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Offensive starters still lacking spark
ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â» More From The Times-Picayune
Offensive starters still lacking spark
Unit's point production hasn't satisfied coaches, but ball-movement OK
Saturday August 23, 2003
By Jeff Duncan
SAN FRANCISCO -- It has been hailed as one of the most explosive units in the NFL. But so far this preseason the only explosions the Saints offense has ignited have come from Coach Jim Haslett.
The first-team offense has not scored a touchdown in two preseason games. The group has produced six points, 11 first downs and 158 total yards in six offensive possessions. The reserves have accounted for five touchdowns, 26 first downs and 420 yards.
Moreover, the starters have been just as ineffective during practice. The defense has dominated workouts in recent days, including an animated two-minute drill that concluded the late workout on Wednesday.
When the group's effort did not meet Haslett's satisfaction again on Thursday morning, the head coach erupted. He verbally attacked and challenged several players during and after the brief 90-minute workout.
Entering tonight's exhibition game against San Francisco at 3COM Park, Haslett isn't ready to push the panic button. He notes that the Saints (1-1) played their opener against Philadelphia without three of their best offensive players: wide receiver Joe Horn, running back Deuce McAllister and right guard LeCharles Bentley.
"I thought the starting offense played well in the last game, but the field position was poor," Haslett said. "Sure, I would like to see them score more points but I wasn't unhappy with how they played."
The starters began two of their four first-half possessions last week at their own 4- and 10-yard lines. On their second series, they drove from their own 4 to the Jets' 15 before settling for a 33-yard field goal by John Carney. On the positive side, the starters gained at least one first down on each possession.
"We moved the ball, but our point production wasn't very good," offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy said. "We looked like an offense that was playing its first game together. This was a starting point. Now we've got to continue to get better."
One player the Saints are not worried about is quarterback Aaron Brooks. Haslett said he received a phone call this week from an unnamed AFC personnel director who told him Brooks is one of the two best starting quarterbacks he has seen during the preseason. The other is Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair.
"Aaron is throwing the ball really well right now," Haslett said. Brooks has completed 12 of 22 passes for 126 yards.
Haslett did not reveal the substitution pattern and quarterback rotation for tonight's game. In previous years, the starters have played for all or most of the first three quarters before yielding to key reserves.
A handful of players could be held out because of injuries, including wide receiver DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â© Stallworth (hamstring), running back Curtis Keaton (hip flexor), defensive ends Darren Howard (knee) and Charles Grant (calf), defensive tackle Henry Ford (ankle) and linebackers J.J. Jones (knee), Crutis Holden (knee) and Roger Knight (buttocks).
"We will see how we are tomorrow health-wise," Haslett said. The starters "will play a little bit longer than they did last week."
This will be the final opportunity for several players to make an impression before the first round of cuts next week. The Saints need to release 14 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday to reach their mandatory roster limit of 72.
San Francisco (2-0) quarterback Jeff Garcia is expected to have his first playing time of the preseason tonight. Garcia, who strained his lower back before the season of camp, will play about 15 plays before yielding to backup Tim Rattay, a Louisiana Tech alumnus who will complete the first half, new 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. Backup quarterbacks Brandon Doman and Ken Dorsey will split time in the second half.
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Jeff Duncan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3405.
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