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5 New Orleans Saints Boring is out, a new wideout corps vowing to bust the roof off the Superdome is in, making this a last-place show worth catching

Aug. 28, 2000
Aug. 28, 2000

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Aug. 28, 2000

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5 New Orleans Saints Boring is out, a new wideout corps vowing to bust the roof off the Superdome is in, making this a last-place show worth catching

In 1993, after two seasons as a wideout at Itawamba Junior
College in Fulton, Miss., Joe Horn was out of football and
toiling in a North Carolina sofa factory. Following his shift, he
would work out at a nearby high school field, a solitary figure
running pass routes in the dark. With his combination of size
(6'1", 206 pounds), speed (he ran a 10.39 in the 100) and decent
numbers (he had 54 catches for 878 yards at Itawamba), he
eventually landed a tryout with the Baltimore Stallions of the
CFL. "Some people fall through the cracks in life," says Horn. "I
crawled my way back up through those cracks. People tell me,
'Joe, you're like a rose that grew out of a crack in the
cement.'"

This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue

The folks in New Orleans hope the rose is in full bloom. After
catching on with the Stallions' practice squad in 1994, Horn
moved on to the Memphis Mad Dogs (where he was a CFL All-Star in
'95) and then the Kansas City Chiefs, for whom he spent four
years as a backup before signing a four-year, $10 million
free-agent deal with the Saints in February. Not bad for a
28-year-old wide receiver who only started to make an impact with
the Chiefs last season, when he averaged a team-leading 16.7
yards per reception as the team's third receiver. "Joe's a ball
of fire," says New Orleans receivers coach Hubbard Alexander.
"He's a guy with a little bit of mustard to him."

That is exactly what the Saints were missing last year. Players
left from the Mike Ditka era--and there aren't many; new general
manager Randy Mueller brought 46 new faces to training camp--say
the offense was ridiculously rudimentary. "Our offense was so
predictable and basic it was sick," says receiver Keith Poole.
"My mom and my sister could pick out our plays."

Facing an air attack that tied for 19th in the NFL, opponents
loaded up eight defenders in the box to stuff rookie tailback
Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner. The result?
Williams had an injury-plagued disaster of a year, and the
offense stank worse than Bourbon Street on a Monday morning. Says
wideout Jake Reed, whom the team signed after he was released by
the Vikings in February, "Everything the Saints were thinking in
the off-season revolved around one thing: finding a quarterback
and receivers who could stretch the field and take pressure off
Ricky."

First, new coach Jim Haslett hired Packers quarterbacks coach
Mike McCarthy to revamp the offense. McCarthy is only 36, but
he's well-schooled in a run-oriented version of the West Coast
offense (think Broncos, Chiefs and Titans). "This offense is so
explosive we are going to bust the roof off the Superdome," says
Horn. "Teams have nodded off while preparing for New Orleans. But
this year people better not be sleeping."

There certainly was no snoozing in the Saints' front office
during the off-season. On the first day teams could sign other
clubs' free agents, New Orleans picked up former Bengals
quarterback Jeff Blake, giving him a four-year, $17.4 million
deal. Blake is among the league's best at throwing the rainbow
bomb, but he does not work quickly through his reads and
sometimes struggles with shorter throws, the mastery of which is
a staple of the West Coast attack. While Blake may have a lot to
learn, the pass catchers already look to be sound. Though the
loss of tight end Cam Cleeland for the season (torn Achilles) was
significant, free-agent pickup Andrew Glover, who will replace
him, can create coverage problems for linebackers, and Willie
Jackson and Poole (19 yards per catch last season) give the
Saints two receiving threats off the bench.

Then there are Reed and Horn. With the Vikings from 1994 through
'97, Reed and Cris Carter became the only receiver tandem in NFL
history to have four straight seasons in which each had 1,000
yards receiving. The 32-year-old Reed may have lost a step, but
at 6'3" he can still leap over defensive backs. Injuries and the
addition of Randy Moss made him expendable in Minnesota, but Reed
is eager to prove he's not washed up. "When you get treated like
that," Reed says of his diminished role in Minnesota, "it changes
your whole outlook on football. It got to the point where I would
wake up and not even want to put on my uniform. Now, I jump out
of bed early in the morning and can't wait to put on a Saints
uniform."

Several times early in camp Reed and Horn blew past coverage and
connected with Blake on bombs. The plays were encouraging to
Williams, who seems to understand that his success will depend
largely on Reed's resurgence and Horn's emergence. After one such
play, Horn ran up to Alexander on the sideline and suggested that
the coach call him Hollywood, his nickname in Kansas City.

"You need to catch 30 touchdowns this year," Alexander replied,
shaking his head. "Until then, you're just plain old Joe."

--D.F.

COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MUZIK POLISHED Former furniture factory employee Horn brings much-needed speed and sparkle to the once-drab Saints' attack.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO

SCHEDULE

SEPT. 3 DETROIT
10 at San Diego
17 at Seattle
24 PHILADELPHIA

OCT. 1 Open date
8 at Chicago
15 CAROLINA
22 at Atlanta
29 at Arizona

NOV. 5 SAN FRANCISCO
12 at Carolina
19 OAKLAND
26 at St. Louis

DEC. 3 DENVER
10 at San Francisco
17 ATLANTA
24 ST. LOUIS

FAST FACTS

1999 Record 3-13 (5th in NFC West)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 18/19(tie)/19; defense
20/21/20

2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 26
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .453
Games against playoff teams: 4

PLAYER TO WATCH

During a training camp drill, rookie fullback Terrelle Smith
suffered a nasty half-inch gash above his left eye. Instead of
alerting the trainers, the 6-foot, 245-pound Smith snuck off to
the locker room, stopped the bleeding and bandaged the cut
himself. While it's clear he can take care of himself, the big
question for the karate black belt from Arizona State is whether
he can take care of Ricky Williams, whom he will try to spring
for long gainers. In the Saints' West Coast offense he should
also get a chance to carry the ball and catch flares out of the
backfield. "If I had to pick someone to run behind, I'd pick
him," Williams says. "Just from watching tape of him in college,
I could see he was a player who went hard on every play."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Jim Haslett
First season with Saints (0-0 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Jeff Blake[1] 42 389 att. 215 comp. 55.3% 2,670 yds.
16 TDs 12 int. 77.6 rtg.

RB Ricky Williams 29 253 att. 884 yds. 3.5 avg. 28 rec.
172 yds. 6.1 avg. 2 TDs

RB Chad Morton(R)[1] 193 262 att. 1,141 yds. 4.4 avg. 17 rec.
79 yds. 4.6 avg. 15 TDs

FB Terrelle Smith(R)[1]324 21 att. 127 yds. 6.0 avg. 9 rec.
88 yds. 9.8 avg. 1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

[PVR*]

WR Jake Reed[1] 69 44 rec. 643 yds. 2 TDs
WR Joe Horn[1] 122 35 rec. 586 yds. 6 TDs
WR Willie Jackson[1] 189 31 rec. 369 yds. 2 TDs
TE Andrew Glover[1] 279 28 rec. 327 yds. 1 TD
K Doug Brien 233 20/21 XPs 24/29 FGs 92 pts.
PR Chad Morton (R)[1]193 7 ret. 7.4 avg. 0 TDs
KR Chad Morton (R)[1]193 19 ret. 17.9 avg. 0 TDs

LT William Roaf 6'5" 312 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tom Ackerman 6'3" 296 lbs. 16 games 8 starts
C Jerry Fontenot[1]6'3" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Wally Williams 6'2" 321 lbs. 6 games 6 starts
RT Kyle Turley 6'5" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

Defense

LE Darren Howard (R)[1]53 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
LT Norman Hand[1] 55 tackles 4 sacks
RT La'Roi Glover 61 tackles 8 1/2 sacks
RE Joe Johnson[*] 70 tackles 7 sacks
OLB Keith Mitchell 106 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
MLB Charlie Clemons[1] 45 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Mark Fields 79 tackles 4 sacks
CB Alex Molden 15 tackles 1 int.
SS Sammy Knight 104 tackles 1 int.
FS Darren Perry[*][1] 68 tackles 2 int.
CB Fred Weary 66 tackles 2 int.
P Toby Gowin[1] 81 punts 43.2 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
[*]1998 statistics

THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Saints

"They lost half their secondary [cornerback Steve Israel and
free safety Rob Kelly] and their tight end [Cam Cleeland] in the
first exhibition game. This is a team that can't afford to lose
people.... I think Jim Haslett will work hard to bring around a
defense that was awful last year, but I'm not sure about some of
their personnel moves.... Norman Hand had two good years playing
defensive tackle in San Diego, but now they're putting him on
the nose and moving La'Roi Glover to tackle. Charlie Clemons was
an effective edge rusher for the Rams, but he'll be the middle
linebacker, a position he's never played, when he returns from a
right leg injury. It's an old coaching adage: Put a guy in a
position where he's not comfortable, and you run a risk of
getting him hurt.... Mark Fields, their weakside backer, misses
too many tackles.... Jeff Blake will do some spectacular things,
then he'll lose it for you.... Ricky Williams is a good,
pounding runner, but I don't know how effective he'll be in
catch-up situations, and this team will be in plenty of them."