Thursday, September 30, 2010

Week Four Preview: Saints Host the Panthers

As this is election season (my other passion aside from Saints football), this preview is a bit abbreviated….kind of like the Saints’ offense as of late.

Amazingly enough the boys in Vegas had the Saints as a 15 point favorite at one time. USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Black and Gold giving the Panthers 13.5, a sign that the money is moving to Carolina. I would feel a lot more comfortable giving the 15 points, though a shy under two TDs and two extra points might also be a safe proposition.

I know the Panthers are awful and they are in the early stages of rebuilding and they have a quarterback controversy…or something along those lines.

But how about this for a reality check: the New Orleans Saints offense, the turbo-charged big playmakers of the past four seasons, haven’t scored more than 25 points this season and their two wins were by margins of 5 and 3. Granted all three of Carolina’s losses/games played were by 13 points (an unlucky coincidence for soon to be departing head coach John Fox).

The Saints found ways to lose to Atlanta and needed lucky breaks out of the boardgame Mousetrap to slip past the San Francisco Forty-Niners. And while the Saints don’t have a quarterback controversy, they do have a kicker controversy.

The Saints offensive line have not provided quarterback Drew Brees with the protection he needs to launch the ball, his receivers (Lance Moore and Jeremy Shockey excluded) have been suffering with a case of the “Deverys” and the running back corps has been decimated by injuries.

The defense has not had much success stopping the run and have not broken through to opposing quarterbacks regularly.

A winning record might be accomplished through some very ugly wins in this season.

Though the Carolina franchise is only 15 years old, they’ve compiled a winning record against the Saints in 30 contests. Saints head coach Sean Payton has only 2 wins against the Panthers.

Expect the Panthers to test the Saints’ front seven on the ground, though the Saints offensive line should have some success keeping the Panthers off of Brees now that Julius Peppers is in Chicago. Though he had some touches last weekend, including an unfortunate fumble, rookie running back will see a lot of action if only be default. Kicker Garrett Hartley isn’t the only player on the bubble right now and the Saints front office will drop Ivory from the roster before Hartley.

Ivory made the best of the opportunities that fell his way in training camp when players ahead of him went down with season ending injuries. Here’s the undrafted rookie free agent’s chance to parlay those breaks into something.

While the Panthers are desperate for a win, the Saints are desperate not to lose. Dropping another intra-divisional game with the Falcons leading by one would dig a deeper hole for the defending world champions.

However the Panthers could be the softies the Saints could exploit to establish themselves and gain some confidence.

While the Saints should win on Sunday, it could end up being closer than most fans nerves can handle…at least sober.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

They Did WHAT?!

The New Orleans Saints brought back to the fold veteran kicker John Carney to shore up the team’s kicking game, though the move came at great cost.

In order to make room for the oldest active player in the league and the player who has scored the third most points in NFL history, the Black and Gold cut wide receiver Adrian Arrington.

Don’t get me wrong; the Saints needed to do something about 2009 hero/2010 57%er Garrett Hartley, who has missed three of his seven field goal attempts this season, most infamously botching what would have been the game winning field goal against NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

The state of the Saints' kicking game right now is as questionable as it was after the front office’s unwise decision let go Carney after the 2006 season.

Carney reaffiliated with the Saints at the beginning of the 2009 season to sub for the suspended Hartley but ended up remaining on the active roster for a little while after Hartley was allowed to rejoin the team.

When the Saints decided to keep only one kicker on the roster after Week 12, the Saints retained Carney as a kicking consultant for the remainder of the season.

By bringing in Carney, the Saints showed confidence in Hartley. The other kicker the Saints worked out was ex-Houston Texan Kris Brown. If the Saints were interested in making a long-term move on the position, the team would have not signed a 46 year old and would have instead inked the younger player who is out of work because of a bad 2009 season.

The Carney signing is a quick-fix as he is expected to both mentor Hartley and light a fire under the struggling kicker. He is not a replacement, at least at this time.

As referenced in a previous column, big game heroes aren’t assured of job security with the Saints or for that matter any other team in the league. Sentimentalists might not like this reality, but “what can you do for me this week” trumps “what have you done for me last season” in the NFL.

Hopefully Hartley will resolve in the very near future whatever problems that have plagued his ability to perform at a high level.

While I was glad the team brought back the Notre Dame alumn (who’s been somewhat of a good luck charm for the Saints,) I don’t agree with their decision to cut Arrington to make room for Carney.

Though the Saints are loaded with receivers at the present time (though not necessarily with receivers who have consistently caught the ball- Lance Moore excepted!), Arrington was developing into the high-payoff player many fans felt he would become with some time and coaching.

Arrington had a strong pre-season and is a smart player. I’ll be shocked if he clears waivers, though if he does, the Saints should make a point of putting him back on the 53-roster ASAP. He won't be out on the street long.

The Saints risked losing a player with a big upside in the years to come in exchange for a kicker whose affiliation with the team might not make it past the season’s mid-point. Surely there were less attractive players on the roster to temporarily put out on the market than Arrington.

Hartley’s inconsistent kicking will have done more damage than simply costing the franchise a divisional game if the Saints were to lose Arrington to another team.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week Three Review: Two and D'oh

Saints fans now know what Niners fans/gang members felt on Monday.

Despite giving the ball up on an interception and a fumble on plays originating in Atlanta Falcon territory and allowing another turnover on a trick play, the New Orleans Saints still almost pulled it off.

Kicker Garrett Hartley's missed field goal attempt to win the game in overtime still didn't eliminate the team's capacity to win.

The Saints last gasp came when Saints head coach Sean Payton uwisely decided to "ice" Atlanta's kicker, whose first try was blocked. After an Atlanta penalty pushed the Dirty Birds back, kicker Matt Bryant still managed to give his team the win and a lead in the NFC South over the defending World Champions.

While it's easy to single out Hartley for the loss, the defeat was a team effort.

The front-seven struggled to put pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who played like his nickname "Matty Ice", cooly keeping his team in the game and picking on Saints' first round draft pick cornerback Patrick Robinson.

The Saints D also couldn't shut down future Hall of Famer/ tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught 8 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Even the great Drew Brees had a mixed day, having a completion rate of 78%, 3 passing touchdowns and 365 yards in the air, but also notching his first two interceptions of the 2010 regular season, one of them costing the Saints what could have been a game changing touchdown or...dare I speculate...field goal.

Brees wasn't helped by his offensieve line, which gave up two sacks, and failed to provide him with the protection he needed to execute on his usual high level.

In the first Reggie-less game of the season, the Saints ground attack was abysmal, with the team collecting a mere 43 total yards in the rushing department.

While the Saints could have won this game, one might question whether they should have.

The team have played sloppy and the coaching staff hasn't fared better in play calling or clock management. Credit Atlanta had coach Mike Smith for perfectly working the 1st half time to his team's advantage. While the Saints committed errors and costly penalties, the Falcons were nearly flawless in their performance.

It seems the only Saints players who played at a high level on Sunday were wide receiver Lance Moore, tight end Jeremy Shockey and kick returner/gunner Courtney Roby.

You learn more from a loss than a win. That could be the only nugget from this game. In addition to losing to the hated Dirty Birds, Atlanta is largely in the driver's seat for the division. The Saints won't have a chance to even up the head-to-head series until late in December in the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons have won far more often than they have lost in the past two seasons.

The Saints have not played like champions thus far this season, with the offense sputtering and a close to non-existent rushing game.

And while Hartley will always have a Super Bowl championship ring and will be remembered as the player who hit the blankety-blank fleur-de-lis in the conference title game, the kicker needs to settle down and become consistent quick lest he gets dropped off from more than just people's fantasy football teams.

Just ask ex-Saints Brian Milne and Steve Gleason how far their careers with the team were extended by big game heroics.

Though it's still early in the season and there's a lot of football to be played, fans should be cognizant of how the chase for the first seed in the playoffs lasted until Week 16. Atlanta is a solid team with a smart and patient coach.

The Saints now find themselves in a hole and they need to go into their late season rematch at Atlanta with a two game lead in order to be secure in the divisional standings.

Just like the Saints didn't want to have to travel to Minneapolis for the NFC Championship game last season, the Black and Gold don't want to play for the division in the Georgia Dome.

Otherwise, the team will find itself in the all too familiar position of needing other teams to lend them a hand to nail down a wild card spot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week 3 Preview: Saints Host the Falcons

The New Orleans Saints, after a short week that was even shorter since the team didn’t land in Kenner from San Francisco until the next day, will face their archrival on Sunday afternoon when the Atlanta Falcons swoop into the Superdome.

Any game against Atlanta has great meaning to Who Dats, even when the Saints have been eliminated from the playoff picture. Defeating the Dirty Birds has been the shred of solace many Saints fans have clung to during the bad seasons.

But this particular matchup has more meaning than emotion. It could very well be the biggest regular season game the Black and Gold plays in the 2010 season.

Forget the trip to Palace in Dallas on Thanksgiving afternoon. Nevermind the Halloween night face off with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sunday’s game with the Falcons is last season’s Patriots’ game.

Though the Black and Gold currently lead the Falcons in the NFC South, with the Saints being 2-0 and the Falcons 1-1, the Saints will have an opportunity to extend their lead by 1.5 with a win or slip behind Atlanta by a half-game if they lose.

While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are also 2-0, their early success THUS FAR has been attributed to facing weak opponents. The Bucs will face their first tough game on Sunday when they host the Steelers on Sunday.

Most people who follow the game recognize that Atlanta is the only team standing in the way of the Saints repeating as NFC South division champions, a feat that has yet to be accomplished by any team in the division.

After losing a close one in overtime at Pittsburgh, the Falcons dominated the Arizona Cardinals in the Georgia Dome blowing out the redbirds 41-7.

Atlanta is a much better team in 2010 than they were in 2009 having made big investments in defense in this years draft, most notably landing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, a player the Saints coveted, with the 19th overall selection.

In the Arizona game, the Falcons defense snagged three interceptions and Weatherspoon led his team with eight tackles and got one of the Falcons’ two sacks. The Atlanta offense ran all over the Cardinals defense, accumulating 221 yards on the ground. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan connected on over 66% of his passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns.

The Dirty Birds will not be pushovers.

If the Saints were to drop the game, the Falcons would have a temporary head-up tie-breaker advantage until the two teams meet again, December 27th on Monday Night Football in the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons were 6-2 at home in 2009 and 7-1 in 2008. The Saints do not want to have to play for the division championship in the Georgia Dome two nights after Christmas.

Thus far in the 2010 season, the Saints offense has not been the powerhouse they’ve been in the in recent times. They currently rank 16th in the league in points (19.5), 21st in total yards (297.5), 12th in passing yards (233) and a pitiful 31st in rushing yards (64.5).

Granted the Saints had two difficult opponents, facing the Minnesota Vikings’ potent defensive front seven in the NFL season kickoff and then taking on the San Francisco Forty-Niners in the unfriendly confines of Candlestick Park in a Monday Night Game.

The good side is that the Black and Gold defense has stepped up in a way. They rank 10th in points allowed (15.5) but 23rd in total yards surrendered (335) giving up an average of 218.5 in the air and 116.5 on the ground.

Can the Saints offense finally breakout against an improved Atlanta defense?

Will the Saints’ front seven contain Atlanta’s running game?

Will the Saints ground game finally gain some traction in Week 3 with running back Reggie Bush out?

Can the Saints offensive line give quarterback Drew Brees the protection he needs to connect the long ball with his receiving corps?

Will running backs Ladell Betts and Chris Ivory establish a strong between the tackles ground game?

One other thing worth mentioning: head coach Sean Payton has had a lot of luck against the Falcons. Under Payton’s watch, the Saints have lost to Atlanta only once (2008 in the Georgia Dome). The Falcons haven’t beaten the Saints in the Superdome since 2002, though Atlanta leads the overall series 37-44.

This game might not have the appeal of the Steelers and Cowboy games, the consequences of a loss to the Falcons on Sunday will be greater than any other game until the post-Christmas rematch.

Starting the season 2-1 might not seem like much of a hole, it could later prove to be the difference between securing a first round playoff bye and settling for a wild card spot.

What Say the Boys in Vegas?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan favors New Orleans by four. Take the points. I predicted just before the regular season kickoff that Atlanta would continue the revolving state of NFC South division champions and this is the game the Dirty Birds stake their claim. Also the short week won't help the Black and Gold.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Courtney Roby to Appear on Saints Player Show on Thursday

New Orleans Saints kick returner/kickoff gunner will appear at Hooters in Metairie on Thursday at 6 PM for the weekly Saints Player Show broadcast on WWL 870 AM.

Roby, who also plays wide receiver, is in his seventh year in the NFL and has been with the Saints since 2008. Roby recovered a muffed punt return by San Francisco that set up a Garrett Hartley field goal in last Monday night’s game.

Players participating in the weekly program are generally available for autographs during the hour-long show.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Week Two: The Ugliest Win

More Saints have been martyred in Candlestick Park than in the Roman Coliseum. Yet on a night when the defending World Champion New Orleans team played before the eyes of the very men (Montana, Lott, Craig, Young and Jerry Rice- whose jersey was retired that evening) who manhandled the Saints in their old NFC West days, it was the San Francisco Forty-Niners who agonizingly gave away a game that they should have won.

It was as if the cleat was on the other foot.

Though Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a decent night, going 28-38 for 254 yards with two touchdowns, the long ball was missing tonight with wide receiver Marques Colston snagging the Black and Gold's longest reception at 30 yards.

Was it the wind? Was it the pressure? Brees's O-Line didn't look like award winners, allowing the signal caller to get sacked twice.

The Saints defense gave up a lot of ground to both running back Frank Gore, who averaged over 5 yards per run and ended the day with 112 rushing yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Alex Smith, who scrambled for 28 yards on 4 carries, The nugget of good news was that the Saints defense didn't give up the dreaded big run from last season, with Gore's longest rush being 20 yards, though the running back was getting it done on a smaller scale.

The Saints front seven didn't do a good job putting pressure on the Niners quarterback. Smith wasn't sacked once in the game and found time to get the ball to his receivers. The defense allowed Smith to march his team from their own 18 yard line to the Saints' end zone in eight plays in less than a minute. Perhaps too efficiently, though that was hardly the plan by the Saints defense.

When considering the numerous mistakes committed by the Niners throughout the game, the turbo-charged Saints offense should have won the game handily. Instead it was nail-biter that went down to the final play.

Running back Pierre Thomas didn't have a good day, running 18 times for 46 yards and no scores. His fellow running back Reggie Bush had a better day statistically but a far worse day overall, leaving the game with a knee injury after trying to recover a botched punt catch.

Saints kicker Garrett Hartley may be the only Saints player satisfied with his effort, going 3-3 on field goals, even if he had some accidental help on the game winner. Hartley, who missed all of his field goal attempts against the Minnesota Vikings season kickoff, had to be relieved to have come out on top and once again been the hero.

Overall the Saints didn't play like a Super Bowl winner. They didn't execute offensively while the defense struggled to force their opponents to punt the ball (three times compared to the Saints punting six).

The Saints did a remarkable job taking away the football, though one could argue that some of those turnovers could be better described as give-aways. Where the Saints came up short was doing something with those "gifts".

In a lot of ways this game resembled last seasons' road contests against the Washington Redskins and Saint Louis Rams, where the better team escaped with a win at the very end. With a short week, the Black and Gold face a big challenge as they host divisional rival Atlanta Falcons, who convincingly won their home game against the Arizona Cardinals 41-7.

I am going to say it now and repeat it Friday: you can forget Dallas, Sunday's showdown with the Falcons is now the most important regular game of the season for the Saints.

There was some good from the game. The Saints pulled in a win in a very hostile environment going 2-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. And I should add the Saints succeeded against a very motivated team looking to avenge their embarassment from last week's game against the Seattle Seahawks and play well before the team's legends.

The Mardi Gras team finally got to rain on Jerry Rice's parade in front of their tormentors from the 80s and 90s. For pre-Haslett-era Who Dats, this win was special.

Secondly, despite being stifled on both sides of the ball, the Saints didn't get flustered and didn't make the mistakes the Niners committed. Brees wasn't picked off once, though he had a close call, and the only time a member of the Black and Gold coughed up the ball, he recovered it.

The Saints kept their cool, were patient and found ways to win- which is precisely what Montana and Young did during those halcyon quarters when it appeared that the Saints were en route to defeating the Niners yet only to finish on the short end of things.

Perhaps the game was an exorcism for the Saints, a violent and intense experience yet finally overcoming the demons of the past (see the aforementioned list of Niner Pro-Bowlers).

Though the win was ugly, the Saints remain first in the division, tied with Tampa Bay (!), which hasn't faced the caliber of opponents the Saints have.

Not to be as effusive as the ESPN radio broadcasters in their post-game assessment of the Forty-Niners, but the team did show resilience in the midst of sloppy play and began to live up to the hype about winning their division this year, even though they start the young sesaon 0-2.

When considering the overall weakness of the division, the Niners have plenty of time to rebound...which makes this win that much more important to the Saints if San Francisco ends up winning the NFC West.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Saints-Niners Preview: Lot of History, But That's in the Past

For old school Saints fans, there were two red and gold Evil Empires in the eighties: the Soviet Union and the San Francisco Forty-Niners.

While the New Orleans franchise’s longest standing rival are their neighbors to the east in Atlanta, the Saints have an equally long and far less pleasant history with Frisco.

For most of the Saints’ history, they were the Washington Generals to San Francisco’s Harlem Globetrotters, most notably frustrating the Saints’ ambitions to win the NFC West during the Black and Gold’s unprecedented run in 1987.

A common lament amongst Saints fans back in the day was that the team would have attained success had they been in the AFC or just in another division. But that's just a bad excuse. Would Who Dats trade the their one Lombardi Trophy for the Buffalo Bills' numerous Super Bowl appearances? I would think not.

There's a line from Will Ferrell's Talladega Nights that is almost Will Rogers-esque: if you're not first, you're last. If the Saints couldn't beat the Niners in divisional games, why should anyone expect them to have more success in an NFC Championship game or the Super Bowl?

New Orleans' series record against San Francisco isn’t pretty.

The Saints have met their old NFC West divisional opponent on seventy occasions, more than any other team outside of the Falcons, with the Niners winning forty-five times or almost 66% (there were two ties). The Saints never beat the Niners back-to-back until 1978 even though the two teams first played in the Black and Gold’s inaugural season in 1967.

Under the NFL’s current scheduling it would take the Saints an estimated forty-four years of consecutive wins against the Niners to even the series.

But the era of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott are long gone from Candlestick. Just as the 2010 defending World Champion New Orleans team isn’t your daddy’s Saints nor do the 2010 San Francisco squad remotely resemble the team that tortured Saints fans twice a season.

San Francisco was embarrassed last week against the Seattle Seahawks, under ex-USC coach Pete Carroll, losing 6-31. 2010 is supposed to be the comeback season for the Niners, who were expected to contend in a division where every team could be described as being in a rebuilding mode. Yet from early appearances, San Francisco still has some work to do.

San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith made the Seattle defense look good, as the signal caller was picked off twice and running back Frank Gore was held to a paltry 38 yards on the ground.

The Drew Brees-led Saints will be facing shadows of what was once the greatest team in the NFL, though that's not to say it will be a cake-walk.

The Niners will be playing with some motivation. San Francisco great and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Rice (the greatest receiver in the game) will have his jsersey retired at the game and the Forty-Niners could have no better opportunity than to defeat the Super Bowl champions to reassure their fans that they are for real.

Besides the talented Gore, who will test the Saints’ defensive front-seven, San Francisco has one of the best tight ends in the game with Vernon Davis.

The Saints offense doubtlessly would like to demonstrate against a less challenging defense than the Minnesota Vikings that they should once again be considered the tops in the league after being limited to two touchdowns last Thursday night.

The key for the Niners will be forcing turnovers and converting them into points. Windy conditions at Candlestick will also go a long way towards grounding Brees' aerial circus offense.

And What Say the Boys in Vegas?

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan favors the Saints by 5.5. Even though they will be on the road, I have a tough time believing that New Orleans will “escape” with a win. I see this game as Brees and Co.’s opportunity to show that they still have it after the low-scoring NFL Season kickoff against the Vikings.

I’ll be surprised if the Saints win by less than double-digits. Give the points.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reggie Gives Up the Trophy

Two weeks ago I made my first of what I hope will be many trips to South Bend, Indiana to see the Fighting Irish kickoff their season.

Though I would have liked to have spent more time strolling across Notre Dame’s history rich campus, I figured I should make an effort to get over to the NCAA College Football Hall of Fame since it won’t be in South Bend much longer as the facility honoring collegiate gridiron greats will be relocating to Atlanta in 2013.

Two things in the hall were of particular interest: the Heisman Trophy exhibit and what kind of presence USC standout and 2005 Heisman Award winner Reggie Bush had in the museum.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that the former #5 was well represented in the hall. A large poster of Bush was prominently displayed in the gift shop and a few minutes into the tour I saw Bush’s USC jersey hanging prominently in the Heisman Trophy section (at least for a few more hours).

In the aftermath of Bush’s decision to surrender the prestigious award to the Heisman Trophy Trust, the running back will likely get the Stalin treatment long before the hall moves south as his name and image will be bowdlerized from the Heisman display and probably from all other corners of the place.

And that’s unfortunate since Reggie Bush earned his trophy and his place in the hearts and minds of college football fans.

Bush cheated a flawed student-athlete system, not the game. He didn’t use drugs that allowed him to play better. He didn’t take money to fumble the ball at a convenient moment so USC wouldn’t cover the point spread. And he didn’t kill anyone.

O.J. Simpson’s Heisman Trophy wasn’t taken from him by the Heisman Trophy Trust but was seized by creditors as part of the “wrongful death” judgment.

Adding to the absurdity of it all, the NCAA needed FIVE years to figure out that “A” USC player was getting his palm greased on the side. Such news was about as genuinely surprising to college football fans as evidence of gambling was to the Vichy French officer in Casablanca.

Let’s be grateful that these intrepid sleuths don’t work for the Department of Homeland Security.

Some have said that Bush’s conduct has brought disgrace to college football and his university. That’s arguable.

What isn’t in dispute is that he made his alma mater and the NCAA’s most notorious sweatshop a lot of money. Hundreds of thousands of people paid to see Bush play in college stadiums across the country and millions of Americans tuned in to watch Bush perform electrifying runs on television. Kids bought his jersey in droves.

USC and the NCAA profited far more from his toil and talent than he and his family did from the gifts they unwisely accepted from an agent who saw an opportunity to take advantage of their financial situation and the pressure that comes with being a glamorous “celebrithete” in southern California.

Clearly Bush and his family made bad decisions, especially since it was obvious early in his college career that he was going to be multi-millionaire in a few years short of a freak injury. They shouldn’t have taken an advance on his future financial success. And Bush is paying a heavy toll for his greed and that of others.

The Bush-USC-Heisman story shows how quickly life can call an audible even on the rich and famous.

Though Bush couldn’t keep up with the Kardashians and has endured the public humiliation of turning over the most coveted individual award in college sports, Bush has his health and a diamond studded gold ring that Dan Marino would trade his appearance fee from Ace Ventura to have won.

Bush might be persona non grata on the University of Southern California campus these days, though the pylon-magnet running back is still loved in New Orleans and remains not only one of the most popular players on the Saints roster but in the entire NFL.

Most importantly, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton love having him on the team for the 2010 season, even at eight-figures.

And one has to think losing a trophy is preferable to the fate that his fellow USC team mate, first round draft pick and 2004 Heisman trophy winner suffered when the Arizona Cardinals cut quarterback Matt Leinart from their roster.

There’s no better place for a prodigal athlete like Bush to play and live than the prodigal city of New Orleans. Louisianans tend to be tolerant of (and at times inclined to elect) scofflaws of all varieties.

Perhaps losing both trophies (Kim and Heisman) will provide the psychological grounding Bush needs to build upon the success he has thus far attained on the professional level.

Rather than sulk about the tarnishing of his collegiate glory days, Bush should develop the maturity, patience and determination to work towards having a lengthy and productive NFL career. If Bush plays a decisive role in accumulating for his team and refuge city multiple Lombardi Trophies, he could end up in a more lucrative museum yet…and I’m not referring to the one located near Gate B of the Superdome’s Plaza level concourse.

Giving up the Heisman is a dark chapter in the life of Reggie Bush, but if he contributes to putting more jewelry around the knuckles of Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc his story might yet have a happy ending.

Reggie Bush's Statement on Giving Up the 2005 Heisman Trophy

Statement provided by the New Orleans Saints:

One of the greatest honors of my life was winning the Heisman Trophy in 2005. For me, it was a dream come true.

But I know that the Heisman is not mine alone. Far from it.

I know that my victory was made possible by the discipline and hard work of my teammates, the steady guidance of my coaches, the inspiration of the fans, and the unconditional love of my family and friends. And I know that any young man fortunate enough to win the Heisman enters into a family of sorts. Each individual carries the legacy of the award and each one is entrusted with its good name.

It is for these reasons that I have made the difficult decision to forfeit my title as Heisman winner of 2005. The persistent media speculation regarding allegations dating back to my years at USC has been both painful and distracting. In no way should the storm around these allegations reflect in any way on the dignity of this award, nor on any other institutions or individuals. Nor should it distract from outstanding performances and hard-earned achievements either in the past, present or future.

For the rest of my days, I will continue to strive to demonstrate through my actions and words that I was deserving of the confidence placed in me by the Heisman Trophy Trust. I would like to begin in this effort by turning a negative situation into a positive one by working with the Trustees to establish an educational program which will assist student-athletes and their families avoid some of the mistakes that I made.

I am determined to view this event as an opportunity to help others and to advance the values and mission of the Heisman Trophy Trust.

I will forever appreciate the honor bestowed upon me as a winner of the Heisman. While this decision is heart-breaking, I find solace in knowing that the award was made possible by the support and love of so many. Those are gifts that can never be taken away.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Week One Review: Saints Make Great Leap Towards Two-Dat

Remember that list of ten concerns I posted yesterday…assuming you read it. Well the Saints addressed all of it and then some.

Kick and punt coverage was vastly improved. Head Coach Sean Payton demonstrated that he is committed to a balanced offense by utilizing the run. The Saints special teams blocked a Minnesota Vikings’ extra point. And the defense won the game the old fashioned way, not through a plethora of takeaways, but by forcing the visiting team to punt. The Saints defense didn’t give up a big run.

Sure the score wasn’t pretty. That said, I saw a defense that played better in this game than they did most of last season- and in this case against a quality team.

The offense struggled but it should be noted that Minnesota had one of the best defenses in the league last season, racking up 48 sacks- tops in the NFL. The Saints’ offense will get back to their explosive ways soon enough but I really hope that I see the defense that played on Thursday night show up for the rest of the games this season.

The nine points allowed by the Black and Gold “D” was the fewest since the Saints beat Tampa Bay 38-7 on November 22, 2009.

The Saints’ defense allowed only 91 yards on the ground and kept Vikings running back Adrian Peterson from making the kind of big run that plagued New Orleans much of the 2009 season. Peterson’s best run was for 14 yards.

Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre showed his age or lack of preparation (perhaps both), completing 15 of 27 passes (55%) for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Saints quarterback Drew Brees didn’t have a Pro Bowl performance but did well, connecting with 27 of 36 passes (75%) for 237 yards, a touchdown and no INTs. As usual, Brees spread the wealth amongst his talented receiver corps, with eight players making at least 2 catches.

Though running back Pierre Thomas averaged less than 4 yards per carry, PT did have one of the team’s two touchdowns and provided a key first down late in the fourth quarter. His 19 rushing attempts in the face of Minnesota’s talented front 7 indicates that the head coach is cognizant of how his team succeeded in 2009 and that he aerial circus that allowed Brees to challenge Dan Marino’s single season passing record won’t be reappearing in 2010.

The biggest drawback of the game was the two missed field goals by Garrett Hartley (you might have to remember his game winning field goal that advanced the Saints to the Super Bowl in order to restrain yourself from pelting the ex-hero with vitriol). Hopefully the game was an aberration for Hartley. If it’s not, then his career with the Saints will be an aberration.

The Saints’ victory over the Vikings, regardless of the modest margin, should be a point of great joy. The win puts the team two games over the Vikings for the post-season tiebreaker while also showing that the defense has continued to improve under coordinator Gregg Williams.

Of the five critical games at the front of the 2010 season, the Saints defeated what is arguably their toughest opponent, building momentum for the next four games while taking a major step towards achieving the Two Dat.

In precisely the kind of game the Saints used to find exotic ways to lose, the Black and Gold made adjustments, played small ball and came up big.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And What Say the Experts?

Some area sports commentators were kind enough to offer their takes on the 2010 season:

Mike Detillier, college football expert, WWL 870 AM contributor and SaintsReport writer:

The Saints to win the division with an 11-5 record, beating out the Falcons, who I have with a 10-6 mark..Saints win the NFC South championship.... the Carolina Panthers with an 8-8 mark and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a 4-12 mark..the Saints to play the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championshio game and for the Saints to then play the New York Jets in the Super Bowl...Saints Two-Dat.. Sains beat Jets in Super Bowl.

Gerry Vaillancourt, New Orleans Hornets radio WRNO 99.5 FM,,

NFC East- Giants-Redskins-Dallas ( yup the go boom and crash!)-PhillyLove Giants new def cord Perry Fewell.NFC North= Packers-Vikings-Bears-Lions- Gree bay will rock with that offense..NFC South- Saints-Falcons-Panthers-Bucks....can Saints get that defensive pressure back like last year? health?...NFC West- Arizona-San Fran-Seattle-Rams- big sleeper pick..Beanie Wells! QB play???AFC East- Jets-Pats-Fins-Bills-are Jets real? hardknock team or legit?AFC North-Ravens-Cinn-Pitt( ben is out for 4 games)Flacco and Boldin spark Ravens!AFC South- Colts-Texans-Titans-Jags- Manning etc etcAFC West- San Diego-Chiefs-Raiders-Denver-coaching staff in KC will help this team..Thomas Jones...Dexter McCluster/KC good will their defense be???

KeyAFC Title Game- Indy vs Baltimore

NFC Green Bay vs New Orleans

Green Bay beats Indy..Super Bowl

My Predictions for the 2010 NFL Season

In 2009 I fearlessly believed the Saints would go all the way. I even bought my plane ticket to Florida well before the playoffs.

So will the team achieve the Two Dat?

Let me first say that the first five games will determine the position the team finds itself in come December as the Saints open up against two division rivals and three teams that will be in the hunt for their divisions...which matters when it comes to determining tie-breakers for home field advantage.

By virtue of winning the NFC South, the Black and Gold will face the other three NFC division winners, as set by the NFL's logical and brilliant schedule rotation system (which will go the way of the Dodo in part if they expand the season to 18 games- but that's another rant).

The Saints open up against the team they defeated for the NFC championship, the Minnesota Vikings, who are considered the consensus team to repeat in the NFC North. Then the Black and Gold travels to Candlestick (or whatever that call the oddly shaped stadium near San Francisco) to face the Forty-Niners, picked by many to win their division.

Then it's back home to take on the Dirty Birds and Panthers before visiting the Arizona Cardinals, who won the NFC West in 2009 and might contend for the division's top spot if they can get their quarterback situation settled.

While Atlanta is the team’s lone threat in the NFC South, a loss to Carolina is very relevant in the event of a tie-breaker as divisional record would come in play if the Saints and Falcons split their two games. Then again, the rebuilding Carolina franchise could surprise people in the same way the rebuilding Saints did in 2006. Either way the Panthers game is going to matter on at least two levels.

A loss to any of the five teams would put the Saints at a disadvantage for homefield advantage in the post-season. Am I getting ahead of myself worrying about playoff positioning? No. Winning the division isn’t enough anymore. We won’t matching Lombardi trophies and gold and diamond encrusted knuckles on our players, coaches and training facility ground keepers.

Don’t get me wrong, it could all go to hell in a handbasket and Sean Payton will remain the greatest Saints coach in the history of the franchise just for what he did in 2009 (what he did in his first season arguably qualified him for that distinction- though I maintained it was Jim Mora until the Super Bowl win). But while we have the talent and the coaches, we might as well win, win, win.

And while the Saints did well on the road (losing only a throw-away game to Carolina in the season finale), I don’t think the Black and Gold would have made it to Miami in February had the team needed to detour to Minneapolis first. If you haven’t been to a road game (or the hostility standard, Soldier Field for the NFC Championship game), you don’t know what it’s like to play in someone else’s house.

A loss to the Vikings would in essence put the Saints two games behind them, as the other Purple and Gold would have the head-up tiebreaker. Short of a repeat of their late season collapse, the Saints will have a tough time catching up.

An early loss to Atlanta would jeopardize the team’s homefield advantage prospects but winning the division. The rematch will be on the Monday Night Football game after Christmas in the Georgia Dome, where the Dirty Birds were 6-2 last season. The Saints barely snuck out of the ATL with a win and you can bet the Georgia Dome won’t look like Saints-occupied territory if the Falcons are still in contention come December.

While expecting perfection in 2010 is unreasonable, a loss to Atlanta, Minnesota or San Francisco will put the Saints in a hole they will need to work hard to dig themselves out of and need a little help along the way.

And then there’s the Thanksgiving Day game at Jerry Jones’s Palace in Dallas. A loss there could mean the Saints fare no better than second seed and having to go back there for a second time in the playoffs…and perhaps a third time if they win that one.

Questions at linebacker and defensive tackle and the defense’s capacity to force teams to punt linger, especially since free safety Darren Sharper will be out for a third of the season, if not longer. And the Saints are on thin ice at running back if Pierre Thomas goes down.

While I think the 2010 Saints are a better team than the 2009 Saints, I don’t think they’re deeper. And once the injury bug bites them, the Saints might not be able to stop the bleeding.

Overall I see the Saints finishing 11-5 in a tie with Atlanta for first in the NFC South.

The Falcons have made improvements on the defensive side of the ball and if their talented offense rebounds, they are going to give the Black and Gold a run for their money.

So here are my calls:

NFC South

New Orleans

NFC East
New York

NFC North

Green Bay

NFC West

San Francisco
Saint Louis

Wild Cards: New Orleans, Green Bay

AFC South


AFC East

New York
New England

AFC North


AFC West

San Diego
Kansas City

Wild Cards: New England, Cincinnati

NFC Championship: Green Bay v. Dallas

AFC Championship: Baltimore v. New York

Super Bowl: Dallas v. Baltimore

World Champion: Baltimore Ravens (the most complete team in football)

Ten Variables En Route to the Two-Dat

The defending world champions go into the 2010 NFL season with their team largely intact. Over 70% of New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl roster is returning for the NFL regular season kickoff against the Minnesota Vikings and most of the players that were either cut or lost to free agency or injury were back-ups.

There are certain things I suspect will remain constant. First, a healthy Drew Brees will throw north of 4,000 yards and bushels of touchdowns. Second, the much under-appreciated (thank you fantasy football) receiving corps will continue to make the plays that made the New Orleans franchise the league’s top offense over the past four years. Thirdly, that defensive end Will Smith will play at the high level he’s paid. Fourth that the Pro-Bowl offensive linemen will keep playing like All-Stars and give Brees the protection that allows him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. And fifth, that the kicking game that bedeviled the team in 2007 and 2008 will be as reliable in this year as it was in the past season.

But what about the variables? The 2009 season was a lot scarier watch play out than it is to view in retrospect. What if wide receiver Robert Meachem doesn’t recover that interception against Washington? What if the Saint Louis Rams had ended the Black and Gold’s unbeaten streak early? And then what if the hated Chicago Bears don’t perform the ultimate service to the Saints by beating the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field in December?

Any one of those three scenarios could have resulted in the Saints road to the Super Bowl going through the Metrodome instead of the Superdome. In both Drew Brees and Sean Payton’s autobiographies, the importance of possessing home field advantage for the championship game is emphasized.

Below are ten variables that would alter the team’s quest for the Two Dat.

1) What If HE Goes Down? Forgive me for stating the obvious but quarterback Drew Brees IS the franchise player. Brees was the MVP of the Super Bowl and should have been awarded MVP for the league. But it’s hard for even someone of Brees’s talent and media market to win over sportswriters who find Peyton Manning just so “dreamy”. The worst thing that could happen to the team is for Brees was lost for the season due to an injury. The front office made the right moves letting his backup Mark Brunell get away in free-agency (the season finale at Carolina was like a horror movie preview) and keeping Chase Daniel instead of Patrick Ramsey. Though Daniel is no Brees, the Saints will need him to be a vast improvement over Brunell if the unimaginable happens.

2) Can Malcolm Jenkins Be Half the Safety That Darren Sharper Was? Sharper was the best free-agent pick-up for the Saints since Brees joined the team in 2006. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer snagged nine interceptions and brought three of them to the house. The last Saints to rack up that many INTs was the late great Dave Waymer in 1986. If the team’s 2009 first round draft pick can grab five, he’d be contributing in a big way. On a side note, props to the team for not cutting Sharper and instead temporarily shelving him as Physically Unable to Perform. Whatever Sharper gets paid in 2010 should be considered his bonus for out-performing his one-year deal.

3) Is Head Coach Sean Payton Committed to the Ground Game? Payton claimed he learned his lesson after the 2008 road game to Tampa Bay, but then again he still likes to call the double-reverse. The decision to balance the offense between the ground and the air made the team less predictable and harder to defend while also giving our own defense more time to rest between changes of possession. A quick 3 and out from dropped passes doesn’t give a linebacker much of an opportunity to catch his breath.

4) Can the Defense Adjust to Fewer Take-Away Opportunities? The Saints defense was third in the NFL with 26 interceptions. Even without Sharper in the lineup, opposing teams are going to be wary about throwing the ball too much against a team that won the conference championship and the Super Bowl due to picks. Can the front seven force opposing offenses to punt? A large part of the team’s success will be decided by the defense’s ability to get the ball back the hard way.

5) What if Pierre Thomas Gets Injured? Originally this was titled, “Will Chris Ivory Step Up”, though the Tiffin product himself was injured, though was not lost for the season like third running back Lynell Hamilton and fourth running back P.J. Hill. Since Reggie Bush is not an every down running back, a PT-less Saints offense will have to rely on Ivory and fourth back DeShawn Wynn, who wasn’t even on the roster a few weeks ago. In 2009, Mike Bell seamlessly filled in for an injured Thomas and Hamilton in turn carried the load after Bell went out. Lack of depth in this position could haunt the Saints later in the season and could be the number one “bitching point” by fans if the season ends on a sour note.

6) Will the Linebacker Corps Get It Together in Time? The depleted linebacker corps faces a similar problem. A productive player was let go in free agency and injuries and cuts have thinned the ranks. While starters Scott Shanle (a little love for this man finally?) and Jonathan Vilma (best trade EVER) are back, there are some questions about the third spot. Initially, the team surprised people by tapping Jonathan Cassillas as the weak-side linebacker and shifting Shanle over to Fujita’s old slot but then Cassillas went down during the pre-season. Trading one of the team’s six receivers for a proven linebacker has bubbled up and could be a reason why Adrian Arrington will finally start a season off on a 53-man roster. Again, another area Saints fans thought would have been addressed in the draft but went completely ignored until after the last round.

7) Can the Defense Stop the Run? The folks at WWL AM radio like to say turning down the television volume and turning up the radio call during games is a New Orleans tradition. Add giving up 50+ yard runs at some point in the game. Ironically fans don’t even panic over it anymore- kind of like how Londoners KBO’d during the Blitz. Unlike the mellifluous voice of Jim Henderson, this tradition is not welcome and needs to come to an end. Can the front seven finally “make it stop”.

8) Will Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush Stay Healthy? Same question I asked last year; same question I will ask this year. Will these two brittle yet valuable players get through the season on the roster and not on the injured reserve list. When they play, the Saints are a better team as the other side doesn’t know who the ball is going to. They’re the third-down killers that keep the offense on the field.

9) Will Jermon Bushrod Continue to Be the O-Line’s “Weakest Link”? No need to add further commentary beyond mentioning his replacement is waiting in the wings.

10) Thin at the Fat Boy Spot Defensive tackles are amongst the heaviest people on the team; and forgive the pun, the Black and Gold are awfully thin at the spot. The team tried to do something about it in the draft but ended up cutting Al Woods, though I felt the position deserved enough of a priority to be selected in the first round, even trading up to get value. General Manager Mickey Loomis went in a different direction investing in a foundation for later seasons, picking players who had no chance at starting barring unforeseen injuries. Are Sedrick Ellis, Anthony Hargrave and Remi Ayodele able to remain healthy and improve on what they accomplished last season? I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say you can forget homefield advantage for the playoffs if Ellis goes down for the rest of the season. Ellis is only behind Brees on the list of irreplaceable players.

Flash from the Past: Predicting Victory in 2009

Below is the prediction I made in September 2009 about the Saints going all the way. I'm not a yahoo who swears a re-enactment of the Miami Dolphins never duplicated perfect season but felt that the Black and Gold had the right tools at the right time to achieve greatness.

And they did. After I penned the below column, a "dead"skins fan replied mockingly that I shouldn't "stop believing".

I never did.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will This Be the Year for the Saints? Yes. No...Really?
Will this be the year that the Saints finally go all the way or will this just be the latest installment of a post-2006 season “great pumpkin-esque” Super Bowl vigil?As a longtime follower of the Black and Gold dating back a tad prior to the team’s first taste of success in 1987, pessimism comes natural. And after the heady days coming from the team’s first conference championship appearance, the pattern is pointing to another let down.I like what I saw this off-season with the moves made in free-agency (no undersized cornerbacks acquired at a premium this year) and to a lesser degree with the draft (defense, defense and special teams). And I like the play calling I saw on both sides of the ball in preseason. To hell with heartbreak as it’s hard not to be optimistic, especially since the NFL’s most potent offense from last season is returning intact. Mostly.Deuce McAllister, the best running back in team history, is gone as his “bodyguard” fullback Mike Karney. However, Deuce’s last year was more of a sad farewell tour as he played sparingly and Karney had his least productive year with the team. However both of these letdowns could just as easily affixed to Head Coach Sean Payton’s play calling than the cut duo’s capacity to play.Another missing piece, albeit temporary, is Pro-Bowl Offensive Tackle Jammal Brown, who will be out of the first four to six games of the season. Brown’s presence will be missed as he contributed to a line that provided the protection that helped make Drew Brees one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.But there’s a big upside to this season’s offense.Running back Reggie Bush and tight end Jeremy Shockey go into the new season healthy and hopefully the injury prone “celebri-thetes” will avoid spending too much time on the back of a golf-cart heading towards an x-ray room. Wide receiver Marques Colston seems to have returned to old form after struggling in 2008 with a finger injury and Lance Moore, who largely filled the receiving vacuum when Colston was sidelined, appears to have rebounded from an injury he sustained while lifting weights in the off-season.Devery Henderson, whose reliability has steadily improved, and Robert Meachem, who has shown the stuff that led the team’s front office to use a first-round draft pick on him in 2007, give Brees the plethora of targets that will further confound opposing secondaries. The return of John Carney as kicker should give the team the kind of stability they have been lacking since the infamous Orlindo Mare “upgrade”.The biggest offensive concern for the Saints was the running game, which was underscored by the team’s interest in making a trade to land Buckeye running back Beanie Wells in the latter part of the first round in this year’s draft. Wells was the last person I felt the Saints should have been pursing due to questions about his durability hovered over him during the draft and that the Saints should not have even considered mortgaging a future first round draft pick and complicating the team’s salary cap picture when they already possess the necessary talent at that position at a bargain.Running back Pierre Thomas still holds the distinction of being the only Saints player to have achieved 100 yards of receiving and 100 yards of rushing in a single game and in my opinion was not given ample opportunity to prove his worth, but that problem was not the fault of Thomas but the man doing the play calling. The Saints ranked 21st in average yards per carry but were 26th in rushing attempts. Payton’s refusal to balance the offense and obsession with a gunslinger approach resulted in a lack of clock control that kept his own defense on the field longer than they should have been. Though Thomas will likely miss the first game of the season, Bush will be complemented with heavy-duty backs Mike Bell and Lynell Hamilton, the latter could prove to be a true diamond in the rough if his preseason performances are any indication of his talent.The biggest problem for every Sean Payton team has been the defense, which declined with every passing year. Last season they allowed 393 points. This year they finally did something about it.To Mickey Loomis’s credit, the front office was fairly aggressive in addressing the team’s most glaring weakness, landing Gregg Williams as the new defensive coordinator- perhaps the most highly anticipated assistant coach in the history of the franchise, thinking defense and special teams in the draft, cutting players in the secondary that didn’t get the job done and bringing in new…scratch that…different players in free agency.The Saints’ secondary has been virtually remade with two new cornerbacks and two new safeties in addition to shifting former cornerback Usama Young to safety. Cornerback is no longer the Achilles heel of defense and the two veterans (Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau) that were brought in would be hard-pressed to do worst than their predecessors, even if they’re short-term fixes. Though defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith are suspended four games their presence won’t be terribly missed if they don’t improve from their combined 6 sacks in 2008, equaling what part-time defensive end Bobby McCray accomplished by himself last season. Grant hasn’t broken into double-digits in sacks since 2004 and Smith hasn’t since 2006. Any improvement at all would go a long way for the Saints defense. The Saints seem solid at defensive tackle with Sedrick Ellis continuing to justify the trade Loomis made to leap ahead in the 2008 first round to draft him.Perhaps the greatest area for concern is at linebacker. While there is no questioning the ability of Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker, outside linebackers Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle have not exactly set the world on fire with their play. What’s ironic about the pair is that despite Shanle having made two sacks last season while Fujita had none, Fujita continues to enjoy wide popularity with the fans while Shanle has assumed the role of team “goat” now that the Black and Gold faithful no longer have Fred Thomas and Jason David to kick around anymore. Hopefully linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who seemed to be a one-man army in the final preseason game against Miami, will have an opportunity to prove his value to the team during the year.The team that will take the field against Detroit on Sunday will be a vastly improved squad over the one that opened up last season. Loomis has without much fanfare put together the pieces needed to compete at a higher level.When looking at the schedule, which is hardly a walk in the park, I can still see this team finishing 11-5 and contending for the NFC South, which will be a duel with the rival Atlanta Falcons. If ever there was a Saints team on paper that looks Super Bowl worthy, it’s this one.Keys to success:1) A healthy Drew Brees (teams that lose their star quarterbacks end up finishing behind teams like the Dolphins)2) A commitment to running the ball to use the clock against opponents3) Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush being healthy and productive, if only for distractive purposes in terms of opposing defenses and not tabloids4) Putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks so they all don’t look like Michael Vick5) Converting on the 3 and 1’s that were the bane of the team’s existence last season
Posted by Mike Bayham at 10:36 PM

Choose Wisely: Concert or World Championship Unveiling

The 2009 celebration officially comes to an end with the unveiling of the World Champion banner in the Superdome at 6:30 PM Thursday night. It should be noted that Saints officials are warning fans that if you attend the concert (or parade) that you will not make it inside in time for the unveiling. So if seeing a piece of local sports history is more important than Taylor Swift or Dave Matthews (sic?)- in my case a replay of Mid-South Wrestling qualifies as a more valuable use of time- then get your Black and Gold behind in the Dome before 6 PM. Think Atlanta home opener lines.

According to the Saints organization, festivities begin in Champions Square at 4ish and the parade along the river, starting at Elysian Fields, begins at 5ish.

Plan accordingly.

Under the Weather, But Back On-line

For the dozens of dozens of you who check out this site (just's a lot more than that), please accept my apologies for being MIA last few days. I've been under the weather with something or other but with the regular season starting on Thursday night, I plan to be back on-line throughout the season.

Thank you for checking out the site and it will be updated regularly throughout the season.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cut Time: Whose Bubble Will Be Burst?

With the final exhibition game over, New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton move on to what has to be the hardest part of their jobs: narrowing their pre-season roster to the regular season maximum of 53 players.

The team had already made two tough cuts early when they parted ways with players with somewhat of a history with the team: linebacker/special teams captain Troy Evans and wide-receiver/punt returner/2009 preseason stand out Rod Harper.

One player who had been on the bubble for the past two seasons though can probably breathe a bit easier these days is wide receiver Adrian Arrington, who this writer admits was the player I was rooting would make the roster. The Michigan product had bounced around from injured reserve to the practice squad to occupying a spot on the Super Bowl championship roster though was never given an opportunity to contribute towards the Saints historic win.

Arrington had an outstanding pre-season catching 11 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns, making the most of the chances he was given. Though the Saints are thick at wide receiver, with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Courtney Roby as the team’s top five receivers, Arrington’s impressive performances in exhibition games meant that his days of riding the pine on the practice squad were over and that he’d either end up on the Saints 53 man roster or some other teams.

Another pre-season star that benefited from a good pre-season and the misfortune of others is running back Chris Ivory, the favorite of many of the sports writers who covered training camp. At first pegged as a camp body, season ending injuries to running backs Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill, who were considered the team’s third and fourth running backs, gave the Tiffin product an opening not even the Saints award-winning offensive line could create, and Ivory made the most of it.

While not having the exhibition breakouts on the level of Hamilton or Pierre Thomas’s, Ivory’s short reception for a 76-yard touchdown against San Diego got people talking. Though the Saints have added two more experienced running backs since Hamilton and Hill went down, I’ll be surprised if Ivory gets cut.

The quarterback situation is more about positioning than a fight over a roster spot. Though the Saints went back and forth throughout 2009 on having two or three quarterbacks on the 53 man roster, Missouri standout Chase Daniel did well enough in pre-season to likely avoid an exile to the practice roster, since cutting him might result in him being scooped up by another team.

Daniel and Patrick Ramsey had about even (and far from Brees-like) showings in the team’s preseason finale. Daniel threw for more yards and had a touchdown, however Ramsey had a higher completion ratio and didn’t get picked off. I think the Saints will keep three quarterbacks on the roster though Ramsey will serve as Drew Brees’s primary backup.

The defensive side of the ball will feature the most post-cut arguments. While the Black and Gold’s regular season starters on all sides of the ball were established for weeks, the question of reserves and future Hall of Fame safety Darren Sharper’s future with the team have been topics of debate.

Sharper’s starting position was lost to Malcolm Jenkins when it became apparent that his recuperation from surgery wasn’t progressing as hoped. Despite having a great 2009 season, teams, even those desperate for help with their secondaries, passed on signing Sharper. However if the team doesn’t have confidence in his capacity to return and with roster spots needed for back-ups, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name did not appear on the roster come Saturday.

The final decision reached on the safeties will cause some gnashing of teeth as a familiar face is likely to be gone no mater which direction the Saints front office goes in.

The team’s re-signing of defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy is an omen that LSU draftee Al Woods’s hopes of landing a spot on the active roster are close to nil. The Saints also have to make touch calls on defensive end and linebacker, with rookie defensive end Junior Galette having his boosters. If Galette survives the roster purge, it’ll be at the expense of a veteran. My gut feeling is that he won’t make the cut though he is certain to be signed to the practice squad if some other team doesn’t sign him to their 53-man roster.

Along with Galette, defensive ends Jimmy Wilkerson, Bobby McCray and Jeff Charleston are likely all crossing their fingers since the team is unlikely to keep 6 defensive ends on the roster.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Reasons for the Pre Season

A few years ago, I penned a screed about how much I hate exhibition football games. I don’t recall if I encouraged scuttling it, though in a less lucid moment I might have.

Even though I still loathe pre-season games (I almost never use my tickets for them), I’ve had a major change of heart on the subject, largely due to one man: Pierre Thomas.

While Quarterback Drew Brees is without a doubt the cornerstone of the New Orleans Saints championship team, Thomas’s contributions to the successful hunt for the Vince Lombardi Trophy cannot be denied or minimized.

It was Thomas that largely established the Saints ground game, finally brining some balance to a potent, yet one-sided and thus predictable…and thus easier to defend against, offense.

Number twenty-three rushed for 793 yards and 6 touchdowns while catching 39 receptions for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. And it should be noted that Thomas was the first Saint ever to cross into the end zone with a football in a (the?) Super Bowl.

And where did the Saints pick up this fine athletic specimen?

Why the NFL equivalent of the Dollar Tree, as the Black and Gold inked him as an undrafted free agent in 2007.

Granted it took Thomas some time to establish himself into a solid contributor but had it not been for a pre-season game against Kansas City, the Illinois product might have languished on the practice squad or worse yet, blossom on some other team’s roster.

Before Thomas, I looked at pre season games as merely opportunities for star players to get hurt in meaningless games and for NFL teams to bilk fans into buying tickets via a season ticket package to games they don’t want to go to for the same price as a regular season ticket.

Now I look at them as job interviews for players who haven’t anchored a spot on the roster by virtue of a draft pick investment. Don’t get me wrong, I (and apparently many other season ticket holders) buy these tickets that either go unused or are dumped at an Enron-stock discount because I have to, not because I want to.

The reason why I skip these games in person is that I don’t want to spend the money, time and hassle of going to “training camp with live ammo” when I can view it comfortably at home. While the team owner benefits in guaranteed ticket sales via a backed up season ticket holder list (pending on the market), they don’t profit as much from "sell-outs" with thousands of chairs.

That means $8 beers are not being sold and overpriced tchotchkies are not being purchased. Which is why owners should do one of two things.

First, don’t make acquiring pre-season tickets a part of a season ticket plan and instead sell them directly at a reduced rate. For those fans stuck at the back of a ticket list the size of a phone book who don’t want to go the StubHub route, the availability of reasonably priced tickets to exhibition games might be welcome…and could lead to families attending the least desired football games.

The second option is to simply make the exhibition games traveling road contests allocated to two large cities within a team’s extended media market. This is precisely what happened in 2006 before the Superdome renovation was complete as the Saints played their two “home” pre-season games in Shreveport and Jackson, Mississippi.

Prior to receiving an expansion franchise, New Orleans had hosted exhibition football games, which helped make the Crescent City’s case for an NFL team.

Furthermore, the league should not play regular season games overseas. Give London and Tokyo exhibition games instead of regular season games some unlucky fans involuntarily sacrifice in the name of expanding the overall brand.

One thing the NFL should definitely not do to appease the fans (who are they trying to pull with this line?) is to trim pre-season games and expand regular season games by two.

As mentioned earlier, pre season games, while not popular, are important for player development and the last chance unknowns and small school stars that were drafted late if at all to get their shot at making teams. It's also when established palyers shake off the rust of the off-season. While training camp is intense, it's no substitute to taking on another team in full pads.

The NFL has the best and most logical schedule rotational system in sports…why screw it up by adding two games.

Also, why risk the health of the league’s superstars by extending a grueling season further? I know money…but it’s still not right.

And then there is the Roger Maris argument: adding two more games means NFL records will start to fall. Does anyone doubt Brees’s capacity to break Dan Marino’s single season passing record with 18 games? And should Brees’s potential accolade be besmirched with an asterisk?

Finally, fans of successful teams are going to have those pre-season games anyway…at the back end! Once teams secure their byes and/or playoff spots, the scrubs are getting sent in for the balance of the season. How much whining took place when the Colts benched their starters to avoid the risk of damaging their Super Bowl talent?

Though I don’t care much for pre-season game, I care far less for the certainty of star players getting injured with substitutes taking their place in post-season.

The 18 game schedule comes from the mind of the man who thinks a February Super Bowl in the uncovered stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey is a swell idea.

It is a rare moment when this pre-strike ex-baseball junkie sides with the players’ union but I hope that they can put this greed-inspired maneuver on ice come contract negotiation time.