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JOESAM2002 08-22-2003 10:36 AM

PFW's 3 part Training camp report.....
 
Wednesday, July 16
Updated: August 20, 10:31 AM ET

Saints: Training camp report

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Pro Football Weekly


CAMP AT A GLANCE



Deuce McAllister scored 16 total TDs last season.
Location: New Orleans Saints Complex, Metairie, La.
Preseason schedule:
Aug. 11: Lost to Philadelphia, 27-17
Aug. 16: Beat NY Jets, 22-17
Aug. 23: at San Francisco
Aug. 28: Miami



In Pro Football Weekly's third and final installment of training-camp reports, we look at the good (biggest positive), the bad (biggest disappointment) and the ugly (injury update) factors surrounding every team halfway through the 2003 preseason. We also set our sights on a rookie to watch on each team, for whatever the reason.

Aug. 19

Biggest positives: The Saints are thrilled just to get out of camp without any major injuries or disruptions. This is the first season in years in which the team stayed in the New Orleans area to train, and it has eliminated a lot of the distractions of being in a foreign locale. The Saints' camp has been very focused and businesslike, something that is key for a team that has had a tough time keeping it together in the past couple of seasons.

Biggest disappointment: Head coach Jim Haslett hoped to break camp with a good idea of how the backup RB situation would shake out, but the Saints still don't have anybody they feel comfortable with behind Deuce McAllister. Haslett may be forced to look outside of the organization once the first round of cuts hits.

Injury update: CB Dale Carter has missed extended time with tendinitis in his knee, and it figures to be a chronic problem. If it were the regular season, Carter might be practicing more on a regular basis, but the injury does limit his lateral movement a bit and will be a concern all year. ORG LeCharles Bentley has been bothered by a pulled pectoral muscle, but he should be back at 100 percent for the start of the regular season.

Rookies to watch: DT Johnathan Sullivan was the Saints' top draft pick because they hoped that he would make a major impact, and with the way he has been picking up the defense following a short holdout, he should be ready to make his mark. His presence should help the Saints get a little tougher stopping the run. OG Montrae Holland, a fourth-round pick, has worked with the first string and is being groomed to move into the starting lineup next year.

Part 2 -- Aug. 12

Veteran to watch: The Falcons were willing to let CB Ashley Ambrose go after last season, and the Saints are thrilled that they picked him up. He has established himself with his work ethic and has set the tone for the secondary with his tenacity and business-like demeanor. Ambrose is playing as though he has something to prove.

Player on the verge: WR Donté Stallworth was impressive last season in making 42 catches for eight touchdowns, and he has picked up where he left off during camp. He is running routes well and is playing with a confidence that could make him a star this season. Stallworth has a swagger that should make him tough to contain.

Strongest position: Forget about the individual positions on the offensive line. The entire line has come together quickly, and insiders say that the line is much stronger than it was last season. That's saying something for a group that produced the NFC's leading rusher. Newcomer Wayne Gandy has replaced Kyle Turley at left tackle, and the line hasn't missed a beat. Versatility and depth will make the Saints tough up front.

Weakest position: Running back is set with Deuce McAllister carrying the mail, but if anything should happen to him, look out. The Saints are more shallow than a puddle in a parking lot at running back, with James Fenderson and Charles Keaton struggling to wow coaches. The Saints hope someone in camp will step up to claim the backup job as his own, but nobody has asserted himself just yet.

Part 1 -- July 18

Most significant changes: Offensive tackle Kyle Turley was shipped to St. Louis during the offseason because management got tired of dealing with his criticisms. His departure should make for less of a circus-like atmosphere in the locker room. The signing of cornerback Ashley Ambrose and the trade that brought former Patriots safety Tebucky Jones to the Big Easy should drastically improve a secondary that gave up far too many big plays last season.

Reasons for optimism: The offense should be as strong as ever, and the Saints have rid themselves of a major headache in the form of Turley. Running back Deuce McAllister is in great shape, wide receiver Donte' Stallworth has improved his hands and route running, and the Saints have become quicker up front defensively now that overweight defensive tackle Norman Hand has moved on.

Causes for concern: Defensive tackle Grady Jackson has battled a weight problem for most of his career, and there's no telling what kind of shape or frame of mind he will be in when he reports. Swapping Turley for free-agent offensive tackle Wayne Gandy isn't a big downgrade, but Turley brought some swagger to the line. The defense also might be faster, but that doesn't mean the pass rush will necessarily be better.

Training-camp battles to watch: Free-agent signee Orlando Ruff, who came over from San Diego to shore up the middle linebacker position, will be pushed hard by Darrin Smith for the starting job. Ruff has better speed, but his tendency to overpursue could make Smith the better choice in the middle for a team that is looking to limit big plays. Don't be surprised if: McAllister wins the NFC rushing title again with even better numbers than the 1,388 yards he gained last season.



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