this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; MIKE DETILLIER'S FOOTBALL WORLD The Sullivan miss changed Saints offseason philosophy Advertisement The three-year tenure of Saints defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan ended this past week when the club shipped the 2003 first-round draft choice to the Patriots in exchange for ...
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Changed Saints offseason philosophy
MIKE DETILLIER'S FOOTBALL WORLD
The Sullivan miss changed Saints offseason philosophy
The three-year tenure of Saints defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan ended this past week when the club shipped the 2003 first-round draft choice to the Patriots in exchange for wide receiver Bethel Johnson.
Sullivan, who the Saints traded two first-round selections, swapped second-round choices and acquired a fourth-round choice from the Cardinals to draft, will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in Saints history.
The sad part is Sullivan has talent, but for unknown reasons, never could piece his football game together for the Jim Haslett coaching staff in New Orleans, and it quickly became obvious that new Saints coach Sean Payton was not going to waste much time trying to coax the skills out of Sullivan.
At the University of Georgia Sullivan was a star performer was a top-flight, big man athlete with excellent penetration skills and good chase-down ability, but you rarely saw those skills from him in a Saints uniform.
Sullivan came into Saints camp as a rookie with a pocket full of Tom BensonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s money as the sixth overall choice in the draft, and his motivation and desire to succeed seemed to be lost once he left the Georgia campus, and he became an instant millionaire.
When Sullivan tried to hit the athletic skills button on his talent, he found out the NFL was a far different game than the one he left in college. He struggled to quickly get off blocks and, when pressure mounted from coaches, players, fans and media to play up to his lofty high draft status, his weight ballooned and his off-season conditioning suffered.
Sullivan also had a long immature streak in him, and he was very sensitive to criticism. One of the things he did quite a bit was search some of the Saints-related Internet sites about his play -- not a good idea for an underachieving player.
It is an NFL teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s nightmare to watch a talented athlete that it invested so much in to fail out on the field, but there also is a time in which you must cut loose the disappointment and move on.
Mistakes are made every year on draft day and also in free agency, and for the Saints the best thing is to admit a mistake and try again to upgrade problem spots on the team.
The one saving grace left by the selection and failure of Sullivan in New Orleans is that it changed the way the club looked at free agency and the draft over the past few years.
Last summer I spent time with then-Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi, and he told me that the teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s philosophy on signing free agents and going after need players early on draft day changed because of the selection of Sullivan.
"For all the disappointment that Johnathan has brought to the organization, his lack of production changed the teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s focus and philosophy we had in the early rounds in the recent drafts," Venturi said. "In 2003 we had a huge need for a defensive tackle and our mistake was to give up a tremendous amount of high draft choices to acquire a Top 10 pick. Thinking back, we just should have gone out and signed a veteran free-agent defensive tackle and just moved up a couple of picks, (the Saints had the 17th overall selection) and picked USC safety Troy Polamalu, who the Pittsburgh Steelers picked with the 16th overall selection. We thought the world of Polamalu, but we needed a defensive tackle so bad. We had no choice but to trade up to assure we would get one of the better ones. After we saw that Sullivan was not going to come around, and that was pretty quick, the organization (general manager Mickey Loomis, player personnel chief Rick Mueller and Haslett) made the decision to try and fill as many needs as we could in free agency before the draft and then focus on drafting the best player on the board with the early selections. The miss on Sullivan had us rework how we approached the offseason. That pick had us to go after the best player available the last few years in the draft, and it has worked pretty good when you look at the talents of Will Smith, Jammal Brown, and Josh Bullocks with some of the early picks. Devery (Henderson) is showing some signs of coming around as a wide receiver also. That selection was a wake-up call for us."
That wake-up call seems to still be having its effect.
Loomis and Payton passed on an opportunity to trade down in Round 1 in April, select Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk and acquire more early selections.
Instead, they selected the top player on their board in USC running back Reggie Bush.
Also, with a host of top candidates and experienced starters at both safety positions, the Saints selected Alabama safety Roman Harper in the second round.
Sullivan is gone, but the effect his selection had on this team lives on.
Venturi admitted that problems at defensive tackle actually started during the 2002 offseason when the Saints could not come to contract terms with Pro-Bowl defensive tackle LaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Roi Glover.
"I am not one who looks back a lot and wonders about what should have been done, but for all the talk about quarterback Jake Delhomme leaving to go to Carolina, the one event that changed the organization the most in our time (the Haslett tenure) was the organizationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s decision to not re-sign LaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Roi Glover," Venturi said.
"I think the world of Jake Delhomme, but when you think back, no one really knew how good he would be once he became a full-time starter in the league. With Jake it was a decision to leave based on playing time and opportunity. That wasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t the case with LaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Roi. He was an established Pro-Bowler, a team leader and tremendously productive. LaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Roi was also just 27 years old when he left the team, and he has been a Pro-Bowler every year since he signed on with Dallas. LaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢Roi wanted a lot of money to re-sign, but just look at what it cost us monetarily with free agents and early draft choices to try and replace him. It would have been money well spent. Our philosophy at that time was that getting bigger inside was better, but that philosophy choice had major flaws."
When the Saints traded Sullivan to the Patriots they received another disappointing early-round selection in return in wide receiver Bethel Johnson, who the Patriots selected in the second round of the 2003 draft.
Johnson has been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.28 and has been an excellent kickoff return man in the NFL, but has never seen a tremendous amount of playing time as a receiver because of his inability to cleanly get off the line of scrimmage.
The former Texas A&M standout has tried hard to upgrade his route-running skills and his ability to catch the ball cleaner out front with his hands, but he has had trouble beating the more physical defensive backs in the NFL at the line of scrimmage and quickly getting into his pass patterns.
In a PatriotsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ system predicated on getting into and out of cuts and breaks cleanly and with quarterback Tom Brady a stickler for being in the right spot for his throws, Johnson never came around as a receiver.
His ability to quickly pick up PaytonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s new offensive scheme and how his physical skills develop to better his ability to get off the line of scrimmage cleaner will be something to watch during the training camp period and in preseason.
INSIDER: EUHUS COULD CONTRIBUTE
The Saints also recently traded another disappointing early-round choice, middle linebacker Courtney Watson, to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for tight end Tim Euhus. Watson flashed solid skills as a linebacker, but he struggled to become a consistent playmaker in the middle and his reputation for being late to team meetings did not sit well with Payton.
One Bills insider said he thinks the Saints may have gotten a player in Euhus that can thrive in the new Saints offense, if he can stay healthy.
"Tim (Euhus) is a good football player," the insider said. "He did a lot more blocking here than during his college days, but his real forte as a player is his size, his ability to get open over the middle and his skills as a sure-handed receiver. HeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s OK as a blocker, nothing real special, but he has excellent eye-hand coordination, and he finds the open creases in the secondary. Hopefully he can stay healthy. He had problems with his shoulder and his knee here in Buffalo. The system Sean Payton has in New Orleans will spotlight the tight end more as a receiver and that plays more into EuhusÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ strong points."
The Bills source also said he believes the tight end spot will be critical to the Saints offensive success.
"To be honest, quarterback Drew Brees will see plenty of heat thrown at him this year, pass-rush wise," the source said. "Teams know he is coming off major shoulder surgery and the Saints are re-tooling their offensive line, so it doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t take a real genius to figure out that teams will really come hard at Brees, especially from the inside. The Saints tight ends, Zach Hilton, Euhus and Mark Campbell, need to get off the line of scrimmage quickly and be very alert for that throw over the middle."
LYMAN LOOKING GOOD
Just about everyone raised their eyebrows and criticized the Saints personnel department, myself included, when it selected California wide receiver Chase Lyman in the fourth round of the 2005 draft.
The question marks and concerns about picking Lyman so high had nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with his long series of injuries in college.
One California assistant coach told me weeks before the 2005 NFL draft that Lyman has first-round pick talent and attitude, but he also has free-agent ability to stay healthy, and that he didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t think an NFL team would risk a draft choice on him.
During LymanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s five-year, 34-game college career he was only able to start eight games and during his first workout after the Saints selected him in last AprilÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s draft he again tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the same knee he had reconstructive surgery on in October 2004.
Despite my reservations and concerns about his future health I must admit I was very impressed with the route running skills and the ability of Lyman to consistently get open quickly in drills last weekend.
The 6-foot-3ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½, 210-pound Lyman knows how to shield defenders away from the ball with his big body and catches sure-handedly when the ball is in his area.
There is no question that his talent stood out last weekend in drills, and I would just like to see this young man stay healthy for an entire season to see just how productive he could really be in the NFL.
Mike Detillier is an NFL analyst based in Raceland.
actually it is nice to here some honest in sites from the haz group and the hangover the front still has..
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