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papz 07-18-2007 10:08 AM

McKenzie Focused in on 2007
McKenzie Focused in on 2007

Justin Macione,
Tuesday, July 17, 2007 - 4:30 PM

Since joining the Saints in a trade from the Green Bay Packers in 2004, Mike McKenzie has been one of the top contributors to the New Orleans secondary.

Often matching up with an opponent’s top receiver, McKenzie has notched eight interceptions during his tenure with the Black and Gold. Once again in 2006, McKenzie played a key role in the third-ranked pass defense in the NFL, recording 46 tackles, two interceptions for a team-high 54 yards in returns, and ranked second on the club with 15 pass defenses.

CB Mike McKenzie
While McKenzie is happy with his own and the team’s performance in 2006, coming one win from competing in the Super Bowl in his hometown of Miami, he realizes that last season has been buried and that 2007 is a new year. Ever since the team returned to the practice facility after six weeks off, McKenzie has been an ardent participant in the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program as well as the team’s OTA on-field sessions.

While the club’s defensive ranking was a positive to take from 2006, McKenzie and his fellow defensive backs have been hard at work at improving on the 19 takeaways which were recorded, which ranked 31st in the league. The creation of turnovers has been emphasis during the offseason and will be in training camp through defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and secondary coach Tom Hayes.

“We understand that our level of turnovers is something that we can improve on,” said McKenzie. “The recovery of fumbles as well as picking off passes is something that we have been working hard on during the OTAs. Despite the team success we had, there were some plays left out there. If we can step up and create some more turnovers and give our offense some more opportunities that help bring us to where we want to be.”

Another part of emphasis in the offseason for McKenzie and several of the returning defensive backs involved the development of chemistry with offseason acquisitions cornerback Jason David and safety Kevin Kaesviharn, as well as helping teach the ropes to draft pick cornerbacks David Jones and Usama Young.

“In our position, it is all about communication whether it is verbal or with hand signals,” said McKenzie. “As a group, we need to be one of the more close-knit due to the communication that is required. Jason and Kevin are going to be great contributors for us this year. In addition we are quite pleased to have the rookies that we have. We can bring them into the fold and let them know exactly what we’re looking for out of them.”

With all of these factors coming into focus, McKenzie has a good feeling about the team’s upcoming training camp at Millsaps College which starts next week. Last year at this time, McKenzie and his defensive teammates had to adjust to a new coaching staff and learning a new defensive scheme as well as new teammates.

“Last year was a brand new year for us,” said McKenzie. “Everybody was new to one another. From that standpoint the increased familiarity with one another as well as the scheme will help the coaches know the players a little more and give them the ability to put us in even more positions to make plays. Last year we were solid, but we always want to find ways to improve.

While the key aspects of training camp in terms of hard work, conditioning and hitting will not change, he is looking forward to a more comfortable feeling from a continuity standpoint, following an offseason where 21 of the 22 starters in 2006 on offense and defense return to the club.

“We have our nucleus back,” said McKenzie. “We all know in this sport that you are one injury away from changing the whole complexion of your season. It’s important to have depth at positions and competition going on there. Coach Payton and Mickey Loomis have done a great job of creating more competition to push everybody to excel.”

McKenzie has made a spirited effort to keep in shape in the six weeks since the conclusion of the club’s official offseason program. When in New Orleans, he has regularly worked out at the team’s practice facility in Metairie. Even when he has been visiting family and friends in locales like Miami and Memphis, he has been able to keep his workout routine to ensure that he will be in optimum shape when training camp begins.

McKenzie has also spent his time off seeking to help others in the community as he and former Saints wideout Michael Lewis will host the "Offense Meets Defense II Charity Weekend" from July 18-21 (for info on the weekend and registration info, call 504-201-9970 or visit

The four-day event kicks off on Wednesday with the “Ladies First: Mind, Body & Soul” Conference to benefit young women of high school age at Loyola University. On Friday, high school-age football players can come to the Saints indoor facility to receive football instruction from McKenzie, Lewis and volunteer coaches, as well as receiving classroom instruction to improve their studies and prepare for standardized college prep tests. On Friday evening, a social event featuring a reverse raffle and sports auction will be held at Generations Hall in New Orleans at 7:00 p.m.

The weekend will conclude on Saturday, July 21 with a youth football and baseball camp and community carnival event from ages 6-13 at Zephyr Field. The clinics will run from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and the community day carnival event will run from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the community, featuring rides, games, prizes, autographs, photographs and food.

A regular in serving the New Orleans area at club community appearances, McKenzie has held similar events in Miami, where he was raised, Memphis, where he starred in college and San Antonio, where the team was forced to base operations during the 2005 season due to Hurricane Katrina.

His calling to help the youth of the area comes from his own upbringing where community athletic and academic programs kept him active and occupied following school hours, while both his parents worked to support his family. He sees an even bigger need in an area where so many youth have been denied some of these opportunities due to Katrina.

“Community involvement has always been important to me,” said McKenzie. “Being able to participate in all of these sports at an early age kept me on a path of being a part of different activities in the community. When I was involved in these activities in football, baseball and basketball, the academic end became involved also. All of a sudden your parents might not let you participate in these activities if your grades aren’t sufficient, or in that case you might be worried about letting a fellow teammate down because you are not available. It is important for kids in New Orleans to have these opportunities.”

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