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Saints seek to overcome late collapse

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/...smain001.shtml Saints seek to overcome late collapse By SHELDON MICKLES smickles@theadvocate.com Advocate sportswriter Advocate staff photo by Kerry Maloney Jim Haslett and Saints front office revamped the defense after last season's late collapse. After two consecutive December disasters, the New ...

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Old 08-26-2003, 08:03 AM   #1
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Saints seek to overcome late collapse

http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/...smain001.shtml


Saints seek to overcome late collapse


By SHELDON MICKLES
smickles@theadvocate.com
Advocate sportswriter


Advocate staff photo by Kerry Maloney
Jim Haslett and Saints front office revamped the defense after last season's late collapse.
After two consecutive December disasters, the New Orleans Saints are flying into the 2003 season under the NFL radar screen.
Expectations outside the organization aren't nearly as high as they were heading into the 2001 and 2002 seasons, when the Saints were favored to win the division title or at least make the playoffs as a wild card.

Playing in what may be the toughest division in the league, the NFC South, the Saints are being picked by most to finish third or fourth in a four-team division that also includes the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.

For the most part, the less-than-lofty predictions stem from an 0-7 record in games played after Dec. 9 the last two seasons. With playoff berths virtually wrapped up each time, the Saints saw them slip away with losing streaks of four and three games, respectively.

But the past, and predictions for the future, were the last things on the Saints' minds when they reported for training camp last month.

"I don't want anybody to pick us," guard Kendyl Jacox said, "let them jump on the bandwagon later."

Their optimism is the result of a major overhaul for the second straight offseason.

Following a 7-9 mark in 2001, which came after the team won a division title in 2000, the Saints offense was stripped down and rebuilt. This time, the defense was the target of General Manager Mickey Loomis, coach Jim Haslett and director of player personnel Rick Mueller after a 6-1 start was turned into a 9-7 finish.

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A lot of the early Super Bowl talk was squashed in the second half of the season by a defense that lacked speed and ranked 26th out of 32 teams in points allowed and 27th in total yards allowed.

"We just weren't good down the middle," Haslett said, comparing the defense to the middle of a baseball field. "You have to be good down the middle, and we missed too many tackles and gave up too many big runs."

Knowing they were going to be playing seven games this season against mobile quarterbacks -- including two division matchups with Falcons star Michael Vick -- the Saints dramatically changed the makeup of the defense.

They went for more quickness in the middle of the line, more agility at linebacker, and speed and versatility in the back of the secondary. As many as eight new defensive starters could be on the field for the season opener on Sept. 7 -- including both tackles, middle linebacker and both safeties.

Their offseason redesign went about as well as Haslett and defensive coordinator Rick Venturi could've hoped as they got more quickness and speed on the field through several key moves.

They traded two first-round draft choices to jump up to the sixth overall pick to take defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, traded for weakside linebacker Derrick Rodgers and free safety Tebucky Jones, and inserted second-year player Mel Mitchell into the starting lineup at strong safety
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