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3 New Orleans SAINTS

Sept. 07, 2009
Sept. 07, 2009

Table of Contents
Sept. 7, 2009

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

3 New Orleans SAINTS

Don't expect much? Fine—this bunch is glad to sneak up on teams with their dynamic offense and a rejuvenated D

LAST SEASON theSaints' offense ravaged defenses, set ridiculous team marks and threatened tobreak some of the most glorious records in the NFL. But an 8--8 finish—withfive losses by a field goal or less—undercut the value of those gaudy numbers."No one has been talking about how [Drew Brees] almost broke Dan Marino'srecord [for passing yards in a season]," says right tackle Jon Stinchcomb."And no one has been talking about how we gave up only 13 sacks."

This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2009 issue

That's becausethe New Orleans defense didn't help the offense much, surrendering 393 points(26th in the league) and 339.5 yards per game (23rd). Says a philosophicalBrees, "A lot of times disappointment allows you to achieve great thingsbecause of what you've learned from that disappointment."

Coach Sean Paytonlearned that he needed a different defensive approach, so he fired coordinatorGary Gibbs and hired Gregg Williams, who last season was Jacksonville'scoordinator--assistant head coach. Williams, 51, has spent his career as adefensive fix-it man, both as a coordinator and head coach. From 2000 to '07his units in Tennessee, Buffalo and Washington finished in the top 10 fivetimes, using flexibility and aggressiveness to bring pressure and createturnovers. (Last season his Jaguars defense ranked 17th.) While the Saints willoperate out of a 4--3, Williams has been known to deploy multiple fronts, whichis why he values smart, versatile players. Stinchcomb, for one, says he's neverfaced a New Orleans defense that presents so many varied schemes inpractice.

The centerpieceof the D will remain middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who ranked ninth in theleague with 132 tackles last season, his first with the Saints after four yearsas a Jet. In Williams's 4--3, the 6'1", 230-pound Vilma will be asked notonly to set the tone with his attacking play but also to pick up opponents'tendencies and communicate those insights to his cohorts.

"I wanted todraft [Vilma] when I was at Buffalo, almost traded for him when we were inWashington—I thought he'd be very similar to London Fletcher," Williamssays of the longtime middle linebacker who played under him for the Bills andthe Redskins. "He just hasn't played quite as long in this system ofdefense, but he has picked it up very well."

The 27-year-oldVilma says Williams has done more than shake up the playbook. "What Gregghas brought to the table is not just X's and O's, but a mentality," hesays. "Even if we don't execute 100 percent of the time, we're going toplay hard. We're competing."

Vilma demandsaccountability of himself and others, a trait he shares with free-agentacquisitions safety Darren Sharper and fullback Heath Evans. "Ourmanagement has done a great job bringing in character guys, but also wise,veteran players," Brees says. "We're as veteran a team as we have everbeen. We have a lot of guys that have played in big games and know what it'slike to be a professional, to prepare, to take care of themselves, to do allthose things that you need to do to be successful."

If Brees and hisweapons on offense stay healthy—notably receiver Marques Colston, tight endJeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush—New Orleans will threaten therecord books again. But what actually might put the offense over the top is anew-look defense that forces turnovers and gives Brees more short fields.

As the Saintspounded each other in practice and prepared for a new campaign, they seemed torelish an absence of preseason hype. "We like to stay under the radar,"Vilma says.

If the defensecan reach the high level of the offense, they won't remain there.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

COACH: SEANPAYTON
25--23 in NFL, fourth season with Saints

OFFENSE

DeveryHENDERSON
POS WR
REC 32
YARDS 793
TTD 3

Jon STINCHCOMB
POS RT
HT 6'5"
WT 315
G 16

Pierre THOMAS
POS RB
ATT 129
YARDS 625
AVG 4.8
REC 31
YARDS 284
AVG 9.2
TTD 12

Jahri EVANS
POS RG
HT 6'4"
WT 318
G 16

Drew BREES
POS QB
ATT 635
COMP 413
PCT 65.0
YARDS 5,069
TD 34
INT 17
RATING 96.2

JonathanGOODWIN
POS C
HT 6'3"
WT 318
G 13

Reggie BUSH
POS RB
ATT 106
YARDS 404
AVG 3.8
REC 52
YARDS 440
AVG 8.5
TTD 9

Carl NICKS
POS LG
HT 6'5"
WT 341
G 16

MarquesCOLSTON
POS WR
REC 47
YARDS 760
TTD 5

Jammal BROWN
POS LT
HT 6'6"
WT 313
G 15

John CARNEY
POS K
FG 35--38
POINTS 143

Jeremy SHOCKEY
POS TE
REC 50
YARDS 483
TTD 0

With Colstonslowed by thumb injury, third WR Lance Moore led the team with 79 rec.; Carneyfills in for K Garrett Hartley, who's serving a four-game suspension.

DEFENSE

Scott SHANLE
POS OLB
TACKLES 87
SACKS 2
INT 0

Jabari GREER
POS CB
TACKLES 36
INT 2

Charles GRANT
POS DE
TACKLES 33
SACKS 3

Darren SHARPER
POS FS
TACKLES 66
SACKS 0
INT 1

KendrickCLANCY
POS DT
TACKLES 34
SACKS 2

Jonathan VILMA
POS MLB
TACKLES 132
SACKS 1
INT 1

Sedrick ELLIS
POS DT
TACKLES 31
SACKS 4

Roman HARPER
POS SS
TACKLES 80
SACKS 0
INT 0

Will SMITH
POS DE
TACKLES 62
SACKS 3

Tracy PORTER
POS CB
TACKLES 25
INT 1

Scott FUJITA
POS OLB
TACKLES 80
SACKS 0
INT 2

Thomas MORSTEAD(R)
POS P
PUNTS 59
AVG 41.8

Backup DE BobbyMcCray led the team with 6 sacks (out of 29 tackles).

NewACQUISITION

(R) Rookie:College statistics
TTD: Total touchdowns

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2009 SCHEDULE
2008 RECORD 8--8
NFL RANK (Rush > Pass > Total)
OFFENSE 28 > 1 > 1
DEFENSE 17 > 23 > 23

SEPTEMBER
13 DETROIT
20 at Philadelphia
27 at Buffalo

OCTOBER
4 N.Y. JETS
11 Bye
18 N.Y. GIANTS
25 at Miami

NOVEMBER
2 ATLANTA (M)
8 CAROLINA
15 at St. Louis
22 at Tampa Bay
30 NEW ENGLAND (M)

DECEMBER
6 at Washington
13 at Atlanta
19 DALLAS (S)
27 Tampa Bay

JANUARY
3 at Carolina

(M) Monday
(S) Saturday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL Rank: 8 Opponents' 2008 winning percentage: .557 Games against playoffteams: 7

ANALYSIS
While this schedule is among the hardest, the Saints' last-place divisionfinish in '08 gives them an advantage in the NFC South: They're the only one ofthe four teams to face either the Rams or the Lions, which might be the edgeNew Orleans needs in a division that reshuffles every year. The Saints mustalso be grateful that their trips to Philly and Buffalo come early in theseason.

SPOTLIGHT

Pierre Thomas, Running back

After the Saints released Deuce McAllister, the team'sbeloved and battered workhorse running back, Thomas began openly bidding to behis replacement. The 2007 undrafted free agent out of Illinois bulked up from215 pounds to 223 to better handle the punishment of running between thetackles. And he said publicly that no matter whom New Orleans brought in at hisposition, he planned on winning the starter's job full time. While Thomaslikely won't get that—he'll share carries with Reggie Bush—he has reason tofeel confident. A year ago Thomas led the Saints with 625 yards rushing whilefilling in for the ailing Bush and the fading McAllister. And even if Bushstays healthy for 16 games (something he hasn't done in either of the last twoseasons), Thomas will see plenty of action in the red zone and in the secondhalf of games in which the high-flying New Orleans offense needs to burn theclock to protect a lead.

Drew Brees has long been a fan of Thomas, andpredicted before the 2008 season that he'd be a big part of the offense. Thatturned out to be true, but what remains unclear is how well Thomas and Bushwill complement each other—and whether Thomas can be as productive carrying theextra weight. "We expect him to get a lot of carries," says coach SeanPayton. He's in a good spot right now."

PHOTOREED HOFFMANN/APGONNA FLY NOW The dedicated Vilma is an ideal middle man for the new coordinator's schemes.PHOTOGENE LOWERPHOTO