Not only was he elected to the Pro Bowl, but he also led the NFC in touchdowns.  The problem is once you look beyond Deuce, there isn't much depth at that position.  James Fenderson has tried admirably to be the number two running back but apparently lacks the vision to make the big plays.  Michael Keaton was brought in from Cincinnati in a trade but never performed up to expectations.  Before the start of next season, it would be a sound bet that another back is added to the backfield.

FB = Terrell Smith has been the Saints starting fullback since being drafted a few years ago.  While Smith is a bruising running back, he lacks the ability to run the ball well or catch passes.  Don't be surprised if the Saints try to get a better rounded fullback for the start of next season.


Fan's Improvements

This is the Fan Improvement section where those of you out there who think you know a way the Saints can improve themselves can write in and state your opinion.  You never know who is reading each issue of the Super Saints Weekly and we do have a large following, so if you have an idea you'd like to share then email me at SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com and it will be included in the next week's issue.

1) The Saints need a new coach with a positive attitude.  Haslett either glares angrily or shakes his head and mopes after the Saints make a mistake.  Time and time again Haslett lost confidence.  His bad attitude did nothing to instill or restore player confidence after a bad play.  A coach needs to give the team positive energy at those low points in the game.  They already feel bad, so just tell them their mistake, don't let it happen again and go get ready for the next series so we can win the game. - Rod

2) The Saints need to make two or three bold moves in the off-season so that we can compete next season but don't mortgage the future in doing so. - Aaron

3) The Saints need to sign a big play linebacker and a big play cornerback.  This would allow the defense to improve dramatically at minimal cost. - Thomas


Young Star of the Week

This week's young star of the week is guard LeCharles Bentley.  Bentley was a center at Ohio State and was drafted with the Saints second round selection.  He is a solid player who has shown he is versatile by playing both the guard and center spots.  If Jerry Fontenot retires, then don't be surprised to see him slide back to the center position, a move the Saints had in mind when they drafted him.  If he continues to improve as he did this season and can avoid the injury bug, then you should see him selected to several Pro Bowl teams during the course of his career.


Psycho's View

I'd like to begin with announcing for those of you who haven't heard that Eli Manning will go back to college for his senior year.  I think this is the wrong choice for him considering the fact that Ole Miss has done nothing to help protect him for his senior year.  I hope he is able to stay healthy and avoid any serious injuries. 

On another note I would like… no not just like, I would love to voice my displeasure with one leading sports publication.  I won't mention them by name, but

I will say it is an organization that covers sports with printed coverage along with television and the internet.  I have noticed that on several occasions they love to criticize teams and the moves they make. 

This is not just dealing with the Saints but several other NFL organizations.  I read some of the articles they put out or cover on the net and all they do is constantly bad mouth every move.  In some cases this is deserved, but in many it isn't.  I watch and when the move is made, they say how horrible a decision it was only to turn around and claim how they were behind the move when it works out to the team's advantage. 

A perfect example of this is a recent article I read where they cover the Saints considering trading Kyle Turley.  This was a subject I covered a while back that they have just begun to touch on.  I made sure I made the phone calls and got the facts before spouting my opinion on the subject, something that apparently they didn't do.  If their reporting skills don't improve, I hate to say but I may just have to begin turning the dial to their rivals rather than watching their sports show at the end of each day.

Saturday, January 18, 2003
Senior Bowl Notes
By
Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:54 pm CST

When Jim Haslett played the game, he distinguished himself as tough, fearless and smart. For Haslett,it wasn’t enough to simply make a tackle. As I’m sure Terry Bradshaw remembers, sometimes Haslett would step on your head to finish a play.

It’s said that teams take on the personality of their coach, which makes it all the more confusing as to how the 2002 Saints under-performed against lesser competition on the way to playoff elimination.

I spoke with several members of the media who cover the Saints as well as ESPN NFL analyst Sean Salisbury about the Saints 2002 campaign. The consensus was that it was nothing like the 2000 collapse which was fueled by off the field conflict. This time it had to do with the failure to do the “little things” that are the difference between winning and losing in the NFL no matter who you line up against on Sunday.

Sean Salisbury described the Saints demise as “the biggest disappointment of the year.’” As a contemporary of Haslett, Salisbury can’t reckon how a Haslett coached team could “yawn” its way through games they should have won. Kyle Turley told Salisbury it’s all about “here and here” pointing to his head and heart. The breakdowns were attributable to the failure to focus more so than lack of ability. A dropped ball, missed tackle, dead ball penalties and the other miscues we witnessed were the difference between gaining momentum or giving it to the other side.

Speaking of Turley, word from the Saints camp is that he wants to sit down and talk about staying in New Orleans but no one is ruling out a trade just yet.

As for the talent on hand for the Senior Bowl, everyone I spoke with agrees the Saints are looking at the defensive side of the ball. It’s expected that Charlie Clemons and Sammy Knight will be gone. Mel Mitchell is ready to start in Sammy’s place and the coaches believe James Allen is ready to take the field as a starter at OLB. But the draft is weak again this year at MLB. The Saints intend to make a move for Takeo Spikes as their big splash in free agency but there are a lot of “ifs” involved.

The trend that Salisbury sees in the league is versatility. Antowaan Randel El, Hines Ward, Derrick Brooks all can be used to create mismatches. Mismatches are the difference between success and failure on any given play. The more versatile and the more you can do, the more valuable you are to a team. Consequently, the “Slash” moniker that was once reserved for Kordell Stewart will likely be assigned to one or more players on any team that hopes to have success.

How can you miss on a player in the upper rounds? According to Salisbury, it’s usually a matter of “falling in love” with a prospect without enough reasons to do so. Football instincts, heart and mental preparation are factors that are hard to evaluate, but which are critical to performing in the NFL. It was the difference between Sam Mills being disregarded as an undersized MLB from Montclair State and then becoming one of the best players to ever wear a Saints uniform. All the same, too many organizations tend to play it safe by relying on "“measurables" rather than the ability to make a play.

Salisbury also adheres to the adage that “potential gets coaches fired.” At the next level some guys get in over their head. Ultimately, it’s the mental demands of the game that separate the real players from the guys who have to find other work. For rookies, the biggest challenge is catching up to the complexity of the game and understanding that just because a veteran can take a night off during camp, he can’t afford to fall behind.

As to the art of scouting, Salisbury says it basically comes down to matching the player with the team and what you want to do. A great player on one team might not shine on another, which also makes free agency something of a crapshoot without reliable talent evaluators who have meaningful communications with the coaching staff. It’s fairly simple to observe that a player is “good.” What distinguishes the better scouts is their ability to figure out “what” makes him good.

All told, there is a lot of potential in Mobile this week. Most if not all of the players will be drafted and some will end up in New Orleans. This is a strong year for QB and at least six, including those who are here this week, should go in the first round. There are also a number of defensive backs including Andre Woolfolk and Marcus Trufant, who the Saints are evaluating closely. Keep an eye on Nick Eason at DT who would be a terrific value pick if he falls to the Saints after the first round. TE’s Mike Seidman and Bennie Joppru have also progressed steadily throughout the week and could draw interest from the Saints on day one of the draft.

Enjoy the game.

Frank

Monday, January 13, 2003
Super Saints Weekly 31
By
Jarrod Breaux - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 10:57 am CST

Stumbling Finish Benefits Saints

While many fans are still shaking their heads and asking how the Saints managed to drop from first to third and miss out on the playoffs in such a short time, they may take solace in the fact that such a finish does benefit the Saints over the long run. Not only did the stumbling finish help out their draft status for this year, it also had an impact on their schedule for next season. Due to the poor finish the Saints will now receive two games on next year's schedule that are with weaker teams than they would have played if they made the playoffs. Below is the list of the Saints opponents for next year's season. While the dates and times won't be announced until later in the year, the NFL has released the teams the Saints will have to face. You will notice that several of the opponents for this coming season are southern teams, but that doesn't make much difference because the Saints play the majority of them at home. I have put a * besides games that may draw a little more fan interest. Overall it appears to be a favorable schedule that the Saints matchup well with. Remember that with the exception of two of these games, the rest of the NFC South will face these same teams.

Home Games: Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Chicago, New York Giants, *Houston, *Dallas, *Indianapolis.
Away Games: Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Seattle, Tennessee, *Washington, Philadelphia.


Odds & Ends

Keep an eye out for Kyle Turley; although the league fined Chris McAllister, Turley is still considering suing the league. He is upset at the difference in fines for him and McAllister and the fact he was forced to attend anger management.
Aaron Brooks received a second opinion about his shoulder recently and has determined that surgery is necessary. He will go under the knife January 17th to reattach a tendon in his right shoulder.


Rumor Whirlwind

For those of you Jake Delhomme fans out there, I am afraid I may have some bad news. In the past week I have made numerous phone calls to several of my sources so that I could try and get an early feel for the market that would be interested in him. While Jake has made the comment many times that he would love to stay in New Orleans for the remainder of his career, he wouldn't rule out leaving if he got a shot to start somewhere. Well unfortunately I discovered that several teams are looking at him as their quarterback of choice for the next two to three years. One team that it appears would enjoy gaining his service is the Dallas Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones believes that Chad Hutchinson is the future of that organization, but both he and their new coach realize that it may be best for him to have another year of seasoning. If this is true, Jake would come at the right price for this organization and could fill the role until Chad is ready to step up. While Dallas is interested, I also learned of one or two other teams that have him on their list of free agents to take a look at. With this buzz surrounding Jake it makes one think that perhaps his chances of wearing black and gold next season are slim.


Draft Preview at a Glance

Here are a few young players that you may want to keep an eye on in the coming months and familiarize yourself with them. They are a couple of players that I have watched play this season and are mostly likely first round picks. While some may slide to the second round, all of them have the kind of talent that you would like to add to your team. Below I have listed them in no particular order with a little bit about each and why they deserve your attention. They are listed by name, position, college, and then a little summary about each player.

1) Terence Newman - CB - Kansas State - this kid is fast, really fast. He has the ability to misread a play and blow his coverage then turnaround and make up the ground quickly. Kind of reminds me of Deion Sanders without as much showboating.

2) Mike Pinkard - TE - Arizona State - This kid is huge, he has the size to make it difficult for a cornerback to cover him and the speed to make it hard for a linebacker to cover. Don't be surprised if you hear his name a lot this year.

3) E.J. Henderson - LB - Maryland - I had the opportunity to watch this kid on ABC if I recall correctly, although it could have been one of the ESPN's. He seems like a field general that likes to lead by example. No matter where the play went he seemed to be drawn to it and either would make the play or be right there when someone else did.

4) Gerald Hayes - LB - Pitt - At first glance I didn't see anything impressive about this kid. I kept hearing the announcers praise him but he didn't grab my eye, but by the end of the game several words came to mind about this kid, I will leave you with those words. Tough, aggressive, mean, smart, persistent.

5) Jimmy Kennedy - DT - Penn State - This guy can stop the run and also blitz the quarterback. While I heard a lot of defensive players mentioned this past year, perhaps Kennedy was the most underrated from the standpoint that not only did he have a good year but helped to turn around a Penn State team that had been struggling.

6) Rashean Mathis - DB - Bethune-Cookman - This is a kid I didn't keep up with much during the year, but I have seen a lot on him during my research on this year's up and coming draft. He was first brought to my attention from a sound bite I heard from Mel Kipper. While I don't usually trust all of Kipper's choices because I believe that he looks more at 40-yard dash times than a player's performance on the field, I can't deny that he definitely brought what looks to be a great sleeper to my attention. Unlike many, I don't put a lot of stock into the NFL combine that test what a player can do off the field; I prefer to look at what a player does on the field. With that in mind you can't argue with the fact that the kid had 14 interceptions which shows that he makes plays on the field.

7) Mike Doss - S - Ohio State - He appears to make plays and always ends up around the ball. While he has not sold me completely on his talent, I think that he could be a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

8) Domanick Davis - RB - LSU - Davis is a strong runner who relies more on his speed than strength. While he isn't a first round pick kind of a player, he could help the Saints in multiple ways if they used a 3rd or 4th round selection on him. Not only would he make a solid backup running back, but he is also a very good return man which would be a nice compliment to Michael Lewis on kickoff squads.

9) LaBrandon Toefield - RB - LSU - While this kid obviously had all the talent to make it in the pros, one has to wonder if the injuries that cost him most of his college career and helped to make him decide to forego his senior season will continue. Toefield is a power running back that has shown first round potential but has been unable to play a full season. While a college career full of injuries doesn't often mean a player will be injured in the pros, it usually does. Although may I remind you, as if I need to, that the knock on Deuce when he came out of college was injury problems and he has turned into a Pro Bowl player.


Q&A;

Q - Are you going to include a lot of draft coverage in the off-season Super Saints Weekly or is that something you will just address when the draft draws closer?
A - I have to admit that I am a bit of a draft junkie. I like sitting down on Saturday and Sunday at home and watch what moves teams make and what players the Saints use their draft choices on. While my issues close to the draft will be loaded with draft information, I will also slide in a lot of information ahead of time as I have done in this issue that covers different positions and players. The free agent period will be my first concern though, after all what we do during that time period decides what direction we may take when draft weekend rolls around.

Q - I have heard you beat around the bush when people have asked in what direction do you see the Saints going in the draft, even though I know there is a lot that can happen before the draft can you give me some idea of what you are thinking? I respect your opinion and would like to know.
A - Ok, how about this… I feel very sure that the Saints will go with players on the defensive side of the ball in the early rounds, although something in my gut tells me not to be surprised if the Saints make a move either leading up to or on draft day. If I had to pick a position of need, then my money would be on either the linebacker position or the cornerback spot, but don't be surprised if the Saints take a player at a position that they are already solid at if a stud draft choice drops into their lap as Deuce did a few years back. Sometimes it's hard to say no to certain players when you know that even if you don't need them, you will kick yourself each time you play against him for not drafting that player. Keep in mind players like Warren Sapp and Randy Moss and the draft day plummets that they endured and ask yourself, do you really want to be one of those teams that says I wish we could have taken that kid.

Q - My question is could you give a list of free agent linebackers and safeties for this year's free agency period?
A- Actually keep an eye out for next week's edition because I will have an article dealing with that topic that breaks down key free agents at positions the Saints need to improve.


Fan's View

1) I would just like to make the comment that I thought your shortened Super Saints Weekly was appropriate after the Saints loss to the Panthers. While I enjoy reading about the Saints, I felt that I wasn't the most eager to read much about them for about a week. = Jason

2) I'd like to say that I thought you covered the Saints well this past season and even though we didn't make the playoffs, I enjoyed reading each issue. Keep it up and I look forward to seeing your coverage during the off-season. = Misty

3) This is my first time writing in. I'd just like to say I thought last week you did a good job of covering all the basics. Keep up the good work. = Thomas

4) I'm a life long Saints fan but I have to say I think you are a bit bias towards the Saints at times. = Eddie (I appreciate your response Eddie. While I do catch myself at times thinking too much like a Saints fan and not enough like a sport reporter, I do try and check my passion for them at the door when writing most of the articles. I feel positive that in most cases I accomplish that considering I have had fans from Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Green Bay write me and complimenting me on my team breakdowns and thanking me for giving them a fair shake. While I may disagree with you, I respect you opinion and thank you for taking the time and effort to write and bring this up; I hope in future issues any problems you have are resolved.)


Birthdays

Congratulations to the following player who has a birthday this week.
WR - Joe Horn


Weekly Position Breakdown

This week we are going to break down the Saints quarterback position. The three players which fill the depth chart on the roster for at this position are Aaron Brooks, Jake Delhomme, and J.T. O'Sullivan. Overall this group could be considered a solid core of players, but each has his flaws.

To begin with there is Aaron Brooks who while at times is inconsistent; he has shown all the qualities that you want in a quarterback. He is a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, and seems to have the mental toughness that enables him to look beyond one single bad play. The downside to Aaron is that he tends to make a habit of throwing off his back foot when he gets into trouble instead of throwing the ball away. This situation is usually a product of Brooks trying to make something happen and not relying on his teammates. Another flaw in his game is his unwillingness to accept what kind of quarterback he is. Brooks has mentioned time and again that he doesn't want to be thought of as a scrambling quarterback. This season he seems to have decided to try and prove he can win a game simply off his arm. Many times when it would have been better advised to tuck the ball and run, he has scrambled around in the pocket and continued to look for a receiver. This has caused several 10 or 15 yard losses on plays that could have been 5 or 10 yard gains. For Brooks to take the next step, he needs to trust his athletic ability and allow it to guide him rather than over-thinking each situation.

Secondly is Jake Delhomme who also has a few good qualities that you look for in a quarterback. He can think on his feet, is more mobile than the average quarterback, and reads defenses really well. Unlike Brooks it seems Jake can read a defense quickly and adjust to what they are about to come at him with. The downside to Jake is that he doesn't possess the arm that would allow him to throw those few deep passes which require you to muscle them in there.

Jake is also not a proven quarterback. While he has performed well in the few situations that he was asked to take part in, he still hasn't seen any extensive time on the field. As history has shown us, just because a guy steps in and performs well for a brief period of time doesn't mean he will be a consistent NFL quarterback.

This situation reminds me of Ray Lucas while he was in New York with the Jets. He played for 6 games and did well, then went to Miami. When he was called upon to start there, his flaws quickly became apparent. So while Jake does show some signs that he could be a starting NFL quarterback, I wouldn't mortgage my future on him yet.

Finally there is J.T. O'Sullivan who is young and lacks the arm strength of the other two but could be made into a solid backup with a few years more experience. He isn't the most polished quarterback yet, but given time he could step up and stand in for a game or two if the situation called for it.

Overall this position is solid, the only question is will Jake Delhomme re-sign with the Saints or move on to another team that would offer him a shot at starting. He has mentioned many times before that he would love to stay in New Orleans and that would be the only thing that could lure him away. If the Saints can re-sign Jake, then I wouldn't make any changes here unless something falls into their lap like some major prospect falling down in the draft like Deuce did at the running back position. If Jake re-signs, that gives the Saints two solid quarterbacks which you must have in today's NFL. If Jake decides to go elsewhere, then I would go out and sign a veteran quarterback just to add the depth.

Fan's Improvements

This is the Fan Improvement section where those of you out there who think you know a way the Saints can improve themselves can write in and state your opinion. You never know who is reading each issue of the Super Saints Weekly and we do have a large following, so if you have an idea you'd like to share then email me at SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com and it will be included in the next week's issue.

1) I have one word for what the Saints need to do to address their defensive needs that word is "speed." Since the Saints are in a division that features Mike Vick it's obvious that we need to come up with a quick defense that can move from sideline to sideline fairly quickly.

2) I would say draft defensive players with the majority of our picks because our offense is especially solid at the moment. If Fontenot decides to retire I like the idea of moving Bentley back to his natural position of center. I hope Turley decides to stay because I think he is a fireball and can really keep Aaron protected after his first year switching sides. Also, I suggest switching to a 3-4 defense because if we keep Hand and Jackson it will give them both a chance to rest as we interchange them when we need. It would also utilize our young talented linebackers. Sedrick Hodge and James Allen are both quick and can make plays. If Clemons and Darrin Smith are back in 2003, that gives us 4 talented linebackers that can blitz and cover well. I also hear that Takeo Spikes and Keith Brooking are both free agents this off-season and signing them would be a huge plus. = Nick

3) For the sake of argument let me state the obvious, "please sign free agent Takeo Spikes, and he is a stud that would make an impact on a team that needs big play leaders on defense."

4) I agree with your comments about Venturi. His loyalty is admirable, but I think he would serve the Saints better as a defensive backs coach. I would also like to see the Saints talk to Dave Camp for defensive coordinator. He did a great job with the Cowboys defense even with a lot of no name players.


Young Star of the Week

This week's young star of the week is outside linebacker James Allen. Allen was drafted by the New Orleans Saints this past year in the third round out of Oregon State. He saw limited action this season because of his age and also to give him a year of seasoning. The organization is very high on his future and expects him to compete for a starting spot this coming season. Several of you may recognize his name; he made a quick name for himself this season on special teams. The highlight in his young career would have to have come in the first game of the season when Fred McAfee drug down Tampa Bay's punter which forced him to toss the ball forward in a desperate effort to try and avoid losing the game.

Allen was the player who caught that toss and scored the touchdown giving the Saints their first victory in the NFC South and first victory of the season. As mentioned earlier, the organization is really high on Allen; not only does he have the physical qualities a linebacker needs in the NFL, but he also has the mind to think his way through tough situations that require a split-second decision.


Psycho's View

Due to the length of this week's Super Saints Weekly, Psycho's View will be a much more condensed version. There are not many moves to talk about and so not much to discuss. Feel sure that next week's Psycho's View will be back to its usual length. One other note of interest to many of you deals with the Fan's View. With the addition of Fan's Improvement, along with Young Player of the Week and Weekly Position Breakdown, I have decided to eliminate the Fan's View for the next several issues. I haven't gotten as many as usual responses to it, so I have determined until the Young Player of the Week and Weekly Position Breakdown are finished, I will leave it out. If you have any comments to make for that section, feel free to continue to send them in and I will post them when that article returns. Until that time I hope everyone continues to write in for the Fan's Improvement section. I have gotten some great responses from everyone and look forward to receiving more. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.

Monday, January 06, 2003
Super Saints Weekly 30
By
Jarrod Breaux - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 12:27 am CST

Welcome to the Off-season

Welcome to the off-season, Saints fans. While many of you may still be bitter over last week's loss to the Panthers, it is time to look forward to the off-season and preparing for next year. While the Panthers loss was hard to swallow, perhaps it was all for the best. It now forces the coaching staff to take a much closer look at the roster and what they must to do improve it… something they would probably not have done as well as they will now if the Saints had made the playoffs and won a game or two.

This is the first edition of the Super Saints Weekly for this year's off-season; many of you will notice that several of the familiar articles are gone. Many of them were simply meant for during the season and won't be back until the start of the next football season. One that hasn't been in last week's or this week's issue is the Fan's View. While the Fan's View isn't permanently out of the SSW, I thought it best to withdraw it for a few weeks to give everyone a chance to calm down and gather their thoughts. With the off-season now upon us, I am adding several chances for you the fan to let your thoughts be heard.

While I am not currently aware of anyone in the Saints organization in particular reading the SSW, you never know. With the amount of readers and widespread publication, it is very possible that someone who has some pull in the Saints organization may read the SSW. With that in mind and my awareness that during the off-season that participation tends to slow, I will do all I can to keep the momentum that was built by the Saints winning early in the season going. I hope everyone enjoys the new look of the SSW; while it will evolve as each week passes, this will be the basic concept for the off-season. ***Also please note that I have changed the email address for replies and comments to be mailed to. Thanks to the large amount of participation from you the fans, I have created the email address of SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com for all mail to be sent. ***


9 - 7 Not So Bad

While Many Saints fans are mulling over what went wrong and why the team failed to make the playoffs, many people are overlooking one simple fact, that perhaps the Saints over-achieved.

Two years ago the Saints made the playoffs when they were picked to finish last in their division. Last year the team that was basically the same squad put out the year before was exposed for what they were. This year the Saints team stepped out onto the field with possibly the best offensive team they have ever put onto a football field; what they lacked was defense.

As the Colts can attest to, no matter how powerful an offense you have, it is very difficult to win by playing well on only one side of the ball. After finishing 7 - 9 last year, the Saints improved their record by two games and competed for a playoff spot while building for the future. Their offense is mostly set for the next several years and now the Saints can turn their attention to filling in holes on the defensive side of the ball.

By not making the playoffs, the Saints will receive a draft pick that is a few choices higher than they would have, along with another mid round selection thanks to the collapse of the Dolphins who also failed to make the playoffs and who traded their first round selection to the Saints. While it may be hard to find comfort in these few small seemly insignificant items, it does help the Saints long term.

While I want a Super Bowl victory for the Saints as bad as anyone, I would prefer to see a team that is built with the ability of competing for the next several years as opposed to another one year wonder. The Saints appear to be on the right path and are fine tuning things as they go; expect for this club to take yet another step forward next season and impress us even more.


A Manning May Be Returning to New Orleans

After checking into several reports, I have learned that there is a good chance that Ole Miss junior quarterback Eli Manning may forgo his senior year and enter this year's NFL draft. For those of you who don't know, Eli Manning is the son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning who played the majority of his career in New Orleans. Several reports have had him leaning heavily towards going pro, and apparently he has felt this way since around Thanksgiving. While I usually am not a fan of players leaving college early, you can't really blame him if he decides to forgo his senior year. After watching five or six of Ole Miss's games it became apparent that he had no running game to fall back on and his offensive line couldn't protect him. It is amazing that he didn't receive a major injury during the duration of the season with the amount of hits he received. Perhaps one game that may help him to make his decision was when he played against LSU. During that game Manning got hit hard and often which resulted in him hurting his arm and affected him for the duration of the game; thankfully it turned out not to be a serious injury. Manning will have until January 15th to announce his decision of whether he will remain in college for his senior season or enter the draft.

Another aspect to this situation deals with an unconfirmed report I received from a contact. He stated that Archie, father of Eli, is also unhappy with Ole Miss and that could possibly play a big role in his son's decision. This possible departure, while coming a year early, shouldn't affect Ole Miss much considering they have done nothing to add any players around him to protect and compliment him in the three years that he has been at that school.


Season Wrap-up

Deuce McAllister finished the season as the NFC leading rusher with 1,388 yards rushing. McAllister beat out the Giants Tiki Barber who had 1,387 yards rushing by one yard. In other news Michael Lewis set an NFL record for most total return yards for punt and kick returns with 2,432. Not only did he set the total return yardage record, but Lewis also led the NFL in both categories.

Joe Horn also had an impressive year; even though he was constantly double teamed through the second half of the season, he managed to place third in the NFC in receiving yards with 1,312 on 88 receptions. Congratulations to these three Saints, all of which I might add are Pro-Bowlers.


Rumor Whirlwind

With the off-season now upon us, several rumors will begin to swirl around. Those I find credible by being able to locate information behind or that I don't find too off the wall I will add in this section. If you have any information that you have heard and would like to see it added to this section then feel free to email me at SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com with the subject heading rumor whirlwind and I will gladly look it over and if it fits the criteria then I will add it in this section.

A source has informed me that Jerry Fontenot is seriously considering retirement. Originally he was debating playing another year, but with the struggles of the Saints toward the end of the season he is currently leaning towards hanging up the pads. While this is not yet guaranteed, there is a good chance he will. If Fontenot decides not to return the Saints will then move rookie guard LeCharles Bentley to the center position for next season. Bentley was ranked as the best center in last year's draft and because of his athletic ability was able to move to the right guard slot and play there this year.

Whether the Saints decide to move him back to his natural position will decide which spot on the offensive line they need to fill.

In other news covering the offensive line, Saints left tackle Kyle Turley has reportedly grown more problematic in recent weeks. Sources state that he turned down a contract extension that would have put him with other elite NFL tackles in terms of salary. Apparently his growing problems with the media and fans along with his refusal of this contract offer have Saints officials growing impatient. Expect them to try and work out a deal one more time. If that is not successful, then don't be surprised if the Saints shop Turley to a few other teams such as the Texans who are in desperate need for offensive line help.

Turley has one year on his contract and would most likely bring a bid of a high draft choice, if not then expect him to honor his final year of his contract which expires after next season.

Keep a close eye on negotiations for both Sammy Knight and Charlie Clemons. Both are players who were up for lucrative contracts after this past season's end, but since both had a disappointing year, it appears both may be on their way out of town. Unless they are willing to accept lower salaries than what was previously discussed, then it appears both Knight and Clemons may be playing for other teams next year.

If this turns out to be true, it would free up cap space for the Saints to use on other free agents, but would also create other holes that the Saints must fill in the off-season.

Don't be surprised if CB Michael Hawthorne is released during the off-season. The Saints have been disappointed with his play and his lack of progression with the defense. While they considered moving him to safety, it is looking more like his days in New Orleans may be numbered. If this is true, it would create a need for more depth at the cornerback position in the off-season.


Odds & Ends

With the collapse and lack of performance by the Saints on the defensive side of the ball, don't be surprised to see a lot of changes taking place in the off-season. Two of the more notable changes that you may very well see are losses of Safety Sammy Knight and middle linebacker Charlie Clemons. Both are free agents this off-season and both are expected to bring high prices for their services. Due to their drastic fall off in performance, don't expect to see either return unless the Saints can get them at affordable prices. This is especially true for these two due to their positions.

Both the Safety and Linebacker positions have some big name young free agents this year and the Saints could find it more productive to use the money that would go towards those two for other more effective players.
In this year's NFL Draft which will happen April 26th and 27th, the Saints will draft with the 17th selection. They will also have the 18th selection thanks to the trade that sent Ricky Williams to Miami. When Ricky Williams reached the 1500 yard mark it sent their draft choice to New Orleans. The Saints will also have a second round pick and either 2 third or 2 fourth round picks depending on the stipulations that involved the Willie Roaf trade. If Roaf played enough time for Kansas City then the pick will upgrade from a fourth to a third round pick. Most likely this will be the case which means the Saints will once again have back to back picks, this time with the 16th and 17th picks of that round.

Dale Carter underwent surgery after the Carolina game and had a plate along with some screws put into his broken arm. Carter had worn a brace in recent years to protect that arm, which he broke earlier in his career. Expect this surgery to help strengthen his arm, but don't be surprised to see his arm back with a brace next season.

Also keep an eye out; Brooks is most likely going to undergo surgery. While the Saints didn't come out and announce for sure that he would, they have hinted that there is a strong possibility.


Q & A


Q = Why did Brooks continue to play when it was obvious that he was having problems in the final three games?
A = This is a question that many Saints fans are asking. It was obvious that something appeared to be affecting his throwing motion. The answer is one of three possibilities, the first being that Brooks concealed his discomfort from the Saints coaching staff. Secondly, he possibly was worried while out on the field about injuring his shoulder even more and was afraid to follow through every time to avoid taking a shot to the shoulder, if this is true he should not have been playing. Finally, the only other possibility is that Brook's shoulder is seriously injured and the Saints were trying to conceal that from their opponents and hoped that he would be able to play through the pain. If this is true, then the coaching staff is at fault for not making the change earlier and giving Jake Delhomme time to adjust to the offense and possibly win a game or two. One note of interest is that Jim Haslett didn't rule out off-season surgery for Brooks, which points to a more serious injury than just a bruise.

Q = Why didn't the Saints put in Jake Delhomme in any of their final games? To me it was obvious that Brooks was hurt and couldn't play effective, so why not let Jake have a shot?
A = I have looked at this situation and would have to agree that Jake should have been given a shot. Since Jake wasn't, I believe they are really only two explanations to cover this. The first is that the Saints believed that Brooks would snap out of this if he simply got enough snaps, something that didn't happen. Secondly is that the Saints are worried about whether or not Brooks will be able to play consistently and be the franchise quarterback they wanted him to be. If that is the case, it could have been possible that the coaching staff simply held Jake out, knowing that if he went in and played well it would drive his free agency price for this off-season up. I would like to hope that this is not the case, but if you see the Saints sign Jake Delhomme to a long term contract in the off-season, then it is very possible that in fact that was the case.

Q = Hey JB, What is your opinion on Dale Carter? I don't get to watch many games so I have to rely on what I read a lot. I respect you opinion, so what do you think?
A = I will cover this subject later in the off-season more when I review each position, but I will give you a brief summary of what I think of Carter. While I am impressed by Dale's play, I don't think you have truly seen the best of Carter yet. He, like many Saints fans, know that the safeties have blown a lot of coverages this year and that limited the amount of chances he could take to intercept passes. Due to that fact Dale, while effective, was not at his peak. If the Saints can address their safety problem and add some depth at this position, then I think you will be pleasantly surprised next season by the numbers he is able to put up.

Q = Do you think we should give Haslett one more year or start looking for a new coach?
A = I believe anyone calling for Haslett's head has selective short term memory. Does anyone remember that this man took a horrible club and turned it into a Saints team that won its only playoff game in club history? While the team may have not performed up to par in recent years, they haven't done too badly and keep in mind, it could be worse, we could be Bengal fans whose team never seems to improve no matter what happens. At least give the man one more year to show you what he is doing; if the Saints collapse again next season, then there will be legitimate reasons to call for a coaching change.


Birthdays

Happy Birthdays to the following Saints players whose birthdays are this week.
QB = Jake Delhomme


Weekly Position Breakdown

This, as are many, is a new section to the Super Saints Weekly. Each week we will breakdown the Saints team position by position including the coaching staff and state the positive and negatives. We will also go over what changed, if any need to be made to improve this position to help elevate the Saints to a team capable of contending for a Super Bowl. This week we will begin by breaking down the coaching staff of New Orleans.

Jim Haslett appears to be a no nonsense type of a coach who has a passion for the sport and wants to win. He is always willing to take a chance and it appears losing honestly bugs him. While many people claim he can't keep his team focused down the stretch, you would have to question that considering that he has led the Saints to their one and only playoff victory. The head coaching position I don't believe to be the problem or in need of any changes.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy at times appears to be a genius, installing a system that allowed the Saints to average almost 30 points a game, but one has to question his play calling in certain situations.

While he is a definite improvement over past coordinators such as Carl Smith, he still has not proven that he can adjust his game plan to suit the opponent that the Saints face. To improve at this spot, the Saints need to take a look at what kind of offensive team they want to be. If they are going to claim to be a west coast offense, then they need to get the tight end involved more which would eliminate many of the 3rd and long situations the Saints found themselves in during the final games of the season due to first-down penalties.

Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi seemed to struggle this season after taking control of the defense from Ron Zook who departed to take the head coaching job at Florida University. Venturi is a loyal man who has done whatever the Saints have asked of him. He has coached various defensive positions for the Saints and even stepped in as head coach when Jim Mora quit in mid-season. I believe Venturi to be a smart man with a good football mind, but he is used to coaching a tough physical defense, as opposed to the speed oriented defense the Saints appear to want to try to use. I think that if the Saints move Venturi to the Defensive line or linebackers coach, he would find more success. Even possibly bumping him up to a front office job would be a good way to reward him for his loyalty to the team. Many have called for his outright firing, but in today's game it is hard to find people who are willing to stick with an organization year after year and you hate to lose a man like that. My personal suggestion would be to move him back to defensive back coach, a spot at which he is very familiar. Even though in past years the Saints defensive backs have not been great, when he coached that position they over achieved, something I don't think he receives enough credit for.

Perhaps the most overlooked coach on the Saints coaching staff is Al Everest, the special teams coach. Everest has turned the Saints special teams units into fierce weapons that helped to give this club a winning record and keep them in many ball games in which they should not have been. While many of the other coaches for the Saints have some areas to fine tune in their coaching philosophies, I don't believe Everest needs to change anything. He is doing a fine job and the Saints should be thankful for each year that they are able to keep him with the club.


Fan's Improvements

As I stated earlier, you never know who is reading the Super Saints Weekly and someone with some influence over what the Saints do in the off-season could just be reading each issue. This is a new section that allows you the fan to write in and make suggestions as to how the Saints can improve themselves for next season. This can cover any aspect of the team from player moves, draft choices, coach changes, schemes the team runs, or anything that relates to them. The only suggestion I make to those of you who are licking your chops to send in your emails is a simple one. Please be respectful and tactful in what you write. Remember a coach, player, or someone from the organization hears boos and cries of "you stink" everyday. People are more likely to listen to you if you can state your opinion and have an argument to back it up. There is an old saying that goes "sometimes its easier to get in through the side door rather than going in through the front," that also holds true to writing. Usually if you are not as confrontational in stating your opinion, then you are more likely to have people listen to you and convince them possibly to side with you. If you have any ideas of how the Saints can improve themselves in the off-season, then email me at SuperSaintsWeekly@yahoo.com with the subject heading Fan's Improvements. I will be more than happy to put them in the following issue. As I stated earlier, you never know who is reading and your idea may get to someone who has some influence so send in your thoughts. Below are a few early suggestions I have received from fans.

1) Draft defensive players with the first two rounds of picks. We need the help and it could help us improve.

2) Find a replacement for Norman Hand. I have noticed Grady Jackson get some sacks in key situations and even block a few extra points, if we can get another good defensive tackle to go along side him; I think he can still perform well.

3) I'd like to plea to the Saints to not re-sign Charlie Clemons. I heard early in the year from the SSW that we were considering giving him big money, well after how he played this year, it's obvious he doesn't deserve it so unless we sign him cheap I say let's go a different direction.

4) I believe its time we go hunting for a big name defensive coordinator. We need someone who will come in and make changes quickly while showing results.


Young Star of the Week

Each week the SSW will introduce you to a young player from the Saints that you may not have heard too much about. This way you can become familiar with many of the young players who one day will play key roles, if they already aren't doing so, in helping lead this team to contention. This week's young star is wide receiver Donte Stallworth. Since Stallworth is the most noticeable of this year's Saints rookie class, I figured he would be the best to start with. Donte is a six foot tall wide receiver who weighs in just under two hundred pounds. He was taken with the 13th pick by the Saints in this past years draft from the University of Tennessee. The Saints managed to grab Stallworth at a mid-round selection this year because his stock dropped thanks in large part to injury problems that hampered his playing time in college. Donte is considered one of the quicker players on the Saints roster and has game breaking speed which allows him to turn a small pass into a large gain. If he can stay healthy, then expect him to play a greater role in the offense as each year passes and eventually take over the number one receiver spot when it is time. Until that time, expect Stallworth and Horn to make up one of the NFL's most dangerous combinations in the NFL with Pathon being a dangerous number three receiver as a compliment.


Psycho's View

I hope everybody likes the new layout of the Super Saints Weekly. I have tried to make it more fan friendly and keep it informative. Due to the lack of information that happens at times during the off-season, I have added a few features so that you can hear the rumblings that I hear. Overall I won't lie to you and say I'm not disappointed at the Saints season this year. I expected more of them after their quick start, but considering their schedule if you would have told me they would finish 9-7 at the beginning of the year and had a chance to make the playoffs on the final day, I would have told you that I was happy with that. (Although I would have liked to have known which games they were going to lose so I wouldn't have spent 3 hours watching some of them on TV).

Overall I believe that this club is on the right track and that they are building a solid squad. I do believe that everybody is jumping on Brooks a bit prematurely.

I personally think we need to keep Jake Delhomme around just in case Brooks wasn't affected by injury but was simply choking down the stretch. I would like to think that perhaps he was struggling due to his injury though and that he will be back to his semi-normal self and take another step as far as progression goes.

I won't lie; I am very excited about this off-season as I imagine most football fans are. Unlike many teams, the Saints don't have any real salary cap problems and that leaves them a lot of room to make adjustments this off-season.

Expect to see changes and to see Haslett continue to keep this organization focused on the right path. On a more personal note I have to say that it makes me smile when I see a coach erupt like Haslett did at the half time interview with the Fox reporter. You could tell that he was upset not only with the play but with the players. I truly believe that if he thought for one moment that it would make a difference he would strap on some pads and head out there himself. While

I do have mixed views on this season, I must say that I have enjoyed watching my team again this year and can't wait for kickoff next season, but till then I will have fun watching the moves that the team makes.

2002 Column Archives

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