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Exhibition offers look into depth /Grant steps up as team mo

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; http://www.nola.com/saints/t-p/index...9640129100.xml Great to hear Grant stepping up in the locker room and the team responding. This team needs leaders on defense. Now is when they will begin forging an indenity, hope this is part of it. Exhibition offers look into ...

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Old 08-11-2003, 10:55 AM   #1
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Exhibition offers look into depth /Grant steps up as team mo

http://www.nola.com/saints/t-p/index...9640129100.xml

Great to hear Grant stepping up in the locker room and the team responding. This team needs leaders on defense. Now is when they will begin forging an indenity, hope this is part of it.


Exhibition offers look into depth

Coaches evaluating players for several starting positions


Monday August 11, 2003


By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer


One of the longest offseasons in Saints history will finally, mercifully end tonight.

When the Saints kick off their exhibition season against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Superdome, they'll finally get a chance to exorcise the frustrating 0-3 finish to the 2002 season that haunted them for the past seven-plus months.

No more rehash. No more replay. No more regrets.

That the Saints -- along with the Eagles -- were forced to wait longer than the rest of the NFL to start their 2003 season intensifies their anticipation.

"I'm just excited," wide receiver Joe Horn said. "So many of our new guys have chips on their shoulders from other teams. This team reminds me a lot of our first year (in 2000). I can't wait to see what we've got."

Officially, the Saints' season opens at the 7 p.m. kickoff. Unofficially it might have started Thursday night during an impromptu team gathering after practice at West Jefferson High School.

There, defensive end Charles Grant delivered an impassioned speech that teammates said helped galvanize the club toward the end of a grueling two-week, 21-practice stretch.

"What happened to us last year was unacceptable," Grant said. "In order for teams to be successful nowadays, you've got to put the business aspect aside.

"A team has a family-like chemistry. I've got to have love for my teammates if I'm going to be out here, sweating, bleeding and running with them, hitting them every day. I've got to have true passion for them. That was the whole message I was trying to get across."

The message, several players said, hit home. Workouts Saturday and Sunday were noticeably brisk. The locker room after Sunday morning's brief walk-through was downright raucous.

"I thought it was outstanding," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "His message was basically, I'm a young guy, I'm going to practice my butt off to get better and you should do the same."

Grant, a second-year end, said he felt compelled to speak after a dinner conversation about team chemistry with quarterback Aaron Brooks and several wide receivers.

"I'm just having a good feeling about this team," Grant said. "You can just see that there's new life around here. The body language is good. Everybody's got it, coaches, players, personnel people, everybody in this building. People are walking different. People have a cocky confidence, and that's good."

Tonight's exhibition probably will offer fans a better chance than their starting units to judge the Saints' depth.

Several starters will not play, including running back Deuce McAllister, right guard LeCharles Bentley, cornerback Dale Carter and linebacker Darrin Smith.

Backup running back Curtis Keaton will start in McAllister's place, and he should see plenty of action as the club tries to evaluate his progress.

Tight end David Sloan, linebacker Curtis Holden, linebacker Cie Grant, defensive tackle Henry Ford, running back Tavian Banks and offensive tackle Scott Sanderson also are expected to sit out while recovering from minor injuries.

The quarterback rotation will follow past preseason patterns. Brooks will start and play one or two series before yielding to backup Todd Bouman for the rest of the first half, Haslett said.

The coaching staff wants to get a good look at reserve quarterback Tory Woodbury. The recent waiver acquisition from the New York Jets will start the third quarter and play extensively in the second half. Second-year man J.T. O'Sullivan will finish the game.

Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi will play his starters for a couple of series before subbing his reserves. He and Haslett want to evaluate competitions at the defensive tackle, cornerback and middle linebacker positions as the team begins preparations for the regular season opener at Seattle on Sept. 7.

"There are a lot of guys battling to make this team," Haslett said. "We need to figure out who the starters are, and we've got to figure out who the final 53 (players on the active roster) are."

The play of the new-look defense, which features seven new starters, has been one of the highlights of camp. But that has been against familiar faces. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and company will provide a much more accurate evaluation. Philadelphia ranked 10th in the league in total offense last season.

"We definitely have a big challenge coming in," middle linebacker Orlando Ruff said. "But we're out to prove something this year. We've got to go out and show this league that this is a new defense and a different year. That's our main focus. We're going to prove a lot of people wrong this year."

And what better setting to make a statement than on Monday night with a national television audience looking on?

"We're going to go out there full-throttle," Ruff said. "We're not going to hold anything back."

Said Haslett "We want to win the game. It doesn't matter if it's dominoes, tiddlywinks or basketball, if you're a competitor you want to win the game. That's first and foremost."


[Edited on 8/11/2003 by saint5221]
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