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JOESAM2002 07-30-2003 02:18 PM

Black and Gold scrimmage....
Helpful hints for Black and Gold

July 30, 2003

When the New Orleans Saints visit Cajun Field on Saturday to conduct their annual Black-and-Gold scrimmage, the crowd on hand figures to be comprised of several groups.

There will be those who have never been to a Saints’ home game and never seen an NFL team practice. To those, I say just enjoy the unique experience of witnessing a professional franchise first- hand.

There will no doubt be those who have been to the Superdome to watch the Saints play, but have never seen a practice session. To those, I warn not to expect a preseason game on Saturday.

It’s going to be a practice. Yes, there will be some hitting just like in a regular game, but there will also be punt coverage drills and seven-on-seven competitions.

Simply remember that it’s all part of molding a team into regular-season shape. Also, don’t forget that when the Saints arrive on Saturday, they will have only finished one week of practice. The finished product won’t be available until September.

Then there’s going to be those die-hard, hard-core Saints fans who have made countless trips to the Crescent City for games and even visited the Saints in Thibodaux for training camp in recent years.

To those supporters, the list of team aspects to focus upon is a long one.

For starters, there’s looking at Aaron Brooks’ throwing arm after offseason surgery, not to mention at Jake Delhomme’s replacement as the team’s backup quarterback, Todd Bouman.

Then there’s the new tight end corps. A year ago, hopes were high with the signing of David Sloan and the progress of Boo Williams. Instead, the position produced nothing but heartache from either poor play or inactivity.

Sloan hopes for better this season, while Williams fights just to make the team. Ernie Conwell brings versatile skills from St. Louis, and Walter Rasby replaced Lamont Hall as the blocker.

Elsewhere on offense, it should be fun to chart the progress of second-year speedster Donte’ Stallworth as he tries to leapfrog veteran Jerome Pathon.

Most of the eyes, though, should be on the new-look defense after the horrible performance turned in by that unit last season. Topping the list of concerns on that side is the linebacking crew.

Orlando Ruff comes over from San Diego as a run-stopper, while Derrick Rodgers brings six years of experience from Miami. Also, James Allen strives to make an impact in his second season.

It’ll be tough for the defense to improve dramatically without a vast upgrade at linebacker, placing a huge burden on Ruff and Rodgers.

Many other eyes should be on the secondary. On the corners, will Dale Carter be more consistent this year after a full, trouble-free offseason? How much does Ashley Ambrose have left?

Meanwhile, it should be fun to actually see speed at safety with Tebucky Jones coming from New England and Mel Mitchell being given a job in his second year.

And if the Saints are fortunate, first-round selection Johnathan Sullivan of Georgia will show up by Saturday. Defensive tackle has gotten plenty of attention in the offseason with all of the questions surrounding Grady Jackson, and now with Sullivan’s holdout.

But no matter which group you happen to fall into, there’s another factor to keep in mind. While this event is for the fans, it’s also an important fund-raiser for the UL Lafayette football program.

For many, that’s a reality that may just make purchasing a ticket and shelling out $5 to park feel a lot more worthwhile.

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