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3 New Orleans Saints Has the defense improved enough to keep this team from stumbling down the stretch (again)?

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

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Sept. 1, 2003

NFL Preview 2003

3 New Orleans Saints Has the defense improved enough to keep this team from stumbling down the stretch (again)?

By Jeffri Chadiha Projected lineups and PVRs compiled by David Sabino

Free safety Tebucky Jones became fond of the Big Easy long before
he arrived in a trade with the Patriots in April. His attachment
to the city began in 1996, his junior year at Syracuse, when the
Orangemen traveled to New Orleans and whipped Tulane. In '98, his
rookie season with New England, the Patriots defeated the Saints
in the Superdome. Then came Super Bowl XXXVI, in which the Pats
shocked the Rams and won their first world championship--in New
Orleans. So when Jones talks about his new hometown, he says, "I
didn't come here to start losing."

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

It's that attitude that has the Saints excited about the
sixth-year veteran. He has a touch of cockiness, but not enough
to rub people the wrong way. He also has exceptional size for a
safety (6'2", 218 pounds), decent speed and the smarts that come
from handling the complex schemes of New England coach Bill
Belichick. In short, Jones is the type of player New Orleans had
to have. The Saints gave up 20 or more points in all but one game
last season, primarily because the defense lacked the speed to
handle three-and four-receiver formations and mobile
quarterbacks.

Jones, a punishing tackler, was setting the tone for the
secondary in the first few weeks of training camp. "He's shown
his leadership by the way he directs people," says defensive
coordinator Rick Venturi. "That's exactly what I want. I don't
believe that people lead by talking in the locker room. Tebucky's
a director, not a philosopher."

The Saints traded third-and seventh-round picks in this year's
draft, along with a fourth-rounder in 2004, to acquire Jones.
They also added outside linebacker Derrick Rodgers in a trade
with the Dolphins, signed free-agent cornerback Ashley Ambrose
and moved up from 17th to sixth in the draft to select defensive
tackle Johnathan Sullivan out of Georgia. The defense will open
the season with at least four new starters, and as many as seven
newcomers may see significant playing time. "Our biggest concern
was finding a way to deal with all the mobile quarterbacks we
face this season," says coach Jim Haslett. "We play Steve McNair,
Donovan McNabb, Kordell Stewart and Michael Vick. We had a hard
time last year dealing with quarterback scrambles, screen plays
and spread offenses. Hopefully that won't happen again."

Jones is convinced it won't. "We're there speedwise," he says.
"If a player catches the ball in the middle of the field in
practice, we have six or seven guys flying to him."

Talent alone won't be enough. The Saints also need staying power.
In 2001 they combusted in the midst of a playoff run and lost
their final four games. Last season they were 9-4 and then
finished with losses to the Vikings, the Bengals and the
Panthers. "It's gotten so bad that when I brag to my friends
about how good we are, they tell me we're only good early in the
year," says cornerback Fred Thomas. That was especially true last
season, when execution, not effort, ruined the Saints. "The
bottom line is, we didn't play well on either side of the ball to
get into the playoffs," says middle linebacker Darrin Smith. "I'm
sure there will be a lot of emphasis on that toward the end of
this year. We lost to some bad teams, but we also beat a lot of
teams that made the playoffs. We beat the Super Bowl champion
[Tampa Bay] twice."

The Saints' defensive players are eager to create the same type
of chemistry that propelled the Bucs to a title. They often
gathered in the off-season to watch film and organized barbecues
after workouts. Jones missed those functions--he was moving his
family to New Orleans--but he believes that time together like
that is invaluable. "If we're going to be successful, we need to
believe in each other when we line up," he says. "We have to know
people will make mistakes, and we have to play through them. We
can't let little things grind us up inside. I tell these guys all
the time that we have far too much talent. There's no way we
shouldn't be playing in the Super Bowl." --J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA STALK MARKET The needy Saints have invested in ex-Patriot Jones, a supersized safety with speed and smarts.COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS BENTLEYCOLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

--The Saints were thinking more about chemistry than ability
when they traded volatile left tackle Kyle Turley to the Rams
and signed free agent WAYNE GANDY to replace him. Turley is more
athletic, but New Orleans grew tired of his antics. If Gandy
becomes the leader the Saints expect, he'll more than make up
for what he lacks in athleticism.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"Aaron Brooks is one of those guys who runs hot and cold. I think
inexperience is his biggest problem; he's still learning how to
play under high expectations.... If Brooks can be more
consistent, the Saints will be as dangerous as any team in the
league. They have three speed receivers--Joe Horn, Donte'
Stallworth and Jerome Pathon--who will scare anybody. Plus
they've got Deuce McAllister in the backfield, and he can beat
you with speed and power.... I think they'll miss Kyle Turley at
left tackle, but they still have some talent on their line.
LeCharles Bentley is a horse inside.... They've really added some
speed to their defense. They saw Tampa Bay winning with a fast
defense, and now they're trying to do the same.... Johnathan
Sullivan has a lot of potential. He's quick for a big guy, and
he's solid against the run.... I really like Darren Howard. He's
big, strong, fast and when he comes to play, he's a complete
defensive end.... Even though Ashley Ambrose is on the downside
of his career, he wasn't a bad signing. They'll have a decent
tandem if Dale Carter has his head on straight, because Carter is
as talented as any corner in the league."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Seattle
14 HOUSTON
21 at Tennessee
28 INDIANAPOLIS

Oct. 5 at Carolina
12 CHICAGO
19 at Atlanta
26 CAROLINA

Nov. 2 at Tampa Bay
9 Open date
16 ATLANTA
23 at Philadelphia
30 at Washington

Dec. 7 TAMPA BAY
14 N.Y. GIANTS
21 at Jacksonville
28 DALLAS

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 13
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .520
Games against playoff teams: 8

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 9-7
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 17/16/19
DEFENSE 19/27/27

COACH: Jim Haslett; fourth season with New Orleans (26-22 in NFL)

DEUCE MCALLISTER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 8 325 1,388 4.3

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
47 352 7.5 3

AARON BROOKS

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 32 528 283 53.6

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
3,572 27 15 80.1

TERRELLE SMITH

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 305 5 11 2.2

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
9 30 3.3 0

JOE HORN

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 44 88 1,312 7

ERNIE CONWELL [1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 194 34 419 2

WAYNE GANDY [1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'4" 308 lbs. 16 16

KENDYL JACOX

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'2" 330 lbs. 16 16

JERRY FONTENOT

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'3" 300 lbs. 16 16

LECHARLES BENTLEY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'2" 299 lbs. 14 14

SPENCER FOLAU

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'5" 315 lbs. 16 16

JEROME PATHON

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 132 43 523 4

DEFENSE

RE DARREN HOWARD 48 tackles 8 sacks
RT GRADY JACKSON 43 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
LT JOHNATHAN SULLIVAN (R)[1] 74 tackles 4 sacks
LE CHARLES GRANT 37 tackles 7 sacks
OLB SEDRICK HODGE 75 tackles 0 sacks
MLB DARRIN SMITH 96 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
OLB DERRICK RODGERS[1] 74 tackles 2 int.
CB ASHLEY AMBROSE[1] 44 tackles 3 int.
SS MEL MITCHELL 0 tackles 0 int.
FS TEBUCKY JONES[1] 50 tackles 1 int.
CB DALE CARTER 30 tackles 1 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K JOHN CARNEY 176 37/37 XPS 31/35 FGS 130 PTS.
PR MICHAEL LEWIS 270 44 RET. 14.2 AVG. 1 TDS
KR MICHAEL LEWIS 270 70 RET. 25.8 AVG. 2 TDS
P MITCH BERGER[1] 72 PUNTS 41.9 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"If Brooks can be more consistent, they will be as dangerous as
any team in the league."