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BillyCarpenter1 08-07-2003 05:57 PM

Defensive ends young, talented and under the gun
Thursday, August 7

Defensive ends young, talented and under the gun
Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Charles Grant was a first-round pick for the New Orleans Saints last year. Darren Howard was a second-round selection in 2000.

This year, they must prove they were worth picking so high.

``Two guys that have to take giant leaps this year are Grant and Howard,'' defensive coordinator Rick Venturi said. ``Both of them have played a lot of football and they are highly talented athletes. Now, they have to become impact players and both have to have breakout years.''

Howard and Grant have the strength and speed to be formidable at defensive end, Venturi said. If they live up to that promise, he expects the Saints defense to be among the top units in the NFL.

Howard and Grant don't feel pressured, however. Howard said they refuse to.

``When I hear something like that I look at it as applying to our entire defense,'' Howard said. ``One or two players can't make enough plays to win games. We all have to do it together.''

Still, Howard and Grant have no doubt this will be a big year for them. Experience makes a big difference at defensive end, Howard said.

``My rookie year I was just trying to keep up with the game and make a few plays,'' Howard said. ``You have no idea the adjustment you have to make coming from college. It's the same sport, but not the same game.''

Grant agrees. His second training camp is being spent refining his play, not learning it.

``Now I know what I need to do and I can concentrate on how to do it,'' Grant said. ``I think Darren and I know we both have to produce. When he locks up his end of the line, I have to lock up mine.''

Howard and Grant know the fans will judge them on sacks, something the Saints used to routinely rank high in. Grant's goal is to have 15{ sacks by the time the playoffs roll around. Howard doesn't believe they are all that important.

``Just to my bank account,'' Howard said. ``I know that's how a lot of people rate the position, but I can have no sacks and still have an impact on the game.''

Howard led the Saints in sacks last season with eight, giving him 25 for his two-year career. No player in Saints history has posted more sacks in his first two seasons.

Grant, who played in every game last year and started six, was second on the team in sacks with five.

With the revamped defense _ there are eight new starters penciled in _ the increased speed and athleticism will help Howard and Grant avoid double-teams. Both expect to have plays available to them because of the plays being made around them.

But Grant agrees with Venturi, he and Howard should be the deciding factor on the defense this year.

``When another team's offensive coordinator game-plans for the Saints, I don't want them game-planning for the defense,'' Grant said. ``I want them game-planning for Darren and me.''

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