04-12-2006, 09:23 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Saints to wine, dine prospects
Saints to wine, dine prospects
According to source, team narrows choices
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
By Jimmy Smith
The Saints will bring in five of the top players in the upcoming NFL draft next Tuesday, have dinner with all five that evening, then meet with the players separately Wednesday, a league source said Tuesday.
The team plans to visit with Southern California running back Reggie Bush, USC quarterback Matt Leinart, Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams and Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Apparently, the source said, the Saints have narrowed their choice to one of those five players and will use their first-round draft choice, currently the second overall selection, to take one of them.
The draft is April 29-30.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was unavailable for comment.
Bringing players to town for individual meetings isn't unusual, but convening them for a group session is somewhat eye-opening.
The Houston Texans hold the first choice in the draft and are expected to choose Bush, who visited Houston last week.
What the Saints do at No. 2 has consequently become the most debated, and most asked, question in the days leading up to the selections.
Before the team signed free-agent quarterback Drew Brees, it appeared the Saints would stay in the No. 2 position and draft a quarterback.
On the surface, Brees' acquisition would seem to negate that. However, Brees is recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing (right) shoulder performed Jan. 5. Brees said this week he plans to begin throwing the ball in about two weeks and could participate in the team's June minicamp.
How quickly Brees can complete his rehabilitation, and how thorough his recovery might be, is open to speculation and cause for concern.
Those uncertainties are keeping open the possibility the Saints might draft Leinart, a player many consider too valuable a commodity to pass up.
Should the Saints feel as though Brees will make a complete recovery and be ready to fully participate in training camp and this season, the Saints might want to trade down or pick an offensive tackle to protect their quarterback's blind side.
Last week's trade of left tackle Wayne Gandy to Atlanta brought Ferguson into the forefront, more so because he and Saints coach Sean Payton share the same agent, Donald Yee.
The Saints insist that moving last year's first-round pick, Jammal Brown, from right tackle to left tackle is permanent.
But starting an unproven commodity at such an important position, especially if the quarterback is recovering from an injury, could be dicey.
Ferguson is considered a prototypical left tackle with refined pass-blocking skills, ready to step immediately into a team's starting lineup.
Williams and Hawk are both rated the best at their positions.
At this past weekend's minicamp, Payton stressed the importance of defensive ends in the Saints' defensive scheme.
"The position in this defense is critical," Payton said, "because unlike a 3-4, where the end might be two-gap and the gut that might disappear most of the game, the defensive end position in this defense is a guy you count on to pass-rush, the guy you count on to be a run-stopper."
The two teams that draft directly after the Saints, the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets, are in the market for a quarterback.
The Jets own two first-round picks, the fourth and 29th, and three other first-day picks, the 35th (second round), 71st and 97th (third round). Tennessee, like the Saints, has two first-day choices.
If either team moves up to take Leinart at No. 2, the Saints likely still would get one of the players they're bringing in next week at either the third or fourth spot.
Who would like to be at that dinner? Top 5 draft prospects at 1 table? wow.