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saint5221 07-22-2003 09:37 AM

McCarthy to focus on fine points in camp
 
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WORKING OFF THE BALL

With starters returning on offense at every position but left tackle, Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy can concentrate on the finer points when training Camp opens Saturday


Tuesday July 22, 2003


By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer


When the Saints begin practice Saturday, offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy's eyes will be trained on many things.

Few of them will include the football.


He'll make sure running back Deuce McAllister picks up the blitz.

He'll watch quarterback Aaron Brooks to see that he sells his play-fakes after handoffs.

He'll see if receiver Donté Stallworth beats the cornerback's jam at the line of scrimmage, and if Joe Horn runs every pass route with intensity, whether he's the No. 3 option or the primary receiver.

Basketball players practice "off-the-ball" skills all the time, but you seldom hear about them in football. McCarthy believes such details are the key to success for the Saints' offense this season.

During a record-breaking offensive season in 2002, the Saints proved they were capable of big things with the ball: big plays, big gains, big point totals. But McCarthy believes it's the little things the team needs to improve to join the league's elite.

"We need to get better away from the ball," McCarthy said. "Our big-play production last year was as good as I've ever been around. But when you have so many big plays, it's human nature to slack off in other areas."

Continuity should make the task easier.

Starters return at every position except left tackle, and for the first time in his four-year tenure with the Saints, McCarthy will work with the same combination of players at three key skill positions: quarterback (Brooks), running back (McAllister) and go-to wide receiver (Horn).

But change at other positions remains a strong possibility. At least three starting spots are up for grabs.

Offensive lineman Victor Riley is making a bid to supplant Spencer Folau at right tackle. Stallworth, in his second year, could beat out Jerome Pathon for the starting receiver position opposite Horn. And free-agent signee Ernie Conwell will compete with David Sloan for the starting tight end job.

"Every year you go through some changes, and we've got to get the new guys incorporated and on the same page," McCarthy said. "Now is the time for your team to come together, to go out and perform at a high level of efficiency on a daily basis. For the first time we have continuity in the core people."

The Saints set a team scoring record last season (432 points) and also led the NFC. Ten of their 43 offensive touchdowns covered 28 or more yards.

But beyond the scoring and big plays, the offense was far from a well-oiled machine, particularly during the club's 0-3 finish.

The Saints ranked 19th in the league in total offense and were in the middle of the pack in nearly every major statistical category. But other than scoring (third) and fourth down efficiency (tied for seventh), the Saints failed to rank higher than 13th in any offensive category.

"The total offense numbers are skewed," McCarthy said. "Our production was not that far off from the first two years, but our ranking was down because the rest of the league was better."

The "off-ball" skills are not the only points of emphasis for the offense this training camp, McCarthy said. Among others:

-- Brooks' health -- All eyes will be on Brooks and his surgically repaired right shoulder. McCarthy said he expects the fourth-year quarterback to be at or near full strength when camp opens.



"It will be looked at on a daily basis," McCarthy said. "Based on the way we left it in the spring, we expect Aaron to go full force in training camp. You've got to be smart with that, but I'm giving him the full amount of reps that we did the last few years."

Brooks' production decreased significantly after he injured his shoulder against Tampa Bay on Dec. 1. In the 11 games before the injury, he completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,373 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His passer-efficiency rating was 87.8.

In the five games after the injury, he completed 44.1 percent for 881 yards. He threw six touchdown passes and two interceptions. His passer-efficiency rating was 70.6. Saints' coaches, however, said an ankle injury to McAllister also was a major factor, as Brooks tried to make up for a limited running game.

"I think Aaron's development has gone in an upward motion for the most point," McCarthy said. "Yeah, we've had some dips. But the exciting thing is he still has so much room to improve. When he reaches that next level he's going to take our whole offense to another level, too."

-- Completion percentage -- The Saints completed 54.1 percent of their passes last season, well short of the 59.6-percent league average and the 60- to 65-percent goal that most West Coast offenses expect.

As a result, Brooks' completion percentage has decreased each of the past three seasons, from 58.2 percent to 55.9 to 53.6 last season.

"Normally, in the traditional West Coast offense, you shoot for 65 percent, but because of the way we push the ball vertically you have to have a happy medium," McCarthy said.

The percentage is not completely tied to Brooks. Saints' receivers dropped more than 60 passes last season, many in the final three games.

"It's naive to say that you are not going to drop the football," McCarthy said. "Though last year we had some drops at some key situations. The timing of our drops was terrible."

-- Wide receiver releases -- After the club's explosive start, defenses began to cover Saints' receivers more aggressively at the line of scrimmage. Saints receivers struggled to adjust, McCarthy said.

"A lot of times, defenses just stepped up and challenged us," McCarthy said. "We've got to be able to beat those one-on-ones. We were not very good at that, particularly down the stretch."

BlackandBlue 07-22-2003 09:46 AM

McCarthy to focus on fine points in camp
 
friday, Friday, FRIDAY!!!!!

Good post, btw.

BillyCarpenter1 07-22-2003 09:53 AM

McCarthy to focus on fine points in camp
 
Has there ever been a season where the anticipation was any higher?

coastalkid 07-22-2003 10:55 AM

McCarthy to focus on fine points in camp
 
Not in recent memory. Bring it on!!

LordOfEntropy 07-22-2003 08:04 PM

McCarthy to focus on fine points in camp
 
Not in my complete memory. Ever.

>Edit<

So, don\'t let me down... again...

[Edited on 23/7/2003 by LordOfEntropy]


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