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Saints want to prove ’06 campaign no fluke

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By SHELDON MICKLES Advocate sportswriter The shortest offseason in the New Orleans Saints’ 41-year history will come to an end Wednesday afternoon — and it’s coming not a day too soon for players and fans alike. When the Saints report ...

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Old 07-24-2007, 09:33 PM   #1
Join Date: Nov 2006
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Cool Saints want to prove ’06 campaign no fluke

Advocate sportswriter

The shortest offseason in the New Orleans Saints’ 41-year history will come to an end Wednesday afternoon — and it’s coming not a day too soon for players and fans alike.

When the Saints report for training camp at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., for the second straight summer, it will have been 185 days since they fell to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game.

From the snow and sub-freezing temperatures of Soldier Field to the triple-digit heat and humidity of Jackson, they will certainly experience a big difference in the weather.

But their goal will be the same. After falling one game short of their first Super Bowl appearance with the loss to the Bears, the Saints will try to take the first step toward reaching the NFL’s title game.

Even though they went 10-6 and won the NFC South title under the direction of first-year coach Sean Payton, who was the consensus coach of the year in the NFL, the Saints feel like they still have something to prove this season.

“We’ve got some unfinished business to take care of,” Saints defensive end Charles Grant said. “It makes me mad when I see people and they say we were lucky last year. We have to prove to them that they’re wrong.”

Grant, who signed a seven-year, $63 million contract after being tagged as the team’s franchise player in February, is one of the players who can’t wait to get back at it.

“This team is excited about this season,” he said last week. “We’ve got 22 starters coming back and we had a wonderful offseason. I can’t wait to get it started again and get rolling.”

The Saints have been off since June 14 when they wrapped up a 2‰-month offseason program consisting of strength and conditioning work, classroom study, on-field coaching sessions and two minicamps.

After checking in on Wednesday for physicals and a team meeting, the players will go through physical testing on Thursday with practice beginning at 8:50 a.m. Friday. Payton will conduct 28 practice sessions at Millsaps — all free and open to the public — between Friday and Aug. 16.

The Saints enjoyed a relatively quiet and smooth offseason. General Manager Mickey Loomis, who was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year, and senior football administrator Russ Ball began by successfully targeting their own free agents.

They tagged Grant as the franchise player and quickly re-signed three other players — weakside linebacker Scott Shanle, defensive tackle Hollis Thomas and tackle Jon Stinchcomb — all keys to the team’s success in 2006.

After that, they filled holes and added depth while creating competition on the defensive side of the ball with the signing of cornerback Jason David, middle linebacker Brian Simmons, safety Kevin Kaesviharn, strongside linebacker Dhani Jones and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy.

They didn’t ignore the league’s top-rated offense, signing veteran David Patten and using their first-round draft pick to select Tennessee’s Robert Meachem to try and replace four-time Pro Bowler Joe Horn. They also signed veteran tight end Eric Johnson.

The Saints also shored up their special teams by trading for strong-legged kicker Olindo Mare, who led the NFL in touchbacks last year, and signed punter Chris Hanson.

Horn missed 11 games the past two seasons because of injuries and was granted his release after he refused to take a pay cut.

Horn was one of six veteran players who were released. The others were kicker John Carney, tight end Ernie Conwell, kick returner Michael Lewis, defensive lineman Willie Whitehead and punter Mitch Berger. With the exception of Carney, all had injury problems the last couple of years.

The Saints will open the exhibition season on Aug. 5 when they meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. The home exhibition opener will be Aug. 10 against the Buffalo Bills.

A five-game preseason schedule leads up to a Sept. 6 regular-season opener in Indianapolis against the defending Super Bowl champion Colts

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