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JOESAM2002 07-29-2003 01:13 PM

Mr. Rodgers.....
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Rodgers feels right at home with Saints
Michael Krieg

July 29, 2003

METAIRIE — Derrick Rodgers is no stranger to the Louisiana Superdome.

Rodgers used to sell concessions as a youth in the Superdome, and performed during a halftime show as a member of the St. Augustine High School marching band.

Rodgers is now back home, and eager to hear those Superdome cheers once again. Only this time, the cheers will be for him.

The 31-year-old outside linebacker made his return to New Orleans last week at the start of training camp and is expected to be starting at the position in the Sept. 7 season opener in Seattle.

“It feels good. I’m happy to be back,� Rodgers said. “It’s exciting. You just get one of those little feelings when you know the people that you grew up with are actually going to get a chance to come see you do your thing.�

The Saints acquired Rodgers in the offseason from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in 2004. Linebackers coach Winston Moss believes the move will pay immediate dividends for the Saints.

“Derrick’s going to fit in real nice,� Moss said. “He is in his prime. He’s very instinctive. We expect him to make a lot of plays for us.

“He came in late, but caught on with the defense pretty quick. The one thing Derrick has is some very natural playing ability, so we’re looking forward to that.�

Rodgers made plenty of plays as a member of the Dolphins, one of the top defensive units in the AFC. Rodgers had 465 tackles (304 solos) and 9.5 sacks in six seasons with Miami. Rodgers also had three interceptions, broke up 23 passes, forced six fumbles and recovered three.

Moss believes Rodgers’ experience as a member of one of the league’s top defenses will help carry over and help revitalize a Saints’ unit that struggled last season.

“Absolutely,� Moss said. “I think what Derrick is going to bring is a kind of confidence that he’s played on great defenses before. He has a standard in which he plays and also by the way he practices.

“Those guys are going to be able to see that and feed off of that and hopefully it will be able to carry over.�

Rodgers also has postseason experience, starting six of the seven games he’s appeared in recording 35 tackles and one forced fumble.

Rodgers knows he’s expected to contribute right away and help the Saints’ defense turn the corner. However, it’s a role he’s comfortable with.

“Pressure doesn’t necessarily come from the outside,� Rodgers said. “Most of the pressure on me comes from myself. I’m always going to be my worst critic.

“I like to clown and joke around a lot, but when it comes down to the business and working out there I’m very critical of myself. I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure from the outside, but I’m going to do the best that I can do to help the team be the best that they can be.�

Moss played in the NFL for 11 seasons with Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Raiders and Seattle. He’s also been a coach for the last five seasons and likes the corps of linebackers assembled this year.

The Saints also acquired Orlando Ruff in the offseason to compliment Darrin Smith, James Allen and Sedrick Hodge.

“This linebacking group is as sharp as I’ve been around in a long time,� Moss said. “They have outstanding speed, class, instincts, play making abilities and they’re good guys. It’s a great group to work with.�

It’s also a versatile group which should help considering the Saints will face Michael Vick (Atlanta) twice, Kordell Stewart (Chicago), Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) and Steve McNair (Tennessee).

“I think it’s a little bit of both (speed and power),� Rodgers said of the linebackers. “Speed produces that power. We’ve got some guys that aren’t afraid to hit and we’ve got some guys that fly around. So, we’re going to see what happens.�

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