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JOESAM2002 10-16-2003 09:57 PM

Ruff ready to lead.....
Linebacker manages the middle for Saints

Thursday October 16, 2003

By Brian Allee-Walsh
Staff writer

It took a while for middle linebacker Orlando Ruff to crack the Saints' starting lineup. Based on his performance the past two games, he may never leave it.

"He's a work in progress, but I think he's given us a real nice shot in the arm," Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi said Wednesday. "We're beginning to develop a little cohesiveness on defense, and he's certainly a part of all that coming together.

"To me, there are two things he's given us: One, he's given us a physical presence inside. He's big, and he can take on blocks and get people down with force. So your run defense picks up from tackle to tackle. And two, he's a pro. He studies the game. He's a detail guy. He's kind of a throwback in that sense. It's very important to him that he does things right."

Ruff, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers, will make his third consecutive start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

He had 10 tackles in the Saints' 19-13 loss against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 5 and six tackles in Sunday's 20-13 victory against the Chicago Bears, drawing praise from Coach Jim Haslett and Venturi.

"I thought he played well in both games," Haslett said. "He did a nice job of running the defense. You feel comfortable when he is in there against some of the power-running teams. I think he brings something to the team."

"I bring an attitude and an intensity to the game," said Ruff, 6 feet 3, 250 pounds. "I may not be the fastest, I may not be the strongest, but when I step on that field my mind-set is I'm going to make something happen. That's what I bring to the table."

Ruff, who signed a three-year, $3.1 million contract in April, spent the first month of the season playing primarily on special teams while veteran Darrin Smith started at middle linebacker.

Roger Knight opened at strongside linebacker against the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts after starter Sedrick Hodge broke his right leg against the Houston Texans.

Following a 55-21 loss to the Colts on Sept. 28, Haslett and Venturi decided to insert Ruff at middle linebacker and shift Smith to strongside linebacker.

Haslett said Hodge is expected to be sidelined another two to four weeks.

"The decision to start Darrin Smith in the middle to open the season was the right decision based on that point in time," Venturi said. "We made that decision from a stability standpoint because we had so many new guys in the system. I don't second-guess that a bit.

"And I think the decision to start Ruff and move Darrin over is the right decision at this point in time. We make personnel decisions weekly, daily, by the minute. We shook things up last week all over the place. We don't broadcast it, but we'll continue to look at every week as it unfolds. We're not a team that's going to line up and just play exactly the same way every week. We got to find a way each week."

After being riddled with injuries in September, the Saints' defense has settled down the past two games. It yielded one offensive touchdown to the Panthers and limited the Bears to 271 yards and one touchdown.

"Any time you win, any time you have success, naturally confidence comes," Ruff said. "We have a lot more confidence right now. We're right where we figured we'd be, not record-wise, but in terms of chemistry. I feel we're jelling at the right time. We got some momentum going right now, and we want to keep it going."

subguy 10-17-2003 07:35 AM

Ruff ready to lead.....
Damn, venturi and his work in progress. Venturi is a work beyond progress. Adios Rick. Never will forget the lost look on his face as a interim head coach. Priceless.

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