College football expert and NFL Draft guru Mike Detillier was kind enough to field some questions from The Onside Kick concerning the opening third of the 2012 New Orleans Saints season.
Detillier shared his thoughts about whether the team has a reasonable chance of making the playoffs, the wisdom of having a coach by committee system, Devery Henderson’s future with the Saints and other questions.
- What would you say is the biggest problem affecting the team?
A lack of team confidence and attention to details. That is something Sean Payton was a stickler for and it is missing right now. The win over San Diego helps, but this team has dug themselves a huge hole and it will be tough to get to double digit wins.
There is a certain swagger gone from this team without the general leading the way. Sean was the emotional heartbeat on this team.
In a nutshell, team confidence and the attention to the smallest of details are missing.
- Did you foresee a Payton-less Saints squad struggling so much this year?
No, I really thought they could overcome this without him. I don’t think anyone thought this team would struggle this badly early on. You thought with Drew Brees and basically most of the offense back things would continue to work, but no one thought the defense would struggle this bad and the lack of a running game and a commitment to the run is alarming. You can’t be one dimensional in this league. It goes to show just how much Sean Payton really means to this organization. His play-calling skills are just unbelievable and Sean has the best offensive mind in the business right now.
- Why have the Saints had such a hard time establishing a run game?
Well, first of all they have fallen behind early in some games and went strictly to the pass, but there is no true commitment to run the ball like what we saw down the stretch last year. They are averaging about 19 rushes per game. Last season down the stretch it was 27 and they are averaging under a yard less per carry. Losing Carl Nicks hurt, but in this league you have to be able to run the ball when you need to.
So far, that has not happened and there is no commitment to the run and late in the Green Bay game they didn’t really try to when you could have tried and finish that team off. They did replace one All-Pro guard with another. But Nicks is the best in the game right now and he is really missed upfront.
- Would you agree that the two best first round draft picks since 2006 now play for other teams?
I believe the move to cut loose Reggie Bush and bring in Darren Sproles was a win/win for both the Dolphins and Saints. Reggie was a good player when he was healthy, but he was always hurt in New Orleans. He has stayed healthy and been super for the Dolphins and Sproles has been fantastic in New Orleans. Bush wanted and needed a change of scenery.
Robert Meachem is a “chip” player at best. He is not a #1 wide receiver in the NFL. At best he is a #2. He had a role here in New Orleans and he did a very good job when healthy, but he got an unbelievable contract in San Diego and so, he made the right choice and the Saints did also to let him walk.
What is disappointing is not getting really good production from Sedrick Ellis and Will Smith. Cameron Jordan has good long-range potential and I like him, but right now Brodrick Bunkley has been disappointing also. You are getting bang for your buck with these guys with the exception of Jordan.
5. Considering his low yards per carry average, would you write off Mark Ingram as a bust at this point?
I don’t consider him a bust, but he is someone that needs 12 to 15 carries to warm up as a runner and he won’t get that in New Orleans. It is running back by committee and he has not shown he can be that “closer” this team needs right now. He is not the most sure-handed receiver also coming out of the backfield like Pierre and Sproles. This team needs to get the ball in the hands of Pierre Thomas more and give Chris Ivory his chance to be that thumper between the tackles.
Right now it is just not a good fit for what Ingram does best and he never gets truly warmed up as a runner, like what he did at Alabama. He was a real force in the 3rd and 4th quarter of games in college, but we haven’t seen that element in his play in the pros.
- Do you see a future on this team for Joe Morgan or Greg Camarillo??
Joe has big-play skills and speed, but he is just not a confident player right now and he looks a lot like a young Devery Henderson. He is just not making the catch out front with his hands and he is letting the ball get too close to him. He also has a habit of taking off before the secure catch. He has a big upside, but they will have to be patient with his development. I love his ability to stretch the field and his speed in the openfield, but right now he is just not a real confident player and he needs to hone down his eye-hand coordination better and have a better grasp of the playbook. He will admit he makes too many mental errors.
On Camarillo, he is a good slot receiver. He doesn’t have great speed and he is not real tall, but he is tough, a smart route runner, he catches the ball cleanly and he has great rapport with Drew. He just finds the open spots in a secondary and he catches the ball so well. He is also a very good downfield blocker. He’s a good “fit” player on this team.
- Devery Henderson is one of only two players left on the team from the Jim Haslett era. Do you think this is his final season in a Saints uniform?
Oh no, he is having an excellent season and Brees trusts him fully. No one could have guessed when they both came out of LSU that Devery would have the much better NFL career than Michael Clayton, but it is not even close. I think he will be back and he has really improved as a route runner and he still has that big play speed that can stretch a defense. Where he has really improved is as a route runner and getting his head turned around quicker to make the grab. Early on in his career he was not a good route runner and he wasn’t looking the ball in good because he wasn’t getting his head turned around quick enough. He will be back in 2013.
- The Saints signed three linebackers and traded for one as well. Do you think shifting Martez Wilson to defensive end was a wise move in retrospect?
Yes , it was the right move. Martez is a natural as a pass rusher and he has the closing speed few have. He is still a work in progress to get off of blockers in a quicker manner and he needs to develop a better group of moves and countermoves. He is their most explosive pass rush element, but he is really rough around the edges as a technician. His speed and explosive qualities are the best on this team upfront and he should get more playing time as the season goes along. If you play him fulltime teams will run the ball right at him until he physically gets stronger at the point of attack and understands positioning and leverage skills better. But he is a real big-time element as a potential pass rusher, once he understands the position better.
- Why aren’t Wilson and Junior Gallette not getting more time at defensive end?
Good question. Steve Spagnuolo says Galette is his best defensive front-line player, but he isn’t starting. That’s his call. They need to be playing more and be out on the field in obvious pass rush situations and I would like to see more of the four line set-up of Galette/Wilson at defensive end and Cam Jordan and either Will Smith or Turk McBride inside.
- Do you believe the Saints should have brought in a full-time head coach for the 2012 season instead of having a rotating head coach situation?
No, they did the right thing. Aaron Kromer is in a tough spot. He is doing the best he can, but he knows he is just a part-time coach and that puts him in a real difficult spot. This spot is unprecedented and there was no real blueprint on what to do. The Commissioner really overstepped his authority here and the incident never should have been dealt with this harshly. I do know that Joe Vitt will bring some fire to this team. That is his personality. But the hole is huge to climb out of. There is just no real good blueprint to work off of.
- Do you think letting Tracy Porter go to another team was a mistake?
Yes, but the injury issue was major for a long term deal. He wanted to stay here but the deal with the Broncos was much better than the Saints offer. Healthy he is a really good player, but he is awfully thin and he has had a bunch of injuries to deal with on a yearly basis. He is really missed in this secondary because of Jabari’s groin issues and he has excellent cover skills. The problem is keeping him healthy. I would really want to see him on this team and healthy. The young kids in Corey White, Johnny Patrick and also Patrick Robinson are getting picked on, but they can’t cover forever. There is no pass rush to aid them.
Do you think the Saints have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs this season?
Its’ reasonable, but it will be awfully tough. Drew Brees and the offense will have to play great the rest of the way out for them to get to 10 wins and you will need 10 wins to get to the playoffs. It’s a longshot for them, but they are still an awfully good team on offense.
- What two things good came out of the San Diego win?
First, the protection for Drew Brees was outstanding and Marques Colston looks to be healthy. He has been a key the last two games and when healthy he is one of the best “Big” wide outs in the game. I liked the protection and the good health of Colston. Whoa, Colston is just unstoppable at times and one of the most underrated players offensively in the game.
Secondly, it would be the ability this defense, as leaky as it is, to come up with turnovers. They are on the plus side right now. That could help out greatly down the stretch. In 2009 that was the only time they were in the plus category and they have shown a knack for getting some turnovers. Now, they just need to stop people and produce a better pass rush on a consistent basis in a league full of great signal-caller and the very best group of wide receivers and pass receiving tight ends this league has ever had at one time.