View Full Version : Offseason Primer: New Orleans Saints

01-20-2008, 11:39 AM
As we begin to ascend up the draft order, we start to get into teams that donít have a lot of quarterback issues, and they have a decent supporting cast, something just didnít go right and their season never made that turn, that most teams take when they head towards the playoffs.

I think a good example of that is the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees has turned himself into an elite quarterback in the NFL. Brees hasnít missed a game since 2004, and has thrown for over 4,400 yards the last two seasons. I think the difference this season was Brees threw a few more interceptions. When the Saints went to the NFC Divisional Round, Brees threw 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while this year he threw 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Maybe that was a product of Brees trying to force the issue to try and win games, but he does need to bring that interception rate down if this team is going to be successful.

Deuce McAllisterís season-ending injury in week 3 was devastating for the Saints. The one thing it did show us, however, is that Reggie Bush might not be an every down running back in the NFL, at least not without a complement. Bush had 581 yards in 12 games, as he had his own injury problems as well. In stepped an unlikely runner, Aaron Stecker. Stecker, a nine-year veteran six games in the second half of the season, rushing for 444 yards and five touchdowns. His performance, however, wonít get him much of anywhere with the Saints, as McAllister is expected to come back healthy, and Reggie Bush is the change-of-pace back in New Orleans. Mike Karney is a solid blocking fullback, and can help catch the ball out of the backfield, as he had 13 catches for 78 yards this season.

Eric Johnson was one of Breesí favorite targets at tight end, catching 48 passes in just 14 games. A lot was expected out of the seventh-year veteran with him coming over from San Francisco last offseason. Heís now an unrestricted free agent this offseason. If he doesnít return, Billy Miller is also a decent option at tight end, as well. Mark Campbell missed all of 2007, and should be back in 2008.

The Saints could possibly lose two wide receivers in Devery Henderson, a former starter who had a rough year, and Terrance Copper. While Breesí top options will still be in town, Marques Colston and David Patten, the Saints will be looking for a third option, in what has become a fairly wide-open offense. Robert Meachem, the teamís first-round selection out of Tennessee in the last draft, will be expected to fill that role. The hope is he could even break into the starting lineup, but after a strange season that had rumors swirling about him being overweight and not learning the playbook, it may be too much to ask. Meachem also had a knee injury that he had hid throughout the combine and offseason work outs. The Saints hope that a healthy Meachem will lead to a more motivated receiver. If he is unable to do that, Lance Moore should be a serviceable third receiver. The undrafted free agent out of Toledo finally got his chance to get on the field in 2007, catching 32 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns.

The Saints offensive line was pretty productive this season. They ranked seventh in Football Outsiderís rankings, and allowed just 25 sacks this season.

Jammal Brown, the Saints first-round pick in 2005, is starting to turn into the franchise left tackle that they drafted him to be. Brown is big, 6-6, 313, but he also moves well, and heís fairly durable, missing just two games in the last two seasons. Next to him at left guard is Jamar Nesbit. Nesbit, after sharing starting duties in his first two seasons with the Saints in 2004 and 2005, has stepped up and been a very productive guard for the Saints in 2006 and 2007.

Jeff Faine came in, in 2006 and has been a very good center. The Saints were the best team in the league running between the guards. Next to him at right guard is Jahri Evans, a fourth-round pick in 2006, who has stepped in and filled that position for nearly every snap in his first two seasons. Jonathan Stinchcomb has also started every game the last two seasons, and is a solid right tackle. Both Stinchcomb and Evans need to improve in the run-blocking category, however.

The amazing thing about the Saints line this season, is how healthy they were. Combined, they missed just three games this season, Faine missed two and Brown missed one. All are fairly young, and none are free agents this offseason. If this line stays healthy next season, it lays the groundwork, once again, for a big season for Drew Brees.

The Saints struggled defensively, ranking 26th overall. Brian Young will be entering his ninth season in the NFL at defensive tackle, and in 2007, he missed seven games. Heís still a pass-rush threat from the defensive tackle position, as he got three sacks this year, but he struggles in the run game, and is a little undersized for a defensive tackle. Heíll most likely be expected to start next year, as well. Hollis Thomas filled in at the other defensive tackle position in 2007, and will likely return as the other starter inside.

Will Smith is a decent end, but they will need more pass rush from him next season. In 2006, he had 10.5 sacks, but that dropped to seven this past year. He also had 66 tackles, and helps solidify an undersized line. Charles Grant lined up for the most part on the other side of the line in 2007, but his pass rush is lacking, and heís weak against the run. Donít be surprised if the Saints go after one of the top-flight defensive ends in the draft, like Vernon Gholston out of Ohio State or Derrick Harvey out of Florida.

Mark Simoneau was brought in two years ago to be the starting middle linebacker, but his production isnít quite what the Saints want. He had just 70 tackles at middle linebacker, while starting in every game. He is an unrestricted free agent, and I doubt the Saints bring him back. I think they will try to upgrade the position. Backup Brian Simmons is a career backup/special teams player, and will be 33 next season. If the Saints donít go for a defensive end in the draft, they could look at Keith Rivers or Dan Connor, although it may be a reach to take either at No. 10.

Scott Fujita, who looked like a journeyman backup when they brought him in two years ago, has been a pleasant surprise for the Saints, leading them in tackles from the weak-side linebacker position. Fujita will return next year to anchor the linebacking crew, and heís just 29 years old. Opposite him is Scott Shanle, who was also brought in two years ago to bolster the linebacker group. Heís been OK. Donít be surprised if the Saints get a lesser-known free agent, or an outside linebacker later in the draft for some depth.

Jason David was brought in at cornerback on a free-agent contract after he helped Indianapolis to the Super Bowl Championship. He hasnít disappointed, though he did miss three games. He snatched three interceptions and had 11 pass deflections, and heís not afraid to get inside and mix it up, as he had 51 tackles. Opposite him is Mike McKenzie, a similar type of cornerback, who can be physical (52 tackles) and can be a ball hawk (three interceptions, two taken back for touchdowns, and 17 pass deflections).

Josh Bullocks, a second round pick in 2005, has been a solid safety for the Saints, and continues to get better. Bullocks had 77 tackles (a big number for a free safety), two interceptions and eight pass deflections in 2007, and the Saints will expect more of the same from him in 2008. Next to him at strong safety is second round pick in 2006, Roman Harper. Harper stepped into a full-time starting role in 2007 and flourished. He had 90 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, one touchdown and eight pass deflections. The Saints will need more of the same in 2008.

The Saints have decent talent on defense, but they need to solidify the middle, at both defensive tackle positions and at middle linebacker, and they can return to their 2006 form.

The Saints are in the market for a kicker. Martin Gramatica is not the answer at the position. Olindo Mare missed seven kicks in 13 games and Gramatica wasnít much better. Brandon Coutu, out of Georgia, is the top kicker in the draft class.

Steven Weatherford will be entering his third season as the punter for the Saints, and heís been productive. Heíll be back next season.

Aaron Stecker returned kicks last year, and Lance Moore filled in at times in the kick return game and was the full-time punt returner. Reggie Bush can also fill in at both positions. Donít be surprised to see him a little more, with McAllister back healthy, to try and spark the special teams.

01-20-2008, 11:45 AM
Nice write up as usual.