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BillyCarpenter1 09-02-2003 04:12 PM

Saints are finally Haslett's team
NFL 2003: Saints are finally Haslett's team

The Associated Press
9/2/03 3:48 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The team Jim Haslett inherited four years ago was stripped of draft picks and patched together with free agents.

He took it to the franchise's first-ever playoff victory.

Now the New Orleans Saints carry Haslett's mark. Only one player, center Jerry Fontenot, remains from the Mike Ditka era, and more than one playoff victory is expected.

"We are at the point where all the players that we have drafted since I have been here in 2000, starting with Darren Howard, are the guys that we are relying on to win a lot of football games for us over the next few years," Haslett said. "There are no draft picks left from the 1990s. That tells you the age of your football team. It tells you that your team is something that you have built."

Haslett's first three years with the Saints were successful on a number of levels. His 26 regular-season victories ranks second in club history through three years, trailing only Jim Mora's 29 wins from 1986-88.

The success has been offset with bitter disappointment the last two seasons, however. In each, the Saints seemed on a sure path to the playoffs, but collapsed late in the season and were home for the postseason.

Haslett and his coaches did plenty of soul-searching and decided they needed more speed and better athletes.

"Last year was disappointing for all of us," Haslett said. "We analyzed everything and looked at why it happened. It really boils down to not making enough plays."

Especially on defense.

New Orleans was the NFC's highest-scoring team with 432 points. But while Aaron Brooks, Deuce McAllister, Joe Horn and the rest of the offense was putting up big numbers, the defense was struggling.

New Orleans gave up 20 or more points in every game except the finale, a 10-6 defeat.

Along with needing more speed, the Saints wanted less bulk. Norman Hand, Grady Jackson and Martin Chase, known as the "heavy lunch bunch," couldn't stop the run up the middle.

Hand and Chase are gone, Jackson is slimmed down, and the defense is faster and more athletic.

Free safety Tebucky Jones replaced Sammy Knight. Ashley Ambrose was added at cornerback. The No. 1 draft pick was used for defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan.

"We are a fast football team," Haslett said. "We are a talented football team. We are a young football team. I think it comes down to how fast we mature."

Fans panicked when the Saints went 1-3 in the preseason, but Haslett dismissed the games in which most of the starters played a limited role.

Haslett is concerned about injuries, however.

New Orleans will be without starting safety Mel Mitchell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final preseason game. Also missing will be linebacker Derrick Rodgers, suspended by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The two best pass rushers, defensive ends Howard and Charles Grant, also are injured and may not play against the Seattle Seahawks in the opener.

"The concerns are always the injuries," Haslett said. "You would like to be at full go when your football team plays, but that is something that I can't control. You put in a game plan and deal with it as it comes about."

WhoDat 09-02-2003 05:08 PM

Saints are finally Haslett's team
Well - I hope Haslett is as good an evaluator of talent as many on this board make him out to be. This is a double-edged sword you guys realize that. If they\'re great, then Haslett is the man and all of you guys who back him completely right now are justified. If they falter, there\'s only one place to point the finger. I hope the only fingers being pointed by saints players and fans alike come season end are pointed at the sky.

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