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JOESAM2002 09-20-2003 09:21 AM

Saints outlook.......


Sep. 15, 2003 1:44 p.m.

On the rise

Donte' Stallworth, one of the fastest players on the roster, has the skills to become a No. 1 wide receiver. Unfortunately, his 6-0, 197-pound frame is so muscle-bound and tightly wound that he suffers from lingering hamstring injuries. Stallworth also has shown a tendency to drop a lot of passes, mainly because he tries to run before he makes the catch, but the Saints are confident he'll overcome that because of his good attitude and strong work ethic. Stallworth should eventually work his way into a full-time starting role. TE Ernie Conwell has been a major addition to the passing attack. Conwell is never going to be the first option in an offense with RB Deuce McAllister and WRs Horn and Stallworth, but he provides a dependable option for QB Aaron Brooks when his first reads are taken away. It's time for the Saints to demand that the Superdome's antiquated artificial turf be replaced. SLB Sedrick Hodge blamed the surface for the fractured leg which he suffered Sunday. He is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks.

Problem spot

The secondary has been decimated by injuries. SS Mel Mitchell (knee) was lost in the preseason. Now CB Dale Carter, the team's best cover man, faces an extended absence because of a broken orbital socket. CB Fred Thomas, a dependable veteran, will replace Carter in the starting lineup, meaning Fakhir Brown or Keyuo Craver will be the nickel back. Neither player is good enough to hold up long in single coverage. Coordinator Rick Venturi will need to retool his scheme to compensate for Carter's absence because teams are likely to attack the defense with more three-receiver sets to take advantage of the inexperienced depth.

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