Sheldon Mickles: Venturi doesn't dwell on injuries
By SHELDON MICKLES
Does anyone have a quarter? Or better yet, a nickel or dime (defense)? When times are tough for the New Orleans Saints defense, as they have been for most of the past year and a half, defensive coordinator Rick Venturi likes to remind reporters that nobody cares about their problems.
Venturi laughs nervously and then throws out this line: "As Travis Tritt said, 'Here's a quarter, call somebody who cares.' "
Because every NFL team has its share of injuries, even this early in the season, Venturi could go through a whole sack of quarters and not find anyone who cares. But when the Saints go against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, he will be playing without five starters on that side of the ball.
Venturi said he doesn't even know if his wife, Cheri, cares.
"She's out of town, so I would have no idea," he said with a chuckle. "She's been at this for 37 years, so I don't think she does."
The Saints have lost at least one starter in each of their last three games, including the exhibition finale when strong safety Mel Mitchell tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He's done for the season.
Right defensive end Darren Howard, their best lineman, dislocated his right wrist in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. He had surgery on Sept. 8 and could be sidelined for up to 11 more weeks.
Then, in last week's 31-10 victory over the Houston Texans in the Saints' home opener, three more starters were injured for multiple games.
They lost strongside linebacker Sedrick Hodge to a hairline fracture of his lower right leg, defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan to torn cartilage in his left knee, and cornerback Dale Carter to a fractured orbit bone in his right eye.
Hodge will be out for six-to-eight weeks, Sullivan for two-to-three and Carter for three-to-four. They, along with Howard, are expected to be back later this season, so the Saints will not put them on injured reserve.
That means the Saints, who signed former New England Patriots safety Victor Green on Tuesday, will have only 20 defensive players available for the Titans. And one of them, safety Steve Gleason, is primarily a special-teams standout who could go on defense for a few plays in a pinch.
"I just don't dwell on it, to be honest with you," Venturi said Wednesday. "I can't dwell on it. In this business, we live in a day-type compartment, a day-type tunnel. That's not just coaching rhetoric, that's the way it is.
"You never look back, it's always forward," he said. "You only look at solutions, not problems. It's always a tough bump in the road for the guys that put a lot into it, but the team goes on. We had some guys step up and pull the chain tight last week."
Venturi certainly got the most out of defensive end Willie Whitehead and strong safety Jay Bellamy, who replaced Howard and Mitchell, respectively. Whitehead knocked down a pass and had two sacks among his eight tackles, while Bellamy recorded 11 tackles.
The Saints will be all right, Venturi said, if they get similar performances out of strongside linebacker Roger Knight, defensive tackle Kenny Smith and cornerback Fred Thomas. Knight will be making his first NFL start and Smith will be making his second. Thomas has started 31 times.
"Again, nobody cares what your injuries are," Venturi said. "So you're asking guys like Roger Knight and (reserve cornerback) Fakhir Brown to step up. When injuries happen, you play the cards that you get dealt."
Venturi said the Saints coaches will have to be more creative in trying to come up with schemes for the Titans. But, he said, that's something every football coach loves to do.
"I don't look at it as patching a defense together," said Venturi, who is in his 36th season as a coach. "I look at our matchups with Tennessee. I look at what we have to play with and how we're going to win that game."
Despite the crippling injuries, Venturi is encouraged with how his defense has played in the first two games.
After ranking 27th out of 32 teams in total defense and 27th against the pass in 2002, they rank ninth in total defense and seventh against the pass.
"I think they're coming together," said Venturi, who had new starters in eight positions on opening day. "It's been hard with a lot of new faces, and we've added more new faces. It's been a tremendous challenge, but we're playing with a little more cohesiveness than we did in preseason."