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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; NOLA.com: Everything New Orleans BACKFIELD IN MOTION The Saints continue to search for a safety to take charge of the defensive-backs corps Wednesday, August 01, 2007 By Jeff Duncan The ghost of Sammy Knight continues to haunt New Orleans. Since ...

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Old 08-01-2007, 11:10 AM   #1
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Backfield In Motion

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BACKFIELD IN MOTION


The Saints continue to search for a safety to take charge of the defensive-backs corps
Wednesday, August 01, 2007 By Jeff Duncan


The ghost of Sammy Knight continues to haunt New Orleans.
Since the veteran playmaker left the Saints ignominiously in 2003, the club has tried desperately to find another difference-maker on the back end of its defense.

In 2003, the Saints brought in Tebucky Jones.

In 2005, they signed Dwight Smith and drafted Josh Bullocks.

Last year, it was Roman Harper, the 40th pick in the draft.

Though all showed flashes of ability, none produced the numbers that Knight did from 1997 to 2002, when he emerged from anonymity to become one of the top playmakers in the league. Knight intercepted five or more passes in five of his six seasons as a Saint and earned a Pro Bowl bid in 2001. No Saints safety has intercepted more than three passes in a season since then. As a unit, Saints safeties combined to make four interceptions and force two fumbles last season.

Safety is one of the least settled positions on the Saints' depth chart. Harper returns at strong safety, but he remains a question mark while recovering from knee surgery. Bullocks is the returning starter at free safety, but he finds himself looking over his shoulder at free agent Kevin Kaesviharn, who signed a four-year, $10 million contract in March.

So far in camp, Bullocks and Harper have worked with the first-team defense. Kaesviharn started in Harper's spot when the second-year safety missed time to rest his sore knee. During camp, Kaesviharn has worked exclusively at strong safety behind Harper, but, like the other safeties, he'll be expected to know both positions so he can be interchangeable in games.

The Saints thought Bullocks would be a Knight-like playmaker when they drafted him with the No. 40 selection in 2005. He arrived in New Orleans with the reputation as a ball hawk after picking off 12 passes in his final two seasons at Nebraska. But Bullocks has made three interceptions in 29 starts and dropped five certain interceptions last season.

"I had a few opportunities that should have been interceptions, and I wish I could have had them back," Bullocks said. "I still think about them. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about them. That's why every time I step on the field I attack the ball. As long as I keep attacking the ball and am not afraid of it, then good things are going to happen. We have got to produce more turnovers. We didn't capitalize on our opportunities last year."

If Bullocks fails to capitalize this year, Kaesviharn will take his spot. The veteran from Cincinnati led all NFL safeties with six interceptions last season. He also had four sacks, tying a club record for defensive backs.

"It's great," Bullocks said. "It's an opportunity for me to get better. What team doesn't add players to their team in the offseason? He's a great player and comes in with a great attitude. He's going to push me to get better. We're working together trying to get better. When they bring in guys like that, it's all good."

Harper's return to full health is critical. The Saints believe he can be the quarterback in the secondary for the next several years. A heady, tough guy with excellent instincts, Harper is a top run defender, as well.


But he's coming off a season-ending knee injury and is slowly working his way back to peak condition. Typical of many players in their first action after surgery, Harper missed two practices this week because of soreness and swelling in the joint. Harper's health is so important to the potential improvement of the defense that the Saints want to be cautious with his leg and not push too hard.

"It feels good," Harper said. "I get more comfortable on it every day. I'm not as confused as last year at this time. That really gives me more confidence.

"I'm just feeling more comfortable. The more I do on it, the better I feel just confidence-wise. I've just got to get over that mental block of being able to plant and jump and having confidence in yourself -- and that knee."
Jay Bellamy also is in the mix. The 13-year veteran serves as a mentor and sounding board for many of the young players. His role became more important when Steve Gleason was placed on injured reserve last week. Journeyman Curry Burns and undrafted rookie Chris Ries provide depth.

"We've got a great core of guys back there," Bullocks said. "We've got some older guys, some younger guys and some guys that have played in the league for a few years. It's a good mix."
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