Monday, December 26, 2011

Brees Extends Legacy, Saints' Winning Streak

NOTE: The Onside Kick has been on "political reserve" most of the 2011 NFL Season due to time spent running for office and recovering from that exercise. Postings for the remainder of this season will likely be sporadic.

Brees Extends Legacy, Saints’ Winning Streak

It’s now called the Drew Brees record.

At least for this week.

There was much excitement and anxiety in the stands of the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Monday night and it had little to do with the Saints winning their division.

The Black and Gold had the game put away in the third quarter and their hold on the NFC South was secure, the question that was on everyone’s mind was whether quarterback Drew Brees would finally break the Dan Marino passing record that eluded him on the final play in the 2008 season.

Appropriately enough, it came on Brees’s final pass of the game. Even more appropriately enough, the record-breaking throw was for a touchdown to fellow San Diego Chargers castaway Darren Sproles.

And then the dome erupted with joy comparable to Garrett Hartley’s NFC Championship game winning field goal.

While it seemed after the first half the Marino passing record of 5,084 passing yards would be easily shattered in the third quarter, an interception, a big kickoff return by Darren Sproles, a clock eating Atlanta offense and a stiffening Atlanta defense that forced two punts made it appear that it would not happen until the season finale.

But with just over five minutes left on the clock, the Saints defense forced the Atlanta offense off the field at the Dirty Birds’ own 33 yard line. Brees needed just over two dozen yards at the beginning of that drive to do it.

Head coach Sean Payton helped facilitate Brees’s pursuit by calling four straight pass plays after a one yard gain by running back Pierre Thomas.

With this latest milestone, Brees further increased his already legendary status in the Crescent City while also making a greater case for league MVP and later enshrinement in Canton.

Winning a second Super Bowl would virtually guarantee him a golden jacket, though continuing his prolific passing on top of what he has already accomplished should be enough for a balloter who is not stuck in a major media market mindset.

With the history-making Brees-to-Sproles touchdown pass, the Black and Gold polished off a 45-16 drubbing of the NFC rival whom the Saints may host again in two weeks during the playoffs in the event Atlanta goes to the post-season and New Orleans is unable to secure the second seed and first-round bye.

In order for the Black and Gold to grab the second seed, the Saints would need to defeat the Carolina Panthers next Sunday and the 2-13 Saint Louis Rams would need to defeat the 13-2 San Francisco Forty-Niners on New Year’s Day.

Though the Rams are playing at home, the Niners will be a heavy favorite and highly motivated, especially with post-season positioning on the line.

Payton will have to make a decision whether to risk his playing starters next weekend as he did with terrible consequences last season when he was in a similar situation.

Also worth considering is that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has racked up 4,897 passing yards this season and is in striking distance of the Dan Marino Drew Brees record.

I would imagine the Saints head coach will have an eye on which quarterback takes the field for the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday before deciding how long or if he lets Brees amend his own mark in the gridiron history books.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Most Important Game of the Year...for Me

I have had the Chicago Bears visit to the Louisiana Superdome etched in my mind since January 2007.

Due to the NFL’s brilliant (no sarcasm here…seriously) schedule rotation, the Monsters of the Midway were not due to visit the domed confines of Poydras and Loyola for four years after the Saints’ first trip to an NFC Championship game.

Everything about that Soldier Field experience was miserable.

The weather.

The Saints’ ball handling.

The final score.

And most especially the Bear fans, or as I like to call them, Chicagoons.

I wasn’t optimistic about the Saints’ chances of winning at Soldier Field, which is a surprisingly loud venue considering it’s an open air stadium. I didn’t think the Saints would adjust to the field and weather conditions without practicing in a similar environment.

But I also wasn’t going to miss what was then the biggest game in Black and Gold history.

The first omen of the misery to come was in the form of a pair of jackasses in Bears gear merrily pasting orange letters on a large blue sandwich board sign that read: Bears Finishing What Katrina Started.

I felt an impulse to capture that image, so I turned my black and gold Saints hat around, walked up to tweedle-jack and tweedle-ass and asked to photograph the fruit of their labors. They happily obliged. After taking the picture, I turned my gold fleur-de-lis cap around to the front and commented “I’m going to make you famous” and walked off.

Despite the best efforts of the Chicago Tribune to track the pair down, they remain anonymous to this day. But their “artwork” came to symbolize the abusive behavior more than a few Saints fans received at Soldier Field, including this one.

Growing tired of the threats of physical violence and Katrina taunts from screwballs whose blood alcohol levels were increasing with the Bears’ score, I did what I rarely do: I left a Saints game early. Being a longtime Who Dat, I can stand losing a game..I just wasn’t game to losing teeth.

And so I trudged out on to the frozen tundra along Lake Michigan, still happy about what the Saints had accomplished in the 2006 season though bitter about the lack of class and decency of Bears fans.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Bears players (not the fans) made it up in 2009 by defeating the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, which contributed to the Saints’ securing homefield advantage during the playoffs. That game marked the first time I had cheered for Chicago in anything since the 2007 NFC Championship game, however my love for the Saints trumps my dislike of any team. Even the Dirty Birds.

This week tens of thousands of Who Dats will have that Soldier Field experience on their mind as they stream into the Superdome. Doubtlessly the several thousand or so Bears fans who made the road trip to the Big Easy are also cognizant of what happened in the stands that day.

I encourage Saints fans attending the game to be passionate this Sunday about their team not hostile to the visiting Bears fans. Show them how the best fans in the NFL behave and act. That’s not to say smacktalk is off-limits.

That said I almost pity the Bear fan, who having had one too many hurricanes or handgrenades, decides to work in Katrina cracks into his rhetoric.

The Saints fan being taunted might very well have lost more than his Archie Manning jersey in the storm.

So I will close this with one request for the Saints: if you can’t bring back a second Lombardi Trophy this season at least beat the Bears.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Sack Happy" Saints Hope to Jump Start Offense Against Texans

The “new” New Orleans Saints showed something different in their exhibition game against the San Francisco Forty Niners last Saturday.

Beyond stifling the opposition to a total of 3 points, the Saints defense played like quarterback headhunters en route to racking up six sacks. Last season, the Saints ranked 18th in sacks with 33 or an average of just over 2 per game.

Though Heisman Award winner and first round draft pick running back Mark Ingram found the end zone, the Alabama product didn’t overawe in relatively limited action. Ingram had six carries for 23 yards, including his 14 yard score.

The longest run by a Saints player on offense was the scrambling backup to Drew Brees, Chase Daniels, who had a 19 yard run. As a passer, Daniels completed 13 of his 21 attempts (62%) for 129 yards.

The big stars of the game (Brees as not amongst this group completing a single pass out of his mere four attempts before being yanked) were kick returner Courtney Roby (though not as a kick returner) and wide receiver Joseph Morgan (as a kick returner).

Roby’s future with the team looked tenuous after running back/return specialist Darren Sproles (a relative of Roby) was inked after running back Reggie Bush was traded to the Miami Dolphins. Roby was the team’s leading receiver against the Niners making four catches for 42 yards.

Morgan, a rookie free agent who played two seasons at Walsh University (North Canton, Ohio), returned six punts, averaging 16 yards per return. Morgan’s big play was a 78 yard return to the end zone. Though still a long shot to make the Saints’ roster, Joseph helped attract notice in his first opportunity to shine in live fire.

Running back Joique Bell had an impressive punt return for 28 yards and led the team’s ground game with 52 yards on 9 carries (5.7 yard average). Bell was signed by the Saints last season to supplement the team’s grossly depleted running back corps in the postseason though he saw no action in the playoff game at Seattle.

Bell, Roby, Joseph and others who are playing for either roster spots with the Saints or with other teams have three “scrub” games left before the roster goes down to 53 players while Brees will have another opportunity to get comfortable with his changing offensive line.

The Saints visit the Houston Texans on Saturday at 7:00 PM.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saints Hold on to TE David Thomas

The New Orleans Saints announced on Tuesday evening that they have reached an agreement with reserve tight end David Thomas.

Though very much in the shadow of hot prospect Jimmy Graham, who impressed the Saints organization so much they released Jeremy Shockey prior to the lock out, Thomas has been a key player in helping quarterback Drew Brees move the chains.

The tight end backed up the oft-injured Shockey during the team’s Super Bowl run and also subbed in as fullback when Heath Evans went down during the week six road game against the Miami Dolphins.

Thomas was pursued by the Saints front office after tight end Billy Miller suffered a season ending injury in an exhibition game against the Houston Texans in 2009.

Though not as spectacular as his recent first round swaps in the 2011 NFL draft that bagged defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram, the Thomas trade is perhaps one of general manager Mickey Loomis’s best deals.

The Saints received the regular contributor from the New England Patriots for a 2011 6th round draft selection.

In a recent interview, Brees publicly expressed his wish for Thomas’s retention with the team.

Thomas’s re-signing is the latest step taking by the team to preserve the core of their offense. Center Jonathan Goodwin and fullback Heath Evans are the only two key players from the offense that have yet to sign contracts with the Saints.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Saints Ink Last of Their “Big Three”, Hold on to Harper

The New Orleans Saints continue to score in the brief free agency period scooping up the last of their critical three unrestricted free agents, signing strong safety Roman Harper to a multiyear contract.

The Saints organization had not released the details of the pact but media reports have it valued at $28,000,000.00 for four years with most of it guaranteed.

The Saints had previously reached deals with wide receiver Lance Moore and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

Though Harper was brutally victimized by the Seattle Seahawks’ offense in the wild card playoff game, the former University of Alabama standout has generally played well for the Black and Gold, particularly under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Of the Saints’ free agents, Harper’s departure would have been the most difficult to address prior to the start of the regular season.

The Saints still have a number of positions to fill and a few more key personnel to try to retain, the most notable being starting center Jonathan Goodwin and backup tight end David Thomas.

Extending guard Carl Nicks’s tenure with the team is another priority though as a restricted free agent, the Saints have the final say on his departure for the 2011 season.

Harper, a second round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, has gone to the last two Pro Bowls.

Reggie Who?- Saints Make Big Special Teams Move

Reggie Bush wasn’t gone from the New Orleans Saints more than 24 hours before the organization had a replacement signed.

Former San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles inked a four year deal with the Saints, further bolstering the team’s already potent running back corps but more importantly filling the void Bush left behind as punt returner.

While defense has received much attention in the draft, the Saints have also acted to improve their special teams personnel in both the draft, the Bush trade with Miami (in which the Saints received one of the Dolphins’ top coverage players as part of the swap) and now with Sproles’s signing.

Sproles in a black and gold uniform likely means the end of wide receiver Courtney Roby with the team, who was primarily used as a kick returner and gunner.

In other free agency news, the Saints signed one of the “big three” priorities by coming to terms with left tackle Jermon Bushrod. The team also held on to starting outside linebacker Scott Shanle and reserve linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

Free agents back-up free safety Usama Young and occasional starting defensive tackle Remi Ayodele will not be returning to the Saints having signed contracts with the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings respectively.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bye, Reggie, Bye

I figured the Saints organization would have parted with the celebrithete after the Black and Gold’s Super Bowl victory due to his expensive contract, though the front office surprised this observer retaining him under the same terms.

With almost $12,000,000.000 due to Reggie Bush this season, the conventional wisdom was that the running back would either renegotiate his deal or be cut.

Head coach Sean Payton has been Bush’s biggest fan and steadfastly defended the former Heisman Trophy winner’s value to the Saints’ turbo-charged offense.

Granted Payton couldn’t cite the stat sheets as solid evidence on this count, since linebacker distraction is not a quantifiable statistic.

Bush’s greatest gift to the organization was his very presence.

His selection by the Saints with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft signaled a new way of doing business on Airline Drive, that the organization was not going to shirk from picking an expensive fan favorite.

Unlike the ridiculous Ricky Williams-Ditka deal, the Saints didn’t mortgage the future to acquire Bush; those rights were paid upfront by Jim Haslett’s club.

It wasn’t a head coach who stood anonymously in line at a drug store in post-Katrina New Orleans nor the newly signed still recuperating quarterback who could barely raise his Saints jersey at the press conference when the team signed him who sold out the Superdome on a season-ticket basis for the first time in the history of the franchise.

It was Bush who created an unprecedented level of excitement and energy.

It was after he was picked that I made the decision to become a season ticket holder again. If the club was going to step up by giving the fans what we wanted, then I felt it fair to reciprocate by reinvesting in an organization that was no longer going to be content with mediocre play.

I don’t know if any player could have lived up to the stratospheric expectations that were assigned to Bush with his own complicity.

I remember not long after the draft a typically objective observer gushed that the Saints had the best running game in the league just by having him in a Saints jersey and I’m sure there were those who were ready to give him his gold jacket before he his first NFL snap.

Reggie Bush did not earn his considerable pay by what he did on the field but how he packed the stands and created an electric atmosphere.

Oh, he also shut up that obnoxious Bears fan I had the misfortune of being seated near with his spectacular 88-yard reception run during the otherwise miserable NFC Championship game in Soldier Field.

Both sides are winners. The Saints got a load of badly needed salary cap relief, a talented special teams player and a fourth round draft pick, the last two being modest prizes but more than what the organization had ended up with had they just cut Bush.

And short of an unlikely Saints-Dolphins Super Bowl matchup, the Black and Gold defense won’t face him in a regular season game until 2013. That they denied a potential conference or worse yet divisional rival of his services is a victory of sorts.

For Reggie, Miami marks a new beginning where he will enjoy more sun no longer being in quarterback Drew Brees’s shadow. In addition to playing on grass, which is easier on running backs than man-made turf, he’ll fit better into the Dolphins culture, which attempts to fill the Hollywood hole left in a Los Angeles-less league.

Bush will also have a final chance to prove that he is a featured running back as oppose to an infrequently deployed gimmick player.

Hopefully Bush is cognizant of the love New Orleans had/has for him. How Saints fans stood by him during his not so productive games and the Heisman fiasco. New Orleanians know all about tough times and public embarrassment and there was probably no city that would have been more supportive of him during his public tribulations.

When the Saints picked him, we didn’t get the Hall of Famer most unreasonably hoped for; but we did pick up one of the key ingredients of a new Saints team.

Thanks Reggie, it’s been fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saints Retain Key Offense Component

The New Orleans Saints took a big step in their uphill battle to retain the core of the team’s high octane offense with the re-signing of wide receiver Lance Moore to a multiyear deal.

The news was announced by Moore via his Twitter account, in which the undersized yet reliable receiver tweeted “"Welp, its been real new orleans........But let's make the next five years even more real. I'm coming back baby!!! #whodat"

Moore was considered one of the three most important free agents for the team to hold on to in the abbreviated signing period, the other two being strong safety Roman Harper and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

Moore has been a consistent contributor as a wide receiver and is a favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees, who made no secret about his desire to see Moore’s services retained.

Moore has also handled punt return duty when running back Reggie Bush has been injured or “punished” for poor performance. Moore returned 11 during the 2010 season for 112 yards though he had yet to return one for a touchdown in his career.

The wide receiver’s best season with the Saints was in 2008 when he caught 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Though his time on the field was limited due to injuries in 2009, Moore made a key contribution in the Black and Gold’s quest for the Lombardi Trophy. Moore caught a two-point conversion during Super Bowl XLIV, which was initially called an incomplete pass but after being reviewed it was ruled a reception.

Moore largely returned to his 2008 form in 2010, catching 66 passes for 763 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football?

With the clock running down on the off-season, NFL owners and the players they locked out came to terms on a new ten-year collective bargaining agreement.

The deal came at the relatively insignificant cost of the “fifth” preseason Hall of Fame game (sorry Canton, but your throwaway exhibition game will not be missed) though the long drawn out back and forth and legal maneuverings took a toll on the fans’ collective stomach linings and perhaps their enthusiasm for the multi-billion dollar sports enterprise.

Though the owners played hardball in their tactics, the agreement they adopted proved, at least upon the review of this non-lawyer/sports agent, to be a reasonably fair working arrangement.

The biggest losers being the sports agents who took delight in reaping the dividends of ludicrously loaded draftee contracts and the annoying gamesmanship that kept their rookie charges out of training camp.

While an argument can be made that the massive payouts are “almost” justified as collegiate stars view first round money as the reward for their largely uncompensated effort on the university gridiron, this Saints fan is still emotionally scarred from the 2003 Jonathan Sullivan fiasco.

The Saints invested millions of dollars and two first round draft picks for the sixth overall selection in the draft and received the pauper’s sum of 1.5 sacks out of the bargain.

The second overall pick in the 2006 draft hasn’t performed at the level of his considerable keep either but I imagine this story will be coming to a head sooner than later.

A major concession to the players was the once assured scrapping of two of the four preseason games. The NFL postured as looking out for the fans on this matter though nobody was ignorant of the increased financial windfall to the league by going to an 18-game season.

Attendance at preseason games lags greatly behind contests that count however expanding the season would increase the chances of players becoming hurt, wreck season statistical achievements and make it harder for undrafted rookies to crack into the 53 man roster.

Though the matter has not been definitively resolved, the switch from a 16 game season to a 18 game season has been shelved to at least 2013 and then can’t be implemented without the players’ consent. Hopefully the players will vote with their brains (and knees) and not their pocketbooks when the issue is revisited.

More than a few NFL owners are struggling with stadium debt and needed an uninterrupted 2011 season worse than their most notoriously spendthrift players. And maybe that’s why the deal was more equitable than I suspected it would be.

We’ve seen where owner-labor disputes can cause serious damage to professional sports entities.

The NBA is in the midst of its own lockout.

And this one-time confirmed baseball fanatic never fully recovered the love I had for Major League Baseball after the strike shortened season and the resulting obnoxious financial victory by the players.

During tough economic times, one thing America didn’t need is to be denied its favorite three hours of escapism because of a fight between billionaires and millionaires.

So a tip of my fleur-de-lis cap to both sides for getting a deal done with a relative minimal amount of disruption.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Defensive Back Sammy Knight to Join Saints’ Hall

Retired Safety Sammy Knight, a six-year veteran with the Black and Gold, will be inducted into the New Orleans Saints’ Hall of Fame later this year.

The news of Knight joining the likes of Archie Manning, Joe Horn and the Dome Patrol in the Saints’ hall comes as no surprise and it was a matter of when he was inducted and not if as Knight was one of the best safeties in franchise history.

Knight, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 1997, is third in the team’s record books in interceptions with 28 picks. Knight also had 464 return yards during his time in New Orleans.

Knight represented the Black and Gold in the 2001 Pro Bowl and made six picks his second season with the Saints (1998). Knight would tie that career best in single season interceptions with another six in 2001.

After leaving the Saints in 2003, Knight would play for the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars before playing his final season with the New York Giants in 2008. Knight made 42 interceptions in his 12 years in the NFL, bringing four of them back to the house.

Knight literally had a big hand in the Saints’ first ever playoff victory in 2000, intercepting Saint Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner twice, including one in the Saints’ red zone.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Onside Kick's Post-Draft Interview with Mike Detillier

The Onside Kick is once again happy to have with us WWL AM radio college football expert and NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier. In this installment of the wide-ranging post-NFL draft interview, Detillier offers his take on the NFC South’s draft class, how he knew the Dirty Birds were going to make a big move in the first round, Saints quarterback rumors and why LSU standout Patrick Peterson, considered by many the best player in the draft, wasn’t selected in the top three slots.

TOK: Before we get to the Saints and the draft in general, I got to ask you a few questions about the Dirty Birds’ draft. Before the Carolina Panthers picked, you announced that a source had reported to you that Atlanta was aiming to trade multiple picks to land either A.J. Green or Julio Jones. The night before the draft you had the story for The Sporting News Radio Network with Todd Wright. Without compromising your source, how did you get that kind of intel?

MD: I originally got the info from an agent on Tuesday night, but I couldn’t confirm it until Wednesday during the day.

That second confirmation was from a strong league source, so I went with it. We spoke about it during the day on WWL-Radio, but I knew the information was accurate. It had many of the earmarks of the Ricky Williams deal and that Atlanta was hunting hard for a partner to deal with, (Cincinnati, Arizona, and then Cleveland) before someone would make the deal. The Saints hunted for days to find a partner in the Ricky Williams trade to ensure that they would get Williams and everyone, but Washington, turned them down, and then you had to make sure Ricky would still be there. It was the same with Atlanta on making sure either A.J. Green or Julio would still be on the board. I would rather keep that league source private. He might get into some trouble if I named him.

TOK: That information was not something being talked about until late, so you had a scoop on that one?

MD: I just got good information on that one. Draft day trades normally don’t happen until that day, but this was brewing a few days earlier.

TOK: Saints GM Mickey Loomis kind of confirmed that by saying Internet reports or forums that teams had talked to the Saints days before the draft about a deal involving a quarterback (Andy Dalton/Ryan Mallett or Colin Kaepernick) on some sites were not accurate and just gossip?

MD: I think there was speculation that some teams may call and Mickey said he expected to get those type calls, but again normally when you pick that far down the call comes on draft day or in the moments leading up to your pick to ensure you that you get your guy. The trade is normally based on the player still being there.

TOK: Now for the ten-million dollar question: did Atlanta pay too much for Julio Jones?

MD: No, I don’t think so. They needed someone else to open up their offense.

The Saints really drew the blueprint up during the season by double-teaming All-Pro wide receiver Roddy White and bracketing TE Tony Gonzalez, forcing the Falcons to beat them with halfback Michael Turner. Green Bay ripped that page right out of the Saints defensive playbook and they were scoring pinball wizard points in that playoff game.

Julio is a tremendous football player and he is an excellent fit for the Falcons. His physicality is a great plus for him and while he needs to focus better when making a grab, he is a real big-time talent. Well worth the cost and when you make a deal like that you have to get concessions from the owner that he will spend a little more money in free agency to fill the gaps. Arthur Blank wants to win now and they got that approval.

TOK: You always say that the final game of the season tells you plenty about what you need to improve upon. Was that shellacking by the Packers the trigger that made Atlanta go for a top-end receiver?

MD: You better believe it. You never forget how the season ended when you are a playoff team or someone close to getting into the playoffs. That whipping was the driving force behind the Julio Jones deal and once free agency starts they will go hard after a top defensive end. They really would like to get Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards, but that will be something determined on who is considered an unrestricted free agent. Edwards is someone I know they really like.

TOK: You said on draft night that you thought that Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb would be dealt to Arizona, once this labor stuff gets settled. Do you still feel that way?

MD: Yes, he is the perfect gunslinger for that team. I think Seattle has an interest, but they don’t want to give up what the Eagles are looking for in exchange for Kolb. It will be multiple high draft choices for Kolb and the Cardinals really want him.

TOK: You and a few other media outlets graded LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson as the best player in the draft though he fell to 5th overall. You pegged that right on the money to Arizona, but why did he fall?

MD: It was the position, not the player. Quarterbacks and defensive linemen or pass rushers have premium value in this league. Peterson is one of the four guys that if I had to pick a sure shot performer in the NFL he would be one of them along with A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Von Miller. Peterson is a younger version of Charles Woodson, now in Green Bay.

Great size, quick feet, tremendous recovery speed and Patrick has outstanding ball reaction skills. That is what separates him from the rest. He dropped to the fifth spot because of the position, not the talent.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who Dat Going to Toronto, Eh?

The Saints maintain that the news out of Canada was much ado “aboot” nothing.

The story/non-story was born when Toronto councilor (councilman) Doug Ford predicted to a sports writer that the NFL would act to move teams to Los Angeles (the second largest media market in the US) and then Toronto, which has a population of over 2.5 million people.

When speculating the two likely teams to move, Ford, whose brother Rob is Toronto’s mayor, postulated that Jacksonville’s franchise would be the first then the Saints.

Vice-president of communications for the Saints Greg Bensel panned the councilor’s speculation in a statement sent to the media that “Reports about the Saints as a potential team moving to Toronto are completely false. The New Orleans Saints are committed to the city of New Orleans.”

News that the franchise was even in consideration came as quite of surprise to the Black and Gold faithful, when considering the massive and expensive renovations taking place at the Louisiana Superdome, the team’s strong post-Katrina support by area fans and the lengthy waiting to list for season tickets.

The idea of the Saints relocating to the Great White North seemed even more far-fetched as Canada’s largest city already “borrows” the Buffalo Bills for a regular season game. And though it requires a trip through passport control, Buffalo is only a two-hour drive from Toronto.

In fact there’s an image of the a Bills player plastered on the side of the Rogers Centre (the former Toronto Sky Dome) and Canadians already comprise a significant share of the Bills’ fan base. I would bet on the Bills trading out of their small market and old stadium (The Ralph) and heading one hundred miles northwest before any other team would make the jump over the border.

That said, the Saints have certainly been part of the franchise relocation discussion in the past.

Talk of moves to Los Angeles, Mississippi, San Antonio and even Albuquerque, New Mexico were not uncommon prior to the 2006 season.

In 2001 when the Saints faced the Minnesota Vikings in a preseason game in San Antonio, locals joked that one of the visiting franchises would likely end up being the home team. Ten years removed, the Vikings’ future in Minnesota is not firm.

Minnesota’s stadium issue received greater prominence after the collapse of a portion of the Metrodome’s roof that forced the Vikings to play a night game against the Chicago Bears in the University of Minnesota’s open air football stadium in late December.

Team owner Tom Benson did his part to stoke anxiety about the franchise’s future in the Crescent City, which has been well-documented in Times Picayune Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan’s book From Bags to Riches.

And then after Katrina, San Antonio made an aggressive move to retain the Saints after the team played three “home” games in the Alamodome after the Superdome suffered major damage.

While the team’s agreement with the state, Superdome renovations and the Super Bowl-capped post-Katrina success of the franchise have mostly buried the prospect of a team move, I do find it peculiar that the Saints were mentioned when there are more likely candidates (some with cause) to abandon their current digs to go to greener if not colder pastures in Canada.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Justice is Achieved in Bin Laden's Final Moments

On September 11, 2001 Osama Bin Laden brought his fanatical Islamist war against the West in an unprecedented attack on our shores.

Almost ten years later, the United States brought the war of vengeance to his living room in Pakistan.

Americans have not celebrated the death of an individual with such jubilation since Adolf Hitler’s suicide in the fuhrerbunker.

Osama Bin Laden wasn’t just an enemy; he personified evil, the greatest villain in the first decade of the 21st century.

When then-President George W. Bush launched a war of retribution against al-Qaeda and the Afghan regime that offered him safe harbor, Bin Laden had to live the life of a fugitive.

It appears Bin Laden wasn’t exactly roughing it as his last surroundings were not in a cave in the wilderness near the Afghan-Pakistani border but in a comfortable well-protected mansion in an upscale urban area not far from Islamabad.

For that our Pakistani “friends” have a great deal of explaining to do and exemplifies the need for the United States to take unilateral action and deal with the politics of upsetting diplomatic sensibilities later.

Apparently Pakistani officials were not so much concerned with an injury to national pride through the violation of their sovereignty but uncovering their complicity to aid and abet an international criminal.

Had Bin Laden not possessed a Leona Helmsley-like mentality that “only the little people” martyr themselves for Allah, he would have made a point of being taken alive and thus given his greatest forum yet to encourage uprisings and inflame the hearts of his fellow Islamic radicals.

The Navy SEAL team that killed Bin Laden spared Americans the specter of a circus trial that would have followed. Where should it have been held? What rights would he have had? Should Bin Laden appear before an international tribunal or an American military court? Not to mention establishing procedure.

Bin Laden did the world a favor by resisting capture and justifying the use of lethal force.

Bin Laden’s guilt was beyond doubt; he needed no trial, just a swift execution and a quick disposition of his remains in a place in an inaccessible location. Dropping his body off into the sea was ideal, though it’s a shame his body was afforded any religious courtesies en route to splashing down to a watery grave. Bin Laden’s remains should not have been shown the least shred of dignity.

Relatives of those who died on September 11th and Americans in general should take some satisfaction in this: moments before the fatal bullet hit him, the al-Qaeda terrorist mastermind experienced something similar to that of his organization’s victims on the top stories of the World Trade Center: absolute terror.

Those trapped between the jet fuel-fed flames that engulfed the Twin Towers’ midsections and the buildings’ roofs experienced the anguish that they would be dead in a matter of minutes before escaping the inferno raging around them by leaping to their death over a thousand feet to the concrete plaza below.

There’s the real justice: not just that Bin Laden was killed but that he was overcome with the same dread that a condemned man feels en route to the gallows. Bin Laden knew what was going to happen and that an American was going to have the honor bagging the trophy.

Also Bin Laden died with the knowledge that he did not get away with his crimes, that he suffered a brief spate of mental hell before transitioning to an eternity of spiritual hell.

While almost all Americans would have settled for a quick air strike if it would assure Bin Laden’s demise, President Barack Obama was right to authorize this particular action and wise to not pay a courtesy call to Pakistani officials.

The operation carried great risk and could very well have turned into another Desert One. The president should be credited for having the guts to pull the trigger.

Two decades of terrorist attacks and video taped taunts were trumped by American perseverance and military might. Though the pursuit was met with years of frustrations and feelings of futility, we didn’t give up and kept hunting.

While Bin Laden is dead, the al-Qaeda network isn’t. That said, its members and affiliates are more convinced today that the United States will relentlessly pursue them across the globe and charge into their legally protected sanctuaries. And that has to make people who claim a willingness to die for a cause to think twice.

America’s enemies should pay heed to the results of the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound.

Islamist terrorists might not understand western civilization, they comprehend determination and power and the United States projected both in the ten-year pursuit in the hunt for the terrorist mastermind.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Grading the Saints' 2011 Draft Picks

No risk. No reward.

The New Orleans Saints’ front office proved to the league they could be every bit as daring as the Atlanta’s “trade the house for Julio” team executives but came out with far greater value in the end.

Value being a key word to describe this draft since Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis stretched his organization’s six draft picks to the limit and came out with three potential starters, two reserves likely to make the roster and a “casino chip” from Pitt that might pay out big dividends in 2012.

Those six picks helped address three of the team’s biggest concerns: the lack of quarterback pressure and sacks; relatively poor special teams coverage; and a once formidable running game that devolved into a shell of their Super Bowl champion self that quickly hobbled the team out of the playoffs last season.

To be sure, this draft was conducted with an eye on a potentially catastrophic free agency situation, as the team could have as many as 28 players departing in the event the players’ score a major negotiation or court victory that allows all personnel not under contract to walk.

How many players on the roster are wondering whether their spot was filled in the draft and are already mentally moving on?

Running back Reggie Bush has been the most conspicuous of this group, particularly after his post-Mark Ingram “moment of resignation” tweet in which he said “It’s been fun New Orleans.”

Both Loomis and Saints Head Coach Sean Payton have publicly declared their desire to see #25 remain with the team, though at significantly reduced pay. Considering the astronomical money Bush has made on the front end and modest stats he’s produced on the field during his injury-riddled time with the team, Bush should be willing to give his time and patience further with a team that has invested so many millions in him.

But that’s assuming Reggie wants to be reasonable.

More on this later as the story grindingly drags out to its inevitable conclusion.

It’s hard to imagine a time when a team’s second pick of the draft so overshadowed the first selection. I never thought Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan would still be on the board when the Saints selected, settling for Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan as the likely optimal pick up.

Ironically Washington Redskins with the 16th selection picked Kerrigan, six slots ahead of the Saints’ pick.

Though Jordan was not a “sexy” pick, the Saints got outstanding value by snagging one of the top three ends of the draft late into the first round. The Saints need to establish a pass rush and Jordan can help with quarterback pressure. Also with defensive end Will Smith probably missing the first four regular games of the season, Jordan will have a chance to step up when the team needs him most.

Ingram’s board longevity was another surprise. I rated the Alabama running back as the player the Saints needed to target first because of the Black and Gold’s lackluster running game (28th in rushing yards in 2010) and how Ingram could be the bulldozer the Saints offense needs to pick up the short-yard first downs. Between Brees and his receivers and Ingram in the backfield, opposing defenses will be vexed in goal line and other short yard situations.

After passing over the linebacker position in the 2010 NFL Draft (to my utter consternation), the Saints grabbed two teammates form the University of Illinois, picking up Martez Wilson in the third round and Nate Bussey with their compensation pick in the seventh round. Wilson was one of the highest rated linebackers in the draft and he ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at the combine. Payton has made no secret about Wilson getting a shot to contribute early on the strong side.

It should be noted that starting linebacker Scott Shanle is an unrestricted free agent and reserve linebacker Marvin Mitchell is also a free agent. It could be inferred that the Wilson and Bussey additions by the Saints could spell the end of Shanle and Mitchell’s time in a Black and Gold uniform. At a minimum, the team has some serious leverage in the event the team is interested in retaining their services.

The dapper Bussey, who wore a tie to class every day starting with his sophomore year in high school, is expected to get his break in special teams, an area where Mitchell saw a lot of action.

Though the Saints’ kick and punt return coverage did not surrender a single touchdown in the 2010 regular season, they paled in comparison to other teams’ units. The Saints’ kick off coverage ranked 24th in the NFL, giving up an average of 24.1 yards per return. The Saints struggled more covering punt returns, ranking 28th in the league with an average of 11.9 yards allowed on punt returns.

Payton and Loomis’s comprehensive draft solutions to addressing the team’s outstanding issues from last season is commendable. If the offensive line can return to their 2009 selves, the Saints should be in contention to score a Two Dat in Indianapolis.

Finally, a few words about Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus, whom the Saints grabbed with their first pick in the seventh round. Though he’s unlikely to make an immediate impact as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL, Romeus could end up being another “Marques Colston seventh round find” come 2012. While the Saints were in the midst of their Lombardi Trophy run, Romeus was tearing it up as a junior in the Big East making eight sacks and 43 tackles and forcing three fumbles. Instead of cashing in, Romeus stayed at Pitt and experienced one of the worst years imaginable for any college athlete . Romeus suffered from back spasms that limited his early participation and then endured the loss of his mother to cancer before tearing his ACL.

One has wonder how many juniors who had productive seasons think of scenarios like what Romeus endured and decided to pursue decent money now rather than risk it all with an extra year on the collegiate gridiron.

Had Romeus left as a junior, there’s little doubt he would have been picked in one of the first three rounds and would have walked off with a much more lucrative contract than he will receive in 2011. Knowing the Saints organization’s emphasis on character and their awareness of his potential, it’s safe to say Romeus will be afforded every opportunity to regain the lost glory and big money potential by proving his worth.

On paper the Saints front office gets an A for their 2011 draft picks. We'll see later how those picks actually pan out.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Saints Have Modest, Productive 2nd Draft Day

It was a relatively quiet night at the Saints’ headquarters on Airline Drive on Friday with the Black and Gold armed with two third round picks.

The Saints had the 56th overall pick in their second round before dealing that selection the day before as part of the surprising trade with the New England Patriots that resulted in running back Mark Ingram being picked up by the Black and Gold.

With their first selection of the third round (72nd overall) the Saints selected Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson. Both USA Today and WWL AM Draft analyst Mike Detillier had Wilson going in the second round, with the former rating him the second best linebacker in the draft and the latter the top inside linebacker.

Most significantly, Wilson is quick, having run the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at the combine.

In his post-round press conference, Saints head coach Sean Payton said he would utilize Wilson as an outside linebacker at the “sam” (strong) side. Payton compared Wilson’s physique with that of former Saints olb Scott Fujita.

The Saints grabbed Louisville cornerback Johnny Patrick with their other third round pick (88th overall). USA Today ranked Patrick as the 11th best cornerback in the draft while Detillier had Patrick as the 12th.

Though the Saints are fairly well-stocked at cornerback with starters Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter in addition to the team’s first round selection in last year’s draft, Patrick Robinson, the Patrick pick can be attributed in part to front office’s desire to upgrade their reserves in that area.

In his post-third round comments, Payton shared that he envisioned Patrick contributing on special teams as a gunner.

Overall the Saints got value while addressing some of the team’s needs on defense and on kick coverage.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Falcons Pull a Ditka While the Saints Pull a Rabbit

A tip of my fleur-de-lis cap to NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier.

Prior to the Carolina Panther’s first overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, Detillier shared that the Atlanta Falcons were aggressively pursuing a major move to scoop up one of the top two wide receivers in the draft, with the likely trading partner being the Cincinnati Bengals.

Detillier was off only by two picks as the Falcons unloaded their first round draft pick (27th overall), second round draft pick (59th overall) and fourth round draft pick (123rd overall) in the 2011 draft plus their first and fourth round picks in the 2012 draft to land Alabama wide receive Julio Jones.

While it wasn’t exactly to the scale of the infamous Ricky Williams trade that Saints coach Mike Ditka recklessly engineered in 1999, though it’s almost on par. The Falcons have sacrificed a good part of their future on a single player, which as Saints fans know is a scary prospect. The Jones deal certainly adds greater appreciation for the Saints 7th round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft.

With the 24th overall selection the Saints front office ate up over eight minutes of the draft clock before picking defensive end Cameron Jordan of California, who wasn’t expected to remain on the draft board by the time New Orleans made its choice.

The addition of Jordan should bolster the Black and Gold’s pass rush and his presence will be especially needed when starting defensive end Will Smith finally serves his four game suspension next season stemming from the Star Caps case that began in 2008.

Jordan, considered one of the top three defensive ends in this year’s draft, was conventional pick by the Saints and the fans attending WWL Am radio’s Draft Fest, the unofficial viewing party for the Black and Gold faithful, warmly received the news of his selection.

Minutes later the reaction of Saints fans would be off the charts, as General Manager Mickey Loomis executed one of the boldest draft maneuvers in his career with the team.

The New England Patriots were supposed to make the 28th selection in the draft but the Saints ended up with pick after shipping their 2nd round pick (56th overall) and 1st round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. And with that selection, the Saints made a move that will have major inclinations for #25.

Like Jordan, Alabama running back Mark Ingram wasn’t supposed to be on the board when the Saints picked though the stout halfback certainly was on the minds of Saints fans and apparently the Saints front office as well.

With the return of Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, the addition of Ingram on the roster will go a long way towards reestablishing a ground game that paid huge dividends in 2009 yet faltered in 2010 in no small part due to injuries and with no small consequences.

The odd man out is likely- scratch that- certainly Reggie Bush. In fact, #25 has said as much on his Facebook page, stating simply “it’s been fun New Orleans”.

Loomis should be credited with having the vision and guts to swing such a big deal at a relatively fair price. The team addressed their two biggest needs in one draft day, developing a pass rush and bringing back a rushing attack.

While the actual value of these gambits will not be ascertained until the players take the field, on paper they look good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's Draft Day!

One of my favorite days on the sports calendar is the first round of the NFL draft.

Today marks the beginning of process where team scouting departments prove their value to their organizations and where struggling teams either secure the cornerstone for their franchise’s return to greatness (Cleveland and Detroit excepted) or waste millions of dollars via signing bonus on a player who excelled on the college level but busted in the pros.

Drafting a player in the first round is as much a crapshoot as it is an investment.

The NFL Draft has become a major media event over the years, with the league turning what was once a weekend affair into a 72-hour sports drama with the first two days being conducted before millions of fans on prime time television.

Best Player Available v. Addressing Specific Needs v. Retention Probability

One of the biggest arguments about the draft has to do with the question of whether teams should choose the best player available versus addressing a hole on the roster with the best player available at that position.

Building (and maintaining) a team doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

In the back of every general manager’s mind is free agency. A great player on a roster today might end up being a great player on some other team next season. Also there’s the matter of durability.

Popular yet oft-injured tight end Jeremy Shockey’s days on the Saints’ roster were numbered when Saints general manager Mickey Loomis managed to score the U’s Jimmy Graham in the third round. The Saints made it official when they cut after a few seasons the very player Loomis and head coach Sean Payton had so aggressively pursued and bought off the New York Giants’ roster for the princely sum of second and fifth round picks.

What the Saints Need

In 2009 the Saints swaggered into the playoffs with the best record in their conference; in 2010 they hobbled into post-season play and humbled out courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks. The Saints ended their bid for a Two Dat with their entire pre-season running back corps on crutches and it showed in the stats. After enjoying unparalleled success with a balanced offense in 2009, the Saints finished with one of the weakest running games in the NFL in 2010

Though the front-office finally came to terms with Pierre Thomas with a longterm deal and a renegotiated contract with Reggie Bush is likely, the Black and Gold might make a move to provide more depth for their running game. A second or third round pick for a mid-level running back is probably in order.

The other major deficiency with the 2010 Saints was their lack of an effective pass rush. The Saints made a big move signing defensive tackle Shaun Rogers prior to the lockout though there are concerns at defensive end as Will Smith isn’t getting any younger or more consistent in racking up sacks.

The linebacker corps has been a point of concern for most of the Sean Payton era. Nobody will ever confuse them for the Dome Patrol and little has been done to shore it up. One of the big surprises in last year’s draft was the Saints decision to not use one of their selections on a linebacker.

Another point of concern is free safety. While Malcolm Jenkins has stepped up and established himself at the position, veteran Darren Sharper’s role with the team is still up in the air. What if Jenkins goes down with an injury, as he did in the regular season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Usama Young is not the answer.

Draft expert Mike Detillier has also beat the drum for the Saints to pursue a high-caliber kick/punt returner in the draft, bearing in mind that Courtney Roby, who has handled kick returns, will be a free agent.

To Trade or Not to Trade

The Saints don’t have a lot of trade bait if they wanted to leap ahead of their 24th slot, though arguments have been made for both jumping and dropping back.

Quality players will still be available when the Saints pick and there might be no point in using a 1st round selection on a player that may very will be around in the 2nd round. It’s like paying $100,000 for a house today when you can spend $75,000 on it tomorrow.

And with no picks in the 4th, 5th and 6th rounds, the Saints might want to diversify their options in the 2011 draft. I could easily picture the Saints giving up their late 3rd round pick for two picks further down but in the first half of those rounds.

I suspect a trade down is more likely than a trade up, but one rarely knows what lurks in the complicated mind of Mickey Loomis.

First Round Options: Best Available

If the following players (listed in order of preference) are available come the 24th pick, the Saints should make a selection and not a deal.

Mark Ingram Running Back I’d be shocked if the best half-back available in the 2011 Draft fell down this far, but if the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner is still on the board when the Saints pick, their front office would be fools to not grab him. As I mentioned earlier, the Saints’ ground game needs help and I believe the ex-Alabama running back can inject some nitro into the Black and Gold’s high-powered offense. Furthermore, selecting Ingram would make Bush either expendable or less expensive in the event the team wanted to retain his services. That said, I don’t see how Ingram would get past the Miami Dolphins, who have the 15th overall pick.

Cameron Jordan, Aldon Smith, JJ Watt or Ryan Kerrigan Defensive End The acquisition of one of these players would address a major need for the Saints, who need to develop a pass rush if they want to once again hoist the Lombardi Trophy outside the practice facility.

Akeem Ayers Outside Linebacker Ayers would be a major addition to the Saints often battered linebacker corps. While middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is an outstanding player, there are questions on his flanks. Jonathan Cassillas was supposed to start on the weak side but was lost for the season after injuring his foot in an exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans (at least he didn’t get run over by their mascot). Veteran linebacker Scott Shanle is a free agent and his status with the team is unknown. Regardless of Shanle’s future with the Saints, the team is going to need to make some upgrades at outside linebacker with an eye on the future.

If other teams have scooped up the aforementioned, it might be a good idea for Loomis to spend some time on the phone with teams looking for a second first round pick, either trading for their later picks in 2011 or their first round selection next year.

It’s unlikely franchises that picked early will be picking late in the 2012 Draft so a first round swap might end up laying a strong foundation for the team’s future.

So What’s Likely to Happen

I’m going to assume Loomis will be uncharacteristically conservative in the 2011 Draft and will not make as many deals as has in the past. Bear in mind I was totally off in last year’s predictions, only getting the 7th round selection of a revolving door quarterback right.

Round 1 (24th) Muhammad Wilkerson DT Temple
Round 2 (56th) Brooks Reed OLB Arizona
Round 3 (72nd) Jabaal Sheard DE Pittsburgh
Round 3 (88th) Shane Vereen HB California
Round 7 (226th) Richard Gordon TE Miami
Round 7 (243rd) Best available kick-punter returner

What Should Happen

Round 1 (24th) Ryan Kerrigan DE Purdue
Round 2 (56th) Brooks Reed OLB Arizona
Round 3 (72nd) Lawrence Guy DT Arizona State
Round 3 (88th) Mark LeGree FS Appalachian State
Round 7 (226th) Leon Berry WR/KR Mississippi State
Round 7 (243rd) Richard Murphy RB LSU

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pre-Draft Interview with Mike Detillier, Part II

In the second part of The Onside Kick’s pre-NFL Draft interview with WWL AM radio sports commentator and college football expert Mike Detillier, the draft analyst examines positions of need for the Black and Gold, the value of running back Mark Ingram to the Saints, where LSU standout defensive back Patrick Peterson will be drafted and whether the “Son of Ironhead” will be sporting a fleur-de-lis on his helmet in the 2011 season.

And a reminder, those still interested in acquiring Mr. Detillier’s 200-page draft guide, which also contains valuable information for Fantasy Football aficionados, can order the book from

TOK: What would you say is the number one priority for the New Orleans Saints to address via the 2011 NFL draft?

MD: First, always look for players that fit what you do best offensively and defensively, but the top need for the Saints is to upgrade the defensive line at both end and tackle. This team needs to generate a better and a more consistent pass rush. All season long the Saints could not get a good pass rush unless they brought extra people and they need to get someone who can get that extra push from the middle or off the edge.

TOK: You have LSU’s Patrick Peterson as your top rated player in the draft, what do
you think would be the lowest selection he could fall to?

MD: I gave him a lot of consideration at the #2 spot to Denver and I have him going to Arizona at the #5 spot, but I don’t think he gets pass the #7 spot and if Arizona doesn’t take him I expect a team, like the Houston Texans, to try and trade up to select him. The 49ers would love to land him if he falls that far down to the #7 spot.

TOK: You were one of the very first to say that Cam Newton would be the first pick
overall pick in the draft. How much of a certainty is he going with the top pick?

MD: It came down to him and Blaine Gabbert. The Panthers need help at quarterback and it just came down to the upside and the “Wow” factor around Cam. He is still rough around the edges as a passer and his accuracy wanes at times, but he has the tools to develop into a big time performer, if the commitment on his part is there. He reminds me a lot of a more athletic version of what the Buccaneers have in Josh Freeman. Carolina needs a “buzz” player and in this draft Cam is it.

I feel pretty strongly that Cam will be the top guy, even though Peterson, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, and A.J. Green are higher rated players. Every quarterback picked in this draft early will be overdrafted and that includes Newton and Gabbert.

TOK: You are a big fan of Mark Ingram and I have heard you believe he will be a top
NFL back. Why are people on ESPN and the NFL Network bashing him so much and
trying to put others at the top running back spot?

MD: I really don’t get it to be honest. The guy has been a terrific college player and even after coming back from a minor cartilage repair on his knee he still averaged over 5 yards per rush. He reminds me so much of Emmitt Smith when he came out of Florida. He also is a very good receiver coming out of the backfield and he has been well drilled in pass protection sets. He is a three down back and you don’t find many like that. Ingram is also one of the most competitive guys you will ever meet.

He is a Top 20 type player, but this stuff about the knee and other items are being fed to many by agents who want to lower his draft stock and increase the stock of their own players. There is also the devaluation of the running back position today because it is manned by committee. His knee is fine.

TOK: With that said couldn’t you get real good value in rounds 2 and 2 at running back?

MD: Yes. That is part of what has happened to Ingram and every other back looking to sneak into Round One. It is the feeder system today, college football, that has turned into running back by committee and you just won’t find an Adrian Peterson-type player often and the value of the halfback spot has diminished.

TOK: I would love to be a fly on the wall if Ingram, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and
Muhammad Wilkerson are all on the board when the Saints pick at 24.

MD: I agree. Do you go with the bigger need and pick the defensive lineman knowing that you can get a good back later or do you go with the top back in this draft and cut loose Reggie Bush for good. Bush is just too injury-prone in my opinion to pay the top dollars for.

Also you know those defensive linemen will get swooped up quickly and you may not get a shot a highly rated lineman ,even late in Round 2.

TOK: Would the Saints be interested in Cameron Heyward at 24? It seems you and most
others have him going late in Round One instead of in the mid-20’s.

MD: I would say no at 24, but if they traded down it would be a strong possibility. Cam is a good kid, big, powerfully built, but he is inconsistent. He has looked really good at times, but he has looked very average other times. He is versatile, could play defensive tackle or end, but it is his inconsistent nature that will drop him late into Round One or real early in Round 2. He also doesn’t have a mean streak in him. That is something his dad had that he doesn’t. He needs someone to light his fire on a consistent basis.

TOK: Does having running back Pierre Thomas under contract mean the Saints won’t be
looking at a running back in this draft?

MD: Saints will be looking at the running back spot in this draft. No question about it. They don’t have one healthy back on the squad. Pierre, Chris Ivory, Lynell Hamilton and Reggie are all rehabbing injuries or surgeries. You never have enough good backs. That was evident on this team last season. Pierre’s new deal will not affect their thinking on picking a back in this draft. The real value of backs is going to be in Rounds 3 and 4. They are going to have a host of productive NFL backs picked in that section this year.

TOK: Will the Saints pursue a kick returner in this draft?

MD: Yes, it may be early if a receiver like Randall Cobb-Kentucky, Jerrel Jernigan-Troy or even a Titus Young is available. They need a good slot end who can spread the field and help out in the return game. If not, later on someone like Louisiana Tech’s Phillip Livas is a strong possibility late. I covered Livas at South Terrebonne High School and he was a terrific running back there. He has become a good slot end, punt and kickoff return man and he could play halfback in a pinch. He reminds me a lot of another South Terrebonne product who excelled in that same slot/return game portion of the game in the pros in Clarence Verdin. This team needs to get a quality return man.

TOK: Which position is more of a priority for the Saints to address, defensive end or outside linebacker?

MD: Good question and you could have a strong debate on either side, but I side with defensive end. Nothing is more important in the 4th quarter than a pass rush and when you run a 4-3 defense you want that pressure from the defensive ends.

I would look for this team to add a quality starting veteran outside linebacker once free agency starts up, whenever that is.

TOK: With the release of tight end Jeremy Shockey and with David Thomas a potential
free agent, will the Saints pursue a tight end somewhere in the draft?

MD: Yes. This team loves the multiple tight end sets and there is room for another tight end on the roster. Ideally with a young talent and a potential star player like Jimmy Graham you would like to bring in a veteran player, but with no free agency yet I could see them get a tight end, especially with one of the two 7th round picks. With the first four picks in the draft I expect the Saints to pick a defensive lineman, an outside linebacker, halfback and wide receiver.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mike Detillier 2011 NFL Draft Interview Part I

The Onside Kick is once again happy to spend some time with WWL AM radio’s college football expert Mike Detillier, author of one of the most comprehensive NFL draft guides in the country.

In this installment, Mr. Detillier shares some thoughts about last year’s draft, what went wrong with LSU’s Al Woods, a favorite Buddy D anecdote and a few other stories. The second part of the interview, focused on the 2011 NFL Draft, will be posted on Wednesday.

TOK: Would you rate Patrick Robinson, the team’s number one pick in 2010, a bust player?

MD: I think it is too early for that, but he struggled with the technical part of the game and he has always been a bit of a guesser. He has excellent physical tools, but he struggled with the technical part of the game and his footwork to turn and run with receivers was sloppy.

TOK: That is almost exactly what you wrote about him in your 2010 draft report and was that the reason you didn’t rate him a first round choice?

MD: That is the main reason. He was very inconsistent at Florida State and while he had the talent of a first round pick he didn’t play up to that level from week to week. He needs to become a more disciplined player, no doubt, and Gregg Williams really rode him hard last season in the training camp period and throughout the season when he was healthy.

TOK: Last draft day you thought the Saints gambled big on a player that was not a
productive college player in Al Woods. Why didn’t he pan out?

MD: I personally really liked Al and he is a very likable young man, but he lacks great football instincts and he is slow to react to what is breaking down in front of him. In high school he was bigger, stronger and faster than anyone else he played against and he dominated. That was not the case at LSU and with the Saints. He was built like someone carved him out of stone, but he just couldn’t get that body to react to what was happening quickly. It wasn’t because of effort. He tried hard. Al was just not a very instinctive football player.

TOK: Your draft guide is 200 pages cover to cover, includes bios of hundreds of players, has the 4 round projections-you did in mid-March, a great section on the top current players in the league, fantasy football and etc. People that work with you say that you spend countless hours going over film, breaking down film, getting info from various college sources and you get a constant barrage of calls from players, coaches, people in the front office of NFL teams and such. How much time do you spend with the report?

MD: Too much. I guess that would be the best reply, but it is something I truly love to do. You can’t do this halfway, you have to give the full commitment. On a holiday I won’t do anything, but I would guess 340 days a year, and I can’t count the hours.

TOK: Are you also involved with some college recruiting services looking over and
evaluating talent for some also?

MD: Yes. It gives me a heads-up on the top talent heading into the college football world and eats up any free time I have in the spring and summer. It does keep me in touch constantly with players, coaches and high school coaches on the top talents they have and who they play.

TOK: I’d like to go back to Iron Mike’s “Reign of Error” with the Saints. Who talked Mike Ditka into selecting Chris Naeole in the 1st round?

MD: Dick Stanfel was the chief influence on that pick. Stanfel came out of retirement to coach the offensive line for the Saints under Ditka and he loved Chris and he talked Mike into drafting him in Round 1.

TOK: When was the first time you heard Buddy D say Donte Stallpepper?

MD: The first time was at a lunch with Buddy, Randy Mueller and I on the Wednesday before the draft. We were talking about the upcoming draft and Randy told me he didn’t think Stallworth would be there when they picked and he had saw my draft report where I projected Donte to New Orleans.

During the conversation Buddy said Stallpepper twice and Randy and I looked at one another and I jut knew he would repeat it again. Sure enough. The Saints picked him and he blurted it out. When I told him about his comment was, “ No way I could have said that”, and then he turned back said “Maybe I did say it.”

TOK: Your call of the Saints pick of Ricky Williams was memorable, but you, Buddy D. and everyone else never thought the deal would get done right?

MD: That is right-on correct. General manager Bill Kuharich told me the day before the draft that no team was biting on any move and that they had basically given up on the deal to move up to acquire Ricky and they were going to draft UCLA quarterback Cade McNown.

The morning of the draft Terry O’Neil, the Saints salary cap man for the Saints, told me that he was 99% sure that no deal would get done and he was thrilled that it wasn’t going to happen. He actually stood up to Mike and voted against the deal.

Two Saint assistant coaches before we started Draft Fest told us no deal would happen for Williams and they were happy about it. When Buddy asked them if they rejected Williams in front of Mike Ditka the response was the same. “No way we are saying anything bad about Ricky in front of Ditka. We like our jobs.”

We had numerous national reporters calling us to see whom the Saints would draft because the Williams deal was dead.

Even Ricky Williams told us the next day that he didn’t think he would be in New Orleans. He actually thought either the Indianapolis Colts were going to pick him or that the Cleveland Browns were going to try and trade back into the top-5 to get him.

With all that we both strongly felt the deal to acquire Williams was not going to happen. The crowd that day went wild when the announcement came down. There actually were people crying tears of joy about that pick. I have never seen anything like it, even the Reggie Bush pick didn’t match that moment.

TOK: You had the Saints picking Malcolm Jenkins in your mock 1st round of the book
two years ago and never wavered, but who would they have selected had Jenkins been
picked? Would it have been Clay Matthews?

MD: No, it would not have been Matthews, but his USC teammate OLB Brian Cushing- who the Texans took right after the Saints selected Jenkins. The Saints liked Matthews, but they liked Cushing more.

TOK: With the draft coming up this weekend, can fans still order a copy of the report?

MD: Yes, they can log on to and we can get them a copy out quickly.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 New Orleans Saints Draft Preview: The Picks

Due to trades made in 2009 and 2010, the Black and Gold enter the 2011 NFL Draft without their full complement of selections, though they will have better access to quality college players than last year when their victory in Super Bowl XLIV had the Saints picking dead last in the first round.

Thanks to their early demise in the last season’s playoffs, the Saints will have the 24th pick in the first round, picking just ahead of the team that facilitated their ignominious exit, the Seattle Seahawks.

In addition to the 24th pick in the first round, the Saints will have the 56th overall selection in the second round, the 72nd and 88th overall picks during the third round and the 226th and 243rd overall selections in the seventh and final round.

The relatively early selection in round three, eighth in the actual round, stems from the Jammal Brown trade the Saints made with the Washington Redskins. The Saints received the Redskins’ third round pick in exchange for the Pro Bowl tackle and the Black and Gold’s fifth round selection (155th) in this draft.

The Saints surrendered their fourth round pick (121st overall) to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a trade for the cats’ 5th round selection (158th overall) in last year’s draft. The Saints used that pick to select center Matt Tennant, who the front office sees as a solid contributor in the near future.

The Saints organization is finally paying the tab to the New England Patriots in a deal that was consummated in 2009 when the Pats sent over reserve tight end David Thomas for New Orleans’ sixth round (189th overall) pick in the 2011 draft.

Considering Thomas’s contributions to the team as both tight end and as a backup fullback after starting fullback Heath Evans went down with a season ending injury against the Miami Dolphins in the midst of the team’s Super Bowl run in 2009, his acquisition for a 6th round pick is one of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis’s best swaps in terms of overall value.

The Saints held on to their original seventh round selection in this year’s draft and was awarded an extra seventh round pick as compensation for the loss of outside linebacker Scott Fujita as a free agent to the Cleveland Browns in 2010 offseason.

As the league determined he was not replaced on the roster by a free agent of an equal or greater value, which is calculated through a complicated formula, the Saints were eligible to receive the bonus pick, which cannot be dealt to another team. The Saints final pick is the 12th to last selection in the draft.

The Onside Kick will be updated daily during draft week. Stay posted for a two part interview with NFL Draft expert and college football analyst Mike Detillier (whose guide is still available at and other information related to the draft.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NFL Deals Saints Favorable 2011 Schedule

The Who Dat Nation should offer thanks to the NFL scheduling fairies for the 2011 regular season itinerary.

The just released game line-up has the Black and Gold playing in four nationally televised games, with three of them in the climate controlled confines of the Louisiana Superdome.

The team’s lone road contest before a national audience will be at Green Bay for the NFL regular season kickoff, the same game the Saints hosted last season, as the league- to nobody’s surprise- paired this year’s defending Super Bowl champions against the previous year’s.

That the Saints were included in the marquee game is a blessing for if there is a time the Black and Gold would want to play in Lambeau Field, it’s in early September long before the winter turns the stadium’s turf into frozen tundra.

The league also decided to make two of the three nationally televised home games “family affairs” with the Manning brothers. Peyton will seek to avenge his Super Bowl loss against his father’s first team on Sunday night, October 23rd while his younger brother Eli and the New York Giants will play in the Superdome on the Monday Night Football game after Thanksgiving, November 28th.

The Saints will play their only “cold weather” game in 2011 when they travel to Nashville to take on the Titans on December 11th. The temperatures in Music City average in December between 30 and 40 degrees.

Though the Saints’ schedule is relatively more favorable than last season’s two December games in Cincinnati and Baltimore’s open air stadiums and a late road trip to Atlanta, it won’t be a walk in the park.

The kickoff game against the Green Bay Packers could set the tone of the season and potentially act as a tie-breaker if both teams were to be in contention for post-season homefield advantage in the playoffs.

After an extended rest the Saints will face the defending NFC North champion Chicago Bears on September 18th, which would be the first visit by the Monsters of the Midway to the Superdome since the infamous NFC Championship game.

Bears fans who generally travel to their team’s road games might want to consider skipping this one as the tickets will be as hot as the Who Dat Nation for that contest.

The Saints will host the Houston Texans’ high-octane offense the next week before going on a three game road trip to Jacksonville, Carolina and Tampa Bay followed by the Colts visit to the Superdome.

From there the Saints will travel to Saint Louis, return to New Orleans to take on the Buccaneers and then head up to the ATL in week ten.

Last season the Saints spent Thanksgiving Day playing in Jerry Jones’s palace in north Texas; this season the team will have some time off with a late bye in week eleven before suiting up to host the Giants on November 28th.

Even if the Saints were to stumble out the gate, they’ll have plenty of time and opportunities to catch their breath and rally towards the season’s end. The Black and Gold will host a still rebuilding Detroit franchise on December 4th before making consecutive trips north to Nashville and Minneapolis to face two teams that are just starting to rebuild.

In a game with divisional title and/or playoff implications, the Saints will host the Falcons the day after Christmas on Monday Night Football before closing out the season with a New Year’s Day afternoon game at home against the Panthers. Hopefully that game will end being the equivalent of a fifth exhibition contest.

Until the labor contract with the players, free agency rules and team personnel moves are resolved and the NFL Draft has come to pass, it would be pointless to speculate how the Saints will finish though prognosticating a winning record at a minimum would not be that great of a stretch with the core of the team’s offense returning.

The combined record of the Saints opponents from last season is 130-126, giving the Black and Gold the 14th toughest schedule in the NFL.

The Competition’s Schedule

The Dirty Birds start the season out in Soldier Field before hosting the Philadelphia Eagles the next week. On week four they go to the site where the Two Dat died in Seattle and host the Packers in week five. In week nine the Falcons fly into Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Colts. The tougher Falcons schedule is more the result of the fixed schedule rotation than game placement. While the NFL website claims that the Falcons have an easier schedule than the Saints, I believe the road trips to Chicago, Seattle, Indianapolis and Houston will prove to be challenging.

In contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only other threat to the Saints for the NFC South division title, caught some lucky breaks with their schedule. By virtue of their third place finish last season, the Bucs will play the Dallas Cowboys at home and travel to San Francisco. Though the Bucs ended up drawing the short straw in the league’s attempt to internationalize things by having their home game against the Bears moved to London in late October. That said, even with an easier schedule the Buccaneers are going to have to have success against NFC South opponents if they want to avoid being once again just shy of a playoff berth.

Not Many Frequent Flyer Miles in 2011

The Saints won’t be able to blame jet leg if things don’t work out for them this season. The Saints will play only one game west of the Mississippi River and then just barely outside the shadow of the Gateway Arch when they face the Rams. The two longest road trips of the regular season are to Minneapolis and Green Bay, roughly two and a half hour flights straight north. With the next two farthest road trips being Saint Louis and Charlotte, Tom Benson will have one of the smallest gas bills of any NFL owner.

NFL Releases New Orleans Saints' Regular Season Home Schedule

September 8th @ Green Bay Thursday, 7:30 PM NBC
(League kickoff game)

September 18th vs. Chicago Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

September 25th vs. Houston Sunday, 12:00 PM CBS

October 2nd @ Jacksonville Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

October 9th @ Carolina Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

October 16th @ Tampa Bay Sunday, 3:15 PM Fox

October 23rd vs. Indianapolis Sunday, 7:20 PM NBC

October 30th @ Saint Louis Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

November 6th vs. Tampa Bay Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

November 13th @ Atlanta Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

November 20th BYE

November 28th vs. New York Giants Monday, 7:30 PM ESPN

December 4th vs. Detroit Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

December 11th @ Tennessee Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

December 18th @ Minnesota Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

December 26th vs. Atlanta Monday, 7:30 PM ESPN

January 1st vs. Carolina Sunday, 12:00 PM Fox

Nationally televised games: @ Green Bay and the Indianapolis, New York Giants and Atlanta home games.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cathcing the Boys of Summer in the Spring

While the NFL owners and players haggle over television revenue and the length of the regular season, I temporarily traded in my Saints hat for a Houston Astros cap to catch a bit of Major League Baseball spring training.

Spring Training takes place in two of the country’s outstanding vacation destinations, Florida and Arizona. Now for the uninitiated, the latter might conjure images of a coyote on rocket skates chasing a swift blue bird though the Grand Canyon State has more to offer than just…the Grand Canyon (though that alone is a pretty big deal- pun intended).

In addition to having year-round warm weather, southern Arizona has some of the best golf courses in the country and is home to a number of swanky spa resorts. Another added bonus is that the spring training camps are closer to each other in the Cactus League (the sobriquet for the Arizona-based facilities) than they are in the Grapefruit League (Florida).

After leaving my 9 to 5 (technically 8:30 to 4:30) two weeks ago, I jumped in my truck and was east bound and down to the Astros training facility in Kississimmee, which is just southeast of Orlando, about a 10 hour and $5 toll drive from New Orleans.

Having never been to a Spring Training game, I didn’t know what to expect.

One way to describe it as watching major league players hit and field at minor league prices…with a few exceptions.

The Astros facility charged $7 to park out in an open field and while walking up to the stadium, a scalper (or perhaps it would be more accurate to call him a “knee skinner” since there’s only so much profit that can generated on this scale) warned me that my section 200 ticket was “far away” from the field.

Despite that pitch, I kept my cheap ticket and my money, since the best way to enjoy spring training is standing up.

Upon entering the stadium I saw that the “nosebleed” $15 tickets were a mere dozen steps from the main concourse. After looking at the chair, I walked towards the concourse adjacent to left field.

One of best aspects about the Spring Training experience is the close degree of interacting fans can have with the players and staff, though I’m not talking about the Susan Sarandon-type from Bull Durham, though the baseball groupies are most conspicuous.

The smaller stadium provides accessibility between the fans and the pros that’s unthinkable in a major league stadium. The crowds are less than 10% of a regular season game. For instance, there were 3,442 in attendance at Saturday’s game and 4,117 on Sunday.

The dugout is only marginally removed from the stands and the bullpen consists of a narrow strip of dirt between the meter-high stadium wall and the first and third base lines. The coaches, catchers and relief pitchers warm up only a few feet away from the fans, allowing for banter.

And because the starters generally don’t play a full game, unless they’re just coming back from injury, they typically retire to the clubhouse early down a path where fans can talk to them and score autographs.

Granted the Astros facility is probably fan friendlier (and emptier- half of those in attendance on the Saturday and Sunday games were sporting the opposing teams’ gear) than the New York Yankees training camp in Tampa, I saw practically every starter who are still part of the team from last season’s line-up interact with the fans over the two day period.

One notable exception was retired first baseman Jeff Bagwell who told fans he would accommodate their autograph requests shortly after a visit to the clubhouse though the maybe-future-hall of famer never returned.

The most accessible person in uniform was team manager Brad Mills. Despite being on the losing end of two big losses, Mills exhibited the patience of Job and talked with everyone lined up near the clubhouse, signing every baseball, baseball card and poster until every fan, collector and eBay seller got his or her fill.

For die-hard baseball fans, a weekend visit to either the Grapefruit League or the Cactus League should find its way to a “life list” along with pilgrimages to Cooperstown, Wrigley, Fenway and Chavez Ravine.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hornets Partially Re-Brand Franchise

New Orleans Hornets officials on Thursday announced that they will soon take steps to improve the local marketability of the franchise, with the first step being what will doubtlessly be considered a controversial alteration to the mascot. Vice-President of Marketing Linus van Pelt said that Hugo, the popular blue and purple giant bee will get a new name and partial makeover in the off-season. “Hugo as a name just doesn’t work down here,” said van Pelt. “When you google ‘Hugo’, you get sites about the dictator of Venezuela. We’ve been looking at an alternative for some time.” According to the team’s marketing executive, the idea for the new name came to him on Mardi Gras night and inspired by one of the city’s most noted carnival float designers. “I was having trouble falling asleep despite being out with the family along Saint Charles Avenue since 5 AM and was looking for something that would knock me out. That’s when I turned on WYES and started watching the meeting of the courts. Just as I was about to zonk out, I see this bespectacled guy in a white tie and tails and it hit me.” “So I was thinking instead of ‘Hugo the Hornet’, why not give him a full name like ‘Henri Hornet’ and give the last name a French pronunciation, kind of like what Stephen Colbert does” said van Pelt. What other changes do the Hornets have install for their mascot, whose name will be pronounced “On-ree Or-nay”? “We’ve had a few graphic design artists try to give him some more pizzazz and character. One proposal is to give him a goatee and a beret to give him a French-beatnik look. We’re still evaluating costume adjustments and we have a marketing team consulting with selected season ticket holders.” This wouldn’t be the first rebranding for the team that moved to the 504 from Charlotte in 2002. The Charlotte Hornets were originally named the Charlotte Spirit though area fans didn’t take to that name. The Hornets sobriquet came from a reference British General Cornwallis made about the city of Charlotte as “a veritable nest of hornets”. The NBA has a knack for maintaining team nicknames that are downright absurd in their current environs. Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers are such franchises. Franklin Schroeder, who dons the giant bee costume at home games, isn’t pleased with the changes but will abide to the dictates of the front office. “What can you really do,” said Schroeder, “it’s April Fool’s Day.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mike Detillier Interview, Part II

This is the second installment of The Onside Kick's interview with college football expert and NFL Draft analyst Mike Detillier. Mike covers the Saints' past season, the upcoming NFL Draft and head coach Sean Payton's recent move to north Texas. TOK: Were you surprised about Jeremy Shockey’s release? MD: I thought he would be back but at a reduced price, so yes. TOK: Are the Saints going to aggressively try and sign Lance Moore, Roman Harper and Jonathan Goodwin? MD: I think they will aggressively try and resign Moore and Harper. Drew trusts him immensely and he is the most consistent receiver they have on the roster. Harper is someone who progressed more than anyone under Gregg Williams. He had a horrible game against Seattle, but he is good football player. You can’t judge him on one game. On Goodwin I think they would like to get him to sign a short term deal. They really love Matt Tennant. They really like him, but Jonathan is solid as a starter and he is versatile. He is getting up in age and it may be a money issue, but I think if it is close, he stays on a short term deal. Lance and Roman need to be back. You never get better by losing good players. TOK: How about Randall Gay? MD: No , he doesn’t return. Too much money and age and injury concerns. TOK: How much of a factor do you think the first-round bye would have had for the Saints? Would it have changed anything or simply delayed the inevitable elimination? MD: I don’t think it would have changed much. You just weren’t good enough this season and they couldn’t overcome the weaknesses on both sides of the ball come playoff time. TOK: Do you expect Jonathan Casillas and Lynell Hamilton to make comebacks next season? MD: I like them both. On Casillas it is can he hold up. He has been banged up quite a bit in just two years and you wonder if his body can hold up in the NFL for a 16 or an 18 game season. He has the talent to start and play well in this league, but it is a health issue, just like Chris Ivory. Lynell was a Sean Payton favorite. He raved about him before the start of last season. He is built like he is carved out of stone, and it is a shame he got hurt in those practices against New England. He is a tough runner, good field vision and body lean and he catches the ball well. Yes, I think he bounces back and he is a good football player. TOK: You and Hokie Gajan talked a lot about this in the off-season. Gajan loved Chris Ivory and you agreed, but brought up that he had a host of injury problems in college and you wondered if he would hold up in the NFL. That turned out to be correct? MD: Well, Chris is a good player, but he wasn’t picked at draft time because of a lack of talent or any trouble he got into in college. He didn’t get picked because teams were afraid he wouldn’t hold up in the league. I wish I was wrong on that feature, but it has turned out to be accurate. I love his aggressive nature and he is super physical, but as much as he gives out, he takes. That doesn’t add up to a long NFL career at running back. TOK: Let’s stay at running back. Do you think Reggie Bush will remain with the Saints on a new deal or will he play elsewhere next season? MD: I think he stays, but at a much reduced price. If he insists on staying at a super high pay level, then he goes, but he is more valuable to this team than any other and Coach Payton loves him. In my opinion he has been given the chance to excel and really not produced at the level you want and need from him. He is hurt way too often, he has not been super productive and when given the chance not stepped up his play. Pierre Thomas doesn’t have his talent, but he is a much better NFL player. I think he stays, but at a much lower number and then write the incentives in playing time and production. You can’t pay him big bucks on potential anymore. TOK: Regardless of Bush’s status with the team, do you think the Saints need to pursue a running back in the draft or free agency? MD: Yes and Yes. The Saints need a veteran back, someone with some mileage and pass catching and pass blocking skills, but with some experience and a young back that can carry the rushing load. They need to use their 2nd or one of their 3rd round choices on a back. It is all about competition and finding the right mix. You never have enough good backs. Never. It is a high impact spot and one you need numbers. Just look at the Green Bay Packers and the Saints at that spot. TOK: Can Adrian Arrington help this club and where does he fit? MD: He is not a starting NFL type end. He can help as a #4 or a #5 wide receiver. He has matured as a person and he finally was healthy for the most part last year. In the way the Saints use multiple receiver sets..he can help. But he is not a starting type end. TOK: Which player was unjustly snubbed from the Pro Bowl? MD: Malcolm Jenkins…. Best player the Saints have on defense. He can play the free safety slot, some cornerback, cover the slot guy and can play all the nickel and dime packages. Terrific football player and he deserved to play in the Pro-Bowl. TOK: In your draft book a few years back you predicted the Saints selecting Jenkins and you stuck to that pick throughout the process. You really liked him didn’t you? MD: Yes… early on I had the Saints taking Ohio State LB. James Laurinaitis in a trade down, but once Jenkins didn’t blaze the trail at the Combine, I had a feeling he would be there. I thought he could be an All-Pro back then and I know he is one now. TOK: Back then there was a caller on WWL-Radio that would call and ask about DT.B.J. Raji from Boston College every week. You really liked him, but you thought he would be picked before the Saints selected him. He has turned out to be special, right? MD: Yes, that gentleman was a Boston College graduate living in New Orleans and he insisted that B.J. would last until the Saints picked. I had him going 5th overall to Cleveland, but I knew that he could fall a little because of some off-the-field concerns and he had some weight and conditioning issues, but there was little chance he could fall to 14. We laughed every week because I knew he was going to ask about Raji. Someone on another web site wrote that I said the Saints would pick him and he called and laughed it up about how some have some comprehension problems. I would figure someone could tell the difference between my voice and someone from Boston, but apparently not. Raji has turned out to be outstanding for the Packers and his work ethic and maturity has really been lifted. The big guy is a load in the middle. In a 3-4 you need a very active and tough man in the middle to take on blockers and tie up the inside so the linebackers have a free shot at the running back in the hole. He can do it. TOK: Will Smith had a Pro-Bowl year in 2009. What happened this year? MD: He got a lot more attention in blocking schemes and he had a tougher time getting off of blocks in 2010. Will is a very good NFL starter, but he is not an elite pass rusher like Mario Williams, Jared Allen, Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers or John Abraham. The Saints were running in the left hand lane in 2009 and that gave him more chances to really pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. The games in 2010 were much closer and his extra opportunities to gain sacks disappeared. TOK: Why didn’t Gregg Williams interview for the Tennessee Titans job? You wrote during the season that he was very close to Titans owner Bud Adams. MD: Two things. One it was a timing issue. His closest friend in this business is Jeff Fisher and he had great respect for what he brought to Tennessee. But Gregg got caught in a bad position in Buffalo and I can tell you that the Titans aren’t loaded with talent on defense and they have a huge void at quarterback. Had Fisher been fired right after the year I bet he goes for the interview, but it was real late and it would have been hard for him to piece together a strong staff that late. I was in Mobile at the Senior Bowl when that story broke and that is late in the process and I think he didn’t want to get caught up in another muddled organizational issue like what happened to him in Buffalo. He is close to Bud and he told he probably would have taken the defensive coordinator spot in 2009 with the Titans, but he insisted that he could work with his son and Adams didn’t want close relatives on the same staff and that opened the door for the Saints to land him and his son. He wants to be a head coach again, but it has to be the right spot. He knows what it is to fall short and I think the Titans job was appealing because he knew everyone inside the organization, but the timing was bad and just look at that roster and you can see that it will take some time to retool that team. Jeff squeezed all the lemonade out of that orange. TOK: What do you make of the Sean Payton to Dallas-moving issue? MD: I don’t cover his personal life. I don’t really care where he lives. All I want is for him to win games in New Orleans. I grew up here and didn’t leave a few years back because I had both of my kids in high school. They didn’t want to relocate and my wife didn’t really want to leave either, so I stayed in Louisiana. I understand other people’s feeling on this issue, but to me it’s a non-issue. All I know from being married for almost 30 years is that when the wife and kids aren’t happy then it doesn’t make any difference how much money you make. Your life is not easy when those events occur. Ed Orgeron is a friend of mine and when he left the Saints to coach at the University of Tennessee his wife and kids stayed in Louisiana. He is in his second year at USC and his family still lives here. He commutes weekly from Los Angeles. What some people don’t realize is that in a coaches’ life you hardly see your family at all during the season. It’s not a 7 to 5 job. It’s 6:AM in the morning until midnight or later during the week. It’s a personal decision and it doesn’t concern me. The one thing that is news worthy is to hear the coach say he would not be a lifer as a head coach. He has two more years on his contract and I wonder today just how much longer he will continue to be a head coach in the NFL after that. TOK: Do you think Jerry Jones would offer him the GM position in Dallas. MD: No.. Jerry is a lifer as general manager in Dallas. The only person Jerry gives the GM job to is his son Steve Jones and that may be quite a while before that happens. TOK: How can they order the draft book? MD: They can log on to or and pre-order the book. It will be out soon.