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3 New Orleans Saints

Sept. 05, 2005
Sept. 05, 2005

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Sept. 5, 2005

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3 New Orleans Saints

Coach Jim Haslett is getting back to the basics with the emphasis on a ground game bolstered by two new faces on the right side of the line

WATCHING VIDEO in his office one day at training camp, coach Jim Haslett was delighted by what he saw. It had nothing to do with the Saints, though; the tape of their practice was on pause. Rather, Haslett was looking at a live webcam transmission on his laptop of his 12-year-old son, Chase, playing in a youth baseball tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y. Chase, his dad said, loves to swing for the fences. "That's all he cares about," Haslett said. "Hitting the home run."

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 2005 issue Original Layout

Haslett will try the opposite approach with his team--instead of going deep, New Orleans will be grinding it out. Last year the Saints ranked 27th in rushing and 29th in time of possession, and Haslett believes improving the running game will help cover up other shortcomings. More ball control means the defense, which ranked last in the league, will be on the field less. More ball control means that Aaron Brooks, who threw 16 interceptions against 21 touchdown passes, will be under less pressure to make big plays.

Haslett made several changes to support this strategy. He hired 35-year NFL veteran Johnny Roland, a former running back and longtime assistant, to be his running backs coach and promoted offensive line assistant Jack Henry to the newly created position of associate head coach--running game coordinator. More important, Haslett rebuilt the right side of the line: In March the Saints signed free-agent Pro Bowl guard Jermane Mayberry (late of the Eagles), then on draft day moved up three spots in the first round to take Outland Trophy winner Jammal Brown, a 6'6", 316-pound tackle out of Oklahoma.

Soon after the Saints nabbed Brown, Haslett's cellphone rang. It was running back Deuce McAllister calling to thank Haslett for making that pick. "Every time an organization commits to making the offensive line better, as a running back you have to be proud and pleased," says McAllister, who signed a seven-year, $50 million extension in the off-season. "Any running back, I don't care how good he thinks he is, is only as good as the guys up front." And from what he saw in camp, McAllister is even more pleased. He called Mayberry a "sassy vet" and said of Brown, "His head is spinning [while he adjusts to the pros], but he knows what he's doing. He's definitely a power blocker."

While the ground game received most of the club's attention in the off-season, the beleaguered defense didn't get much help. The only new starter is free safety Dwight Smith, a free-agent pickup from the Bucs. Haslett figures all the reconfiguring he did during the course of last season was enough; the revamped unit just needs more time together. Four games into 2004 the Saints traded for cornerback Mike McKenzie of the Packers, and Haslett later promoted four reserves--tackle Howard Green, linebackers Colby Bockwoldt and James Allen, and corner Fakhir Brown. "You've got 10 guys back, but five of them were changed out halfway through the season," Haslett says. "And we played well down the stretch defensively."

Indeed, New Orleans finished with a four-game winning streak during which the defense gave up 15.3 points per game. In the season finale the Saints spoiled the surging Panthers' bid for a win they needed to make the playoffs. In a scheduling fluke the teams meet in Week 1 this year, meaning that Brown will make his NFL debut against Julius Peppers, arguably the best end in the league. The following week Brown gets the Giants' Michael Strahan. Quite an introduction to pro football, but Brown has already met his share of challenges. His mother, Zola, died of lupus when he was a junior in high school; that same year his daughter, Halle, was born; and he worked a night job to help support his family. After he was recruited by Oklahoma as a defensive end, Brown moved to the offensive line, where he had never played. "You can go in the corner and crumble," Brown says of dealing with adversity, "or you can put the world on your back and see what you can come up with."

In New Orleans, Brown will only have to put the running game on his back. --B.S.

PLAYMAKER

The Saints got precious few momentum-changing plays out of departed strong safety Tebucky Jones (two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles in his two seasons on the roster), but they expect much more from his replacement, free-agent acquisition Dwight Smith, who spent his first four seasons with the Buccaneers. In 2004 the quick, hard-hitting Smith forced three fumbles and intercepted three passes.

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
ENEMY LINES

Aaron Brooks can make big plays--and mistakes that really hurt. When Deuce McAllisterwas healthy at the end of last season, they were a different offense. They're a better team when they play a physical style and the offense revolves more around McAllister than Brooks.... They can compete physically with any team in the league. LeCharles Bentley is a good, young center. The addition of Jammal Brown, especially, will make them more solid on the offensive line.... Their strength on defense is the pass rush; they can really bring pressure from the outside. The linebackers are not as strong as they would like, and they've been looking for depth in the secondary. With five interceptions in 11 games Mike McKenzie was a big help after he came over in the trade with the Packers. Dwight Smith is a very emotional, intense player who can play cornerback or safety.... They will be very competitive. When you're strong up front offensively and defensively, you can win a lot of games in this league. The Saints can be one of those teams that improve at the end of the year and carry it over to the next season.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

OFFENSE

DEUCE McALLISTER
POS.-- RB
PVR -- 8  
ATT. -- 269
YARDS -- 1,074
AVG. -- 4.0
REC. -- 34
YARDS -- 228
AVG. -- 6.7
TDs -- 9

AARON BROOKS
POS. -- QB
PVR -- 106
ATT. -- 542
COMP. -- 309
% -- 57.0
YARDS -- 3,810
TDs -- 21
INT. -- 16
RATING -- 79.5

MIKE KARNEY
POS.-- FB
PVR -- 339
ATT. -- 3
YARDS -- 7
AVG. -- 2.3
REC. -- 6
YARDS -- 42
AVG. -- 7.0
TDs -- 0

JOHN CARNEY
POS. -- K
PVR -- 261
XPs MADE -- 38
XPs ATT. -- 38
FG MADE -- 22
FG ATT. -- 27
PTS. -- 104

JOE HORN
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 42
REC. -- 94
YARDS -- 1,399
TDs -- 11

ERNIE CONWELL
POS. -- TE
PVR -- 212
REC. -- 10
YARDS -- 102
TDs -- 1

WAYNE GANDY
POS. -- LT
HEIGHT -- 6'4"
WEIGHT -- 315
GMS.-- 16
STARTS -- 16

KENDYL JACOX
POS. -- LG
HEIGHT -- 6'2"
WEIGHT -- 325
GMS. -- 13
STARTS -- 13

LECHARLES BENTLEY
POS. -- C
HEIGHT -- 6'2"
WEIGHT -- 313
GMS. -- 16
STARTS -- 16

JERMANE MAYBERRY (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- RG
HEIGHT -- 6'2"
WEIGHT -- 325
GMS. -- 12
STARTS -- 12

JAMMAL BROWN (R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- RT
HEIGHT -- 6'6"
WEIGHT -- 316
GMS. -- 13
STARTS -- 13

DONTE' STALLWORTH
POS. -- WR
PVR -- 179
REC. -- 58
YARDS -- 767
TD -- 5

DEFENSE

SEDRICK HODGE
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 24
SACKS -- 0
INT.-- 0

DARREN HOWARD
POS. -- RE
TACKLES -- 46
INT.-- 11

JOHNATHAN SULLIVAN
POS. -- RT
TACKLES -- 15
INT.-- 1/2

COURTNEY WATSON
POS. -- MLB
TACKLES -- 55
SACKS -- 2
INT.-- 0

BRIAN YOUNG
POS. -- LT
TACKLES -- 59
SACKS -- 2 1/2

CHARLES GRANT
POS. -- LE
TACKLES -- 80
SACKS -- 10 1/2

COLBY BOCKWOLDT
POS. -- OLB
TACKLES -- 37
SACKS -- 1
INT.-- 0

FAKHIR BROWN
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 54
INT. -- 2

JAY BELLAMY
POS. -- SS
TACKLES -- 92
SACKS -- 0
INT.-- 0

DWIGHT SMITH (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. -- FS
TACKLES -- 83
SACKS -- 0
INT.-- 3

MIKE MCKENZIE
POS. -- CB
TACKLES -- 33
SACKS -- 5

MITCH BERGER
POS. -- P
PUNTS -- 85
AVG. -- 43.6

2004 RECORD: 8-8

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 27/12/15
DEFENSE 30/27/32

COACH: Jim Haslett; sixth season with New Orleans (42-38 in NFL)

NEW ACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
11 at Carolina
18 N.Y. GIANTS
25 at Minnesota

OCTOBER
2 BUFFALO
9 at Green Bay
16 ATLANTA
23 at St. Louis
30 MIAMI

NOVEMBER
6 CHICAGO
13 Open date
20 at New England
27 at N.Y. Jets

DECEMBER
4 TAMPA BAY
12 at Atlanta (M)
18 CAROLINA
24 DETROIT (S)

JANUARY
1 at Tampa Bay

(M) MONDAY
(S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: T18
Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .492
Games against playoff teams: 7

"When Deuce McAllister was healthy at the end of last season, they were a different offense."

 

PHOTORONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGESGOOD NEWS McAllister made a thank-you call after the Saints drafted the Outland winner. PHOTOJAMES D. SMITH/WIREIMAGE.COMMCKENZIEPHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM