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saint5221 08-06-2003 07:22 AM

Cornerbacks battle for starting position

Saints News

Cornerbacks battle for starting position

Ambrose, Thomas hope to better team

Wednesday August 06, 2003

By Brian Allee-Walsh
Staff writer

After 15 training camp practices, the highly competitive battle between Saints cornerbacks Fred Thomas and Ashley Ambrose is too close to call.

Each is making a strong case for a starting spot opposite left cornerback Dale Carter, who continues to be sidelined with tendinitis in his right knee.

If Carter can't play in the Saints' exhibition opener Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Superdome, Ambrose likely would open at left corner with Thomas at right corner.

"We don't look at it like we're competing against each other," Thomas said Tuesday between workouts. "Everybody comes to camp competing for a job. But me, Ashley and Dale are here to better this team.

"We just come in and focus on what we're supposed to do. We want to be one of the best secondaries in the league. If Ashley starts, I'll support him. I'm sure if I start, he'll support me. We know every team needs four or five quality corners. That's the way we look at it."

Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi sees it the same way. In his mind, choosing two starting cornerbacks from a group that includes Keyuo Craver and Fahkir Brown is the least of his concerns.

"I don't look at it so much as a battle but more that it's a good deal for us," Venturi said. "You got to have three guys in there and the best guys will play. I think Ambrose has come in and been outstanding. He's a technician. Freddy's been good. Dale started out good but now he's out and, hey, we got to go on.

"The good news is Craver has been playing at a high level. Both he and Fahkir Brown were pretty solid Saturday night in our scrimmage."

Saints coach Jim Haslett said he has been pleased thus far with all his cornerbacks, particularly Ambrose, a native of New Orleans who rejoined the Saints in March after a three-year stint with the Atlanta Falcons.

Ambrose, 32, distinguished himself during the morning session, breaking up two potential touchdown passes and making one interception.

"I made some good plays out there today but mentally I don't think I'm where I'm supposed to be because my legs are heavy and your mind just goes when you get tired," Ambrose said. "I think everybody is feeling it.

"I don't think I've lost a big, giant step but I know I have lost a step because I'm older. Technique gets me through a lot of stuff now. It's all about playing sound technique now. I'm older but I'm also a much smarter player."

Thomas, 29, said he is using training camp to break himself of a bad habit that he developed after breaking his left hand against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2002 season opener.

"I'm doing OK but I could be doing better," Thomas said. "Right now I'm always leading with my right hand in coverage because I broke my left hand last year. I did that a lot last year because I didn't want to re-injure the hand. So I'm trying to focus on leading with my left hand."

Ambrose, who's entering his 12th NFL season, said he is surrounded by a better group of cornerbacks now than at any time with the Falcons.

"The biggest difference this time and the first time I was here (in 1999) is I think we have a championship-contending team," Ambrose said. "Our offense is the big bright spot. When I was here before all we had was Ricky Williams and Willie Roaf. Now we got receivers who really challenge us as corners and that does nothing but make us better."

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Brian Allee-Walsh can be reached at or (504) 826-3805.

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