Sunday, July 20, 2003 4:33 P.M.
Saints move at LB gives some a sinking feeling
Nick Deriso / Sports Editor
Posted on June 21, 2003
The word is, actor Roy Scheider ad-libbed the line. But it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments in the movie "Jaws."
Chief Brody, upon getting his first look at the shark, says: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
Saints coaches found themselves in much the same situation, after two years of getting chewed up by opposing offenses.
Climb aboard the S.S. Orlando Ruff, New Orleans' answer for the lingering question mark at middle linebacker.
"He moves well inside the box," Haslett says of Ruff, a free-agent signing from San Diego. "He is a tough guy who attacks people. He is very intelligent and I think you are going to like what you see in him."
But a quick poll of online Saints fans at www.thenewwstar.com/saints, shows a singular sentiment bubbling up: It would be nice if the new boat wasn't leaking to begin with.
Ruff, an undrafted free agent in 1999, arrived for his first coaching sessions in New Orleans with just one sack and one interception on his resume. He lost his starting job when the Chargers brought in Donnie Edwards.
A question mark, indeed.
"Placing our hopes of a stouter 'D' and better run-stopping capability on the shoulders of a situational middle linebacker?" says James McDaniel of Leesville. "Wasn't Ruff a backup on a defensive squad worse than ours last year? See how those ended with a '?'"
Wayne D'Antoni of Fort Collins, Colo., agrees.
"Is middle LB a question mark? Heck, the whole LB corps has so many question marks, it looks like one of the Riddler's garish, green suits," D'Antoni says.
An ironic overlay to the problems the team is having at linebacker can be found in the playing resume of third-year Saints coach Jim Haslett. Haslett went to two Pro Bowls in his nine-year career ... as a linebacker.
"You'd think this would be a strength of the team, not an endless visit to a black-and-gold Twilight Zone," D'Antoni says.
Departed linebacker Charlie "Clemons clearly wasn't the answer in the middle - and after a Pro Bowl season in 2000, Keith Mitchell's game disappeared quicker than Amelia Earhart." Then there was Mark Fields, who D'Antoni called "the consummate bust."
Is Orlando Ruff the next name to sink below the roiling surface?
You're gonna need to convince D'Antoni otherwise.
"In an era when guys like Ray Lewis and Zach Thomas rack up between 150 to 200 tackles a season," says D'Antoni, "our man Ruff - wasn't that the name of Dennis the Menace's dog? - totaled 142 tackles in two seasons as a starter in San Diego. That's an average of 71 stops (including assists) per campaign. Not the kind of numbers that earn you a free plane ticket to Hawaii in late January - and usually not the kind of numbers that allow one to keep one's starting position, which he didn't."
So, you're gonna need a bigger perspective, if you want to understand why the Saints signed him.
"Orlando is a guy that has come down the hard road," says Saints director of player personnel Rick Mueller. "He was an undrafted kid out of college. He earned himself a spot on the team and also got himself a starting job. He plays with passion and that is something we are looking for. He is a young guy that is on the upswing."
New Orleans fan Price Barnes of Franklin, Tenn., also admires how Ruff fought through those meager beginnings.
"First of all, let's gather a little background: He scratched his way to a starting position in just his second season via hard-nosed special teams play. And this is a starting position on what has been one of the NFL's top defenses the past decade; we're not talking about starting MLB for the '76 Buccaneers," he says.
"In 2000 and 2001, he ranked 4th and 5th respectively in tackles," Barnes says. "All of this was done by playing almost exclusively on run downs - which, by the way, is exactly how the Saints plan to use him."
You're gonna need to understand that pine-riding was a character-building experience for Ruff, too.
"It's tough for anybody. As a competitor, you want to be on the field; you want to go out there and make plays," Ruff says. "Whenever you're forced into a situation of that sort, it's not comfortable. But at the same time, you have to realize that the team as a whole is bigger than the individual - and you have to put personal feelings aside and do what's best for the team. That's the situation that I was faced with last year."
And, in the end, Ruff said sharing a unit overflowing with talent - he played with both Edwards and future Hall of Famer Junior Seau - provided valuable experience.
"Being around the group of veterans that I was fortunate enough to be around for the past four years, it did a lot of things for me," Ruff says. "I learned the game. I learned what it took to be a professional. I took those traits and I added them to my work ethic."
So, Ruff's not drowning in passing-down stats? He likes reeling in the guy with the rock, anyway.
"My goal is to get to the ball carrier as quick as possible," Ruff says. "If there's somebody in the way, I'm going through them. This defense allows me to do that."
But, you're gonna need a better performance from the line.
That's a different script, Mr. Scheider.
Hopefully he\'ll be the next Vaughn Johnson for us.
He does have youth and upside. Which seemed to work well with Horn, but admittedly not so well with Albert Connell.
But character and work ethic was Connel\'s problem.
That doesn\'t seem to be a problem for Ruff.
I give him a 7 in 10 chance of success, which ain\'t bad. I b!tched about signing some unproven nobody named Joe Horn a few years back and boy did he prove me wrong.
[Edited on 21/7/2003 by tweeky]
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