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.