Rodgers glad to be back in N.O.
By SHELDON MICKLES
METAIRIE -- It would be easy for Derrick Rodgers to show at least some bitterness toward the Miami Dolphins for his exile from that team after six seasons as its starting weakside linebacker.
Having your job taken away by Junior Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection and a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is one thing. Being traded for a measly seventh-round draft pick is something else entirely.
Some of the sting is alleviated, however, when the trade brings you back to your hometown. Which explains why Rodgers, a graduate of St. Augustine High School, is so happy and content to be in training camp with the New Orleans Saints this summer.
"I'm not bitter about it,'' Rodgers said of the relatively light price the Saints had to pay to acquire him. "I don't think it was anything that came from the coaching staff, but there were a lot of things that had to happen for me to leave. Looking back, it was weird the way it all went down.''
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Rodgers said he wouldn't have been opposed to staying with the Dolphins and fighting for his job, but eventually figured it was best to move on after starting 89 of 93 games since joining them as a third-round draft pick in 1997.
"I didn't actually know if I was going to compete for the job or whatever, and I asked my agent about what was going on,'' Rodgers said. "I would have taken it either way because I'm a competitive athlete and he told me several teams were interested in trading for me.''
When Rodgers learned the Saints were one of the teams that inquired, he quickly changed his mind about staying put. The opportunity to play in New Orleans in front of family and friends was appealing to the 31-year-old, who brings more speed and quickness to their new-look defense.
The Saints had penciled second-year player James Allen into the lineup during the offseason, but the chance to pick up an experienced starter with Rodgers' speed and skills were too great to pass on.
"Derrick brings us speed and a lot of competitiveness, and he has a Ray Lewis-type motor,'' said linebackers coach Winston Moss. "He shows it when we run conditioning drills, he's out there running with his pads and helmet on. That type of mentality is outstanding.''
When players run sprints after practice, like they did in the midday sun on Thursday, Rodgers chooses to keep his gear on while others around him shed their shoulder pads and helmets.
It's a custom Rodgers started when he earned a scholarship to Arizona State after playing only two years of football at the junior college level. In high school, Rodgers shunned football to play trumpet in St. Augustine's nationally renowned band.
"At that time, I wasn't really sure what it took to be a football player at that level,'' Rodgers said. "So I tried to make it as hard as I could on myself and decided to run with the pads on.
"Besides,'' he said with a laugh, "it takes too much energy to take them off -- especially when you're tired.''
While dedication and leadership are big, the Saints coveted Rodgers for the speed he brings to the perimeter of their defense. He recorded 378 tackles, nine sacks, four forced fumbles and three interceptions in his pro career, closing out his stay with the Dolphins last year with 74 tackles and two interceptions.
"We wanted another linebacker that can run and has been in the league for a number of years,'' Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "Derrick has a knack for being around the football. He can fly to the ball and close gaps.''
With his new team, Rodgers is being asked to play a different style of defense. But he and Moss say it suits his speed better, which can only be a plus for a defense that ranked 26th out of 32 teams in points allowed and 27th in total yards given up in 2002.
"I'm going to get a chance to see what's going on as the play develops,'' Rodgers said. "At Miami, I was running with my back to the quarterback. I'm going to see the quarterback, the play and everything that happens in front of me.''
"When he gets comfortable being here, he's going to be a playmaker for this defense,'' Moss said. "He's going to be looking at the quarterback and he's going to have an opportunity to make plays
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