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Halo 07-04-2002 10:04 PM

Deuces Wild: Saints pray McAllister can carry the load
Deuces Wild: Saints pray McAllister can carry the load
Thu Jul 4,12:15 PM ET

By Phil Barber - For The Sporting News

McAllister isn't the only player who needs to step up
Ricky Williams might be the Dolphins' workhorse/headache now, but his presence seems to inhabit New Orleans like a dreadlocked specter. Take the Saints' recent minicamp, where the two most memorable moments were directly related to Williams' departure.

The first came when rookie Charles Grant -- the promising defensive end acquired with the first-round draft choice the Saints gained from Miami for Williams -- reportedly body-slammed Goth left tackle Kyle Turley and went upside his head during a closed practice session.

The other attention-grabbing moment came the first time Deuce McAllister, Williams' replacement at halfback, flexed out of the backfield and lined up as a wide receiver, quickly spooking the defense. McAllister spent almost half of his time in that minicamp lined up in the slot or at wideout, where he created mismatches for linebackers. His superior hands and familiarity with the passing game make him a natural receiver.

"As an offensive coordinator, when you talk about any position, you want a guy who's multidimensional," says the Saints' Mike McCarthy. "It gives you the ability to be flexible in your scheme. That helps when you're game-planning a particular opponent."

Does McCarthy have a particular opponent in mind? "Yeah," he says, laughing. "All 16 of them."

The 23rd pick in the 2001 draft, McAllister was expected to spell Williams for significant chunks of action last season, possibly even challenge him for the starting job. It didn't happen. McAllister didn't sign until after the start of training camp and never found his place in the offense. He wound up with 16 carries for 91 yards and 15 receptions. "I'm like a second-year rookie," says McAllister, 23.

His 31 touches might look more like a single-game total this season, because the Saints' offense is going to rise or fall on the back of this unproven player.

No one needs to weigh evidence on his physical talents. For a man of his dimensions (6-1, 230), McAllister can fly. He was good enough returning kickoffs to rank seventh in the league with a 24.2-yard average last year.

The Saints love McAllister's big-play potential. Williams' hard-nosed running resulted in back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But after the big back was traded in March, Saints coach Jim Haslett noted that Williams had only one run of more than 30 yards in his three seasons in New Orleans.

Contrast that with McAllister, whose 54-yard sprint against Atlanta was the Saints' longest rushing touchdown since 1997. McAllister clearly is a better fit for the Saints' West Coast-style system. More than one observer compares McAllister with Rams superstar Marshall Faulk because of his versatility.

"He's not the runner Marshall Faulk is," Buccaneers director of pro personnel Mark Dominik says. "Faulk's change of direction is much better. But as a pass catcher, yes, he's right up there."

Conventional wisdom has McAllister stretching the defense horizontally on pitches and sweeps -- plays that Williams struggled with because of his lack of quick feet and change-of-direction ability. But one NFC scout believes McAllister is at his best running off tackle and cutting back. "He has really good timed speed, but I didn't see him as a home run guy," the scout says. "He's more of a glider, like Eddie George."

The real question hovering over McAllister is durability. He always shared the running back job at Ole Miss but still had some lingering injuries. Now, he will be asked to carry the load.

"As an athlete, he's as good as a lot of running backs in the NFL right now," says Cowboys defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, who played with McAllister in New Orleans last season. "What he'll have to prepare for is the grind of the NFL season. That's four preseason games, 16 regular-season games and hopefully the playoffs after that. Can he hold up mentally and physically?"

"They'll have to find a legitimate backup," Seahawks director of pro scouting Will Lewis says. "They're wondering if he'll be able to stand up to the pounding. I don't necessarily know that he will. I don't know if he has the body type. He's pretty big, but he's not compact."

Of course, as tough as Williams was when it came to fighting for short yardage, he missed 10 games with injuries in his first two seasons.

Haslett thinks he can get Williams-like production out of McAllister on fewer carries. And McAllister, for his part, has been lifting and running like a madman this offseason. Though he weighs roughly the same as a year ago, his musculature has improved noticeably -- and his quickness along with it. Now, all he has to do is stay on the field -- and produce.

"I'm like a question mark," McAllister says. "No one knows how I'll hold up. But there are two ways to look at it. I'm not a question mark to myself. Some will say, 'Just give him a chance to show what he can do.' But the general public, and even a few of my coaches, will have to be convinced."

Phil Barber is a free-lance writer from Calistoga, Calif.

Gumbo 07-17-2002 09:35 PM

Deuces Wild: Saints pray McAllister can carry the load
Halo, you must do a lot of web surfing to fing all this stuff???

BigB 07-19-2002 08:48 AM

Deuces Wild: Saints pray McAllister can carry the load
I worry about Deuce. He will be running behind a revamped offensive line that has lost its premeir run blocker, arguably, the premeir run blocker in the game. No, Ricky Williams never broke the big one, but his 3 yards and a cloud of dust style of running wore down the defense in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Deuce has all of the physical capabilites to be a great running back, but I can name a few other backs in recent years that had the potential but never lived up to it. Rashaam Salaam, Kijana Carter, Blair Thomas, just to name a few. We lost a proven quantity for a wildcard and I for one am not happy about it. My only hope is that Ricky reaches 1500 yards this season for the \'Phins so that we can at least get another 1st rounder out of the deal. :casstet: :casstet:

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