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saint5221 08-28-2003 08:20 AM

Saints' defense raises thought: Is it vanilla or vulnerable?

Old marble mouth nails this one.

By Buddy Diliberto

NFL preseason games can be a mirage.

True. But NFL preseason games are not a total blackout, either. That begs the question; what's with the New Orleans Saints?

The company line is "We're still vanilla. We're holding back stuff. We don't want to show everything in the preseason. We're going to be fine."

That begs another question - aren't other teams "vanilla," too?

The manner in which the Saints secondary has been shredded in three preseason outings raises serious doubts about how much the Saints' defense has improved over the bunch that gave up 20 or more points in the first 15 regular season games in 2002.

Jim Haslett and Rick Mueller, with the blessing of GM Mickey Loomis, directed most of their off-season moves towards shoring up a ragged defense. This was the first full off-season the Saints were operating without the departed GM Randy Mueller.

On paper and listening to the Saints talk about the newly acquired defensive players gave hope that the defense would be improved enough to hold up its end of the game.

But it is beginning to look like that was similar to a "movie review" that gets a three-star rating. But when you see the movie, you come away with the feeling you could have better spent your time (and money) doing something else.

Let's take a close look at the off-season moves the two engineered with the intention of dramatically improving speed on the defense.

They traded two Nos. 1 in the draft to move up to the No. 6 spot in the first round to take Georgia junior Johnathan Sullivan. He has thus far had very little impact.

Maybe Sullivan will become the player Haslett and Mueller felt he would be, but it is unlikely that will happen during the 2003 season. Maybe it's unfair to judge him too swiftly. But the trade didn't yield immediate results.

THE DEFENSIVE lineman who has shown best is Grady Jackson, a guy who tanked it last season by playing 30 pounds over-weight. Thus far he has been a plus, as long as he keeps the extra weight off.

Orlando Ruff was brought in from San Diego to fill the big need at middle linebacker. Mueller felt Ruff was the answer. But incumbent Darren Smith has won the MLB spot by 100 lengths.

Veteran cornerback Ashley Ambrose was acquired to shore up the weak cornerback position. The Ambrose we've seen thus far isn't the same one who wore the Saints' uniform in 1999; not by a longshot. Ambrose has been a top player in the league for 11 years and maybe that will show during the season. Now, he's iffy.

Free safety Tebucky Jones came to fill the speed void that existed in the secondary when Sammy Knight was here. Jones is a speed upgrade, but so far he hasn't played like the guy Haslett called "cream of the free agent safeties."

Derrick Rodgers was acquired and appears to be a serviceable linebacker.

It will be interesting to see what develops when the real bullets start flying. If the defense isn't much improved, questions will abound. They have already started.

Fans are asking, "Is (defensive coordinator Rick) Venturi the problem? Do we have a problem similar to what existed under Jim Mora when he vowed to go down with offensive coordinator Carl Smith?"

Honestly, the answer to those questions will have to come from the inside. One thing different in the Mora-Smith saga was that Mora was relying on the play-calling ability of a man on the offensive side of the ball.

Mora had come up through the ranks as a defensive mind. The Haslett-Venturi combo is on the same side of the ball.


I don't know the outcome, but something will have to change in the guy who calls the defensive signals or it is going to be a 2003 similar to 2002, and that wasn't good enough to make the playoffs.

Or ... maybe the talent evaluation has left a lot to be desired. Do your own handicapping as the season unfolds.

FWtex 08-28-2003 12:06 PM

Saints' defense raises thought: Is it vanilla or vulnerable?
This really pisses me off. I can\'t beleive Buddy D has the same thoughts as I do. He must have been taking his pills lately.

WhoDat 08-28-2003 04:30 PM

Saints' defense raises thought: Is it vanilla or vulnerable?
Saintfan... <chirp, chirp, chirp>
Billy... <chirp...>

hhhmm - only crickets chirping in here. Interesting. Now, even of the hometown boys is questioning the defense and suggesting that the moves made in the offseason weren\'t as spectacular as the coaching sttaff suggested... hhhmmm... interesting concept.

Where\'s the Buddy is NUTS!? What a F-cking PESSIMIST. Does he know anything about the Saints? He secretly hates them, and obviously haslett too b/c he\'s questioning his moves!!!! Right?


One thing I had almost forgotten about is the departure of Mueller - something I hated when it happened. Now I see who was the real engineer behind the talent here... good thing we got rid of him.

BillyCarpenter1 08-28-2003 04:34 PM

Saints' defense raises thought: Is it vanilla or vulnerable?
I\'ve been listening to Buddy D forever and he\'s more of an emotional fan than a sports analyst. He\'s up when they win and a doomsayer when they lose. Sounds like someone else I know.

When Venturi was named coordinator a couple of years ago he couldn\'t praise the guy enough.

[Edited on 28/8/2003 by BillyCarpenter1]

WhoDat 08-28-2003 05:07 PM

Saints' defense raises thought: Is it vanilla or vulnerable?
You know what I just heard? blah blah blah... uh, yatta yatta yatta... er... so there!

Shift focus much?

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