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N.O. changes up special teams

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; By SHELDON MICKLES Advocate sportswriter Published: Aug 2, 2007 JACKSON, Miss. — In this day and age of unfettered free agency, NFL coaches have come to expect change on their roster every year. Throw in the draft and it’s a ...

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Old 08-04-2007, 02:08 AM   #1
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N.O. changes up special teams

By SHELDON MICKLES
Advocate sportswriter
Published: Aug 2, 2007


JACKSON, Miss. — In this day and age of unfettered free agency, NFL coaches have come to expect change on their roster every year.

Throw in the draft and it’s a given that teams are going to look different from one season to the next, a fact most coaches readily accept.

While the New Orleans Saints have most of their top players back on offense and defense, their special teams will have a decidedly different look when they open the regular season five weeks from tonight against the Indianapolis Colts.

No one has to remind Saints special teams coordinator John Bonamego, who’s been hard at work at training camp trying to identify the players that will form the core of his various units this season.

“Change is the name of the game in this business,” Bonamego said. “You would like to have guys back, but it’s like coach (Sean) Payton talks about with starting over with the team (each season). You have to take the same approach. We have got some good young guys who are working hard. We’ve just to get the guys we do have ready to play.”

Because they have 85 players in training camp, it will take most of the preseason for things to shake out for Bonamego and the Saints.

For starters, they have a new kicker in Olindo Mare. They also have a close punting competition going on with incumbent Steve Weatherford trying to retain his job over veteran free agent Chris Hanson.

In addition, they have to identify a new kickoff returner after releasing fan favorite Michael Lewis in June and replace longtime fixtures on the kick coverage teams — including Lewis, Steve Gleason, Fred McAfee and Terrence Melton.

“I think it’s good we have an extra preseason game this year because it’s going to give us an opportunity to get a look at some of those younger guys and see how they do in game situations,” Bonamego said of the Saints, who open a five-game preseason schedule on Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game.

Of course, some decisions have already been made. Mare takes over for John Carney, who was still an accurate kicker at the age of 42 last season. But Mare, who came to New Orleans in a trade with the Miami Dolphins gives the Saints a stronger leg on kickoffs after leading the NFL with 24 touchbacks last season. He also has a league-best 126 since 1999.

He should help the defense in the field-position battle as the Saints ranked 23rd in average starting point after a kickoff (28.2), while the Dolphins were a solid second (24.9). Mare, 34, also has converted 80.9 percent of his field-goal attempts in his first 10 NFL seasons.

“Olindo has been as advertised,” Bonamego said. “He’s a pro. He’s got tremendous work ethic. He’s got a very, very fast leg. We’re just trying to get him in groove with the holders.”

Bonamego said the punting duel between Weatherford and Hanson is “close” through the first week of training camp.

Weatherford averaged 43.8 yards a punt last season after taking over for an injured Mitch Berger, but Hanson was signed to apply a little heat. A seven-year veteran, he’s averaged 42.9 yards for his career with a net of 38.4 yards.

“We have two starting NFL punters on our team right now,” Bonamego said. “The guys are working very well together and they are competing. They’re pushing each other and they’re really working off each other very well. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

As far as the return game goes, Reggie Bush and Lance Moore appear to be the leading candidates to return punts after a week of camp although free agent Tramain Hall and Jason David are working there as well.

Bush, who averaged 7.7 yards per return last season, is lobbying to return kickoffs as well. But Aaron Stecker, who averaged 21.6 yards a return last season, Moore, Terrance Copper and Robert Meachem are among the players taking turns so far in camp.

“As a member of this staff, or a fan of the Saints, I think you’ve got to be excited any time Reggie Bush has the ball in his hands,” Bonamego said. “So, yeah. Definitely, we’d love to have Reggie ready to go back there.

“That’s what makes Reggie Reggie,” he said. “He wants the ball and he’s an electrifying player when he has it. Yeah, we’ll take him. But we’ve still got to get some other guys ready.”

Among the veteran players who have a chance to earn spots on cover teams after a season-ending knee injury to Gleason and the retirement of McAfee are ex-LSU standout Trev Faulk, who excelled on teams with the St. Louis Rams, and former Houston Texans special teams star Troy Evans.

Rookies Usama Young, David Jones, Joe Porter and Marvin Mitchell are also trying to make a name for themselves on kick coverage as well.

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Old 08-04-2007, 04:18 PM   #2
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Re: N.O. changes up special teams

I think special teams was a galring weakness last year. I love to see us shave 4-5 yards off the opponents starting point (28 yd line last year).

I am still not sold on Bush returning punts 100% of the time- I'd rather see him back there as a change of pace. The chance of him breaking one, say 1 in 30 attempts, does not outway the risk of injury.
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Old 08-04-2007, 07:40 PM   #3
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Re: N.O. changes up special teams

Originally Posted by ScottF View Post
I think special teams was a glaring weakness last year. I love to see us shave 4-5 yards off the opponents starting point (28 yd line last year).

I am still not sold on Bush returning punts 100% of the time- I'd rather see him back there as a change of pace. The chance of him breaking one, say 1 in 30 attempts, does not outway the risk of injury.

I think Bush returning punts is a positive thing, there is always a chance of him getting hurt back there but then again the same goes for him making a play in the backfield..
Special teams fear Bush due to his quickness and moves..
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