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BillyCarpenter1 09-07-2003 09:26 AM

Snipers lying in wait.

Saints ready to open book on Seahawks

Preseason subterfuge has Seattle guessing

Sunday September 07, 2003

By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer

SEATTLE -- Charles Grant compares the Saints to a snake in the grass.

Grady Jackson calls them snipers lying in wait.

The Saints kick off their season against Seattle today as a team cloaked in mystery.

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The preseason schedule has been an exercise in subterfuge. The roster is dotted with 17 new names and eight new starters.

No one knows what to expect from the NFL's most unknown outfit. Which is exactly the way Coach Jim Haslett and his team want it.

"We want to hit Seattle with stuff they ain't never seen before," Jackson said. "We're going to open up our book and, like a sniper, start taking them out."

The Saints successfully employed similar ambush tactics to spring a 26-20 upset of Tampa Bay last season. New Orleans ransacked Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson with a swarm of blitzes, sacking him three times and hitting him dozens more.

The Seahawks say they're braced for whatever the Saints have up their shoulder pads. They have ignored the Saints preseason slate and studied the game tapes from the Saints' early games of 2002.

"We have rules where it really doesn't matter what the opponent's defense does," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "We've studied six or seven (Saints) games from last year. There's really nothing that they can bring that can surprise us. We're ready for whatever they bring."

The Saints should be equally prepared. The coaching staff completed the Seattle game plan in the spring. Following a strategy that led to the club's early success last season, Haslett had his staff compile the game plans for the first three opponents before the start of minicamp in April.

"We've done the same things in the three years we've been here," Haslett said. "We've started out pretty good other than the first year. We know this team pretty good, and they know us pretty good."

The teams are mirror images in many ways. Both have explosive West Coast offenses led by Pro Bowl-caliber running backs and emerging young quarterbacks. Both overhauled defense are trying to erase shaky performances last season. Both have playoff aspirations after disappointing 2002 seasons.

The Saints started last season 6-1, but lost their final three games en route to a 9-7 record. The Seahawks won four of their final five games to overcome a shaky start and finish 8-8.

"We've very similar," Hasselbeck said. "The terminology is very similar, and I think that you can see it when we run our scout team cards (in practice), the routes guys are running. It's similar stuff."

On the surface, the contest shapes up as an offensive shootout. Seattle finished last in the league against the run last season and addressed the weakness by hiring defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, signing linebacker Randall Godfrey and trading with New Orleans for veteran defensive tackle Norman Hand.

The Seahawks might be equally vulnerable against the pass. They will play without starting cornerback Shawn Springs, who is sidelined for eight to 10 weeks with a fractured bone in his shoulder. That leaves two rookie starters, cornerback Marcus Trufant and safety Ken Hamlin, along with second-year cornerback Ken Lucas.

"They have bright futures in this league, but they also are going to see things they haven't seen before. And they know that, but we have no choice," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "Marcus Trufant is our first-round pick, and he is a really good player. But he is a rookie playing corner, and that is tough."

The Saints, meanwhile, will play without starting strong safety Mel Mitchell and might have to go without end Darren Howard because of a bone bruise in his right knee. Howard practiced all week and said he plans to play, but Haslett said a decision won't be made until today.

"We're going against one of the best offenses in the league," Saints linebacker Darrin Smith said. "We know we have a challenge on our hands."

The Saints defense, which has five new starters, finished 27th last season and didn't look any better during a 1-3 preseason. But that was by design, the Saints said.

"We played a base defense. We hardly blitzed, and we used only two coverages," Jackson said. "Anybody can pick that apart. You're going to get beat like that.

"People can't grade us on the way we played this preseason. Start grading us now. Everybody thinks we're going to be a pushover. But we've got a great team. We've just got to prove it to everybody."

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