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Danno 04-01-2004 08:03 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
Past three first-round picks expected to step up in big way
Thursday April 01, 2004
By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer
PALM BEACH, FLA. -- Saints coach Jim Haslett has targeted three keys to his team's fate in the 2004 season.
Surprisingly, none involves a cornerback, linebacker or quarterback Aaron Brooks, the three lightning rods of criticism during this offseason of discontent.
Haslett said a healthy Donté Stallworth at wide receiver and improved production from defensive linemen Charles Grant and Johnathan Sullivan could be the difference between a playoff berth and yet another fruitless season.
If the Saints are going to end their three-year drought of missing the playoffs, it will be on the shoulders of the teams' past three first-round draft picks.
"The big thing for our football team is getting Donte' Stallworth healthy and on the field. He makes us a better team," Haslett said at the annual NFC coaches' breakfast with reporters, held on the final day of the annual NFL meeting.
"On our defensive line, Johnathan Sullivan and Charles Grant have to be consistent. And if they are, we'll be better, because Darren Howard is a good player."
Haslett said the defense might be on the verge of a breakthrough season. The unit improved in nearly every statistical category in the second half of last season, dropping their points allowed a full touchdown (from 23.8 to 16.8) and increasing their takeaways from seven to 20.
"If we continue to improve right off the bat like we did in the last eight games of the year, our team is going to be fine," Haslett said. "This will be our first year on defense that we can go back and do what we did our first year, all the blitzing, the different looks, what we did in Pittsburgh. We'll have Darren Howard and can move him inside (to tackle) like we did the last game. The defensive side, this is the first year since our first year that we're kind of back where we want to be."
"We need to be more consistent," Haslett said. "Sullivan and Grant are too up and down. They play well, they don't play well. I'm talking about the run and pass. Grant had 10 sacks and he probably could have had 20, with his athleticism."
Haslett said he expects Sullivan to make strides under the tutelage of first-year defensive line coach John Pease. Sullivan also will be helped by having a full year in the team's offseason conditioning program. Sullivan made 32 tackles, one sack and forced one fumble in 12 starts as a rookie.
"Coming out of Georgia, he didn't play every down," Haslett said. "I don't think he was ready to play every single snap. I don't think he understood how long the season was, what it takes. He was really immature. He really didn't understand anything about the NFL. But he played pretty well at the end, and I think he's going to be a good player."
On offense, Haslett likes the talent and continuity of a unit that ranked No. 11 in total yardage and No. 14 in scoring last season. He said the unit needs improved play from its starting receivers, including three-time Pro Bowler Joe Horn and enigmatic Stallworth.
In two seasons, Stallworth has shown flashes of the big-play potential that made him the first receiver drafted in 2002. Despite missing almost 10 games because of various lower-body injuries, he has scored 11 touchdowns in two seasons.
Saints coaches said Stallworth's 11 touchdowns-to-10 starts ratio is the highest of any receiver in the league, well above the 1:1.5 ratio of most top receivers.
"Every time he touches the ball he has a chance to score," Haslett said. "He's big. He's fast. He just needs to stay healthy."
In an effort to increase Stallworth's availability, Haslett hired speed and conditioning specialist Mark Smith as assistant strength coach this offseason. Stallworth will be one of Smith's projects this spring and summer.
Haslett said he doesn't feel any more pressure than usual to make the postseason. He said owner Tom Benson has been especially supportive since the end of the 8-8 campaign in 2003.
"He's great," Haslett said. "Just talking to him, I think he likes where our football team is. He likes what we're doing. He likes the job we're doing in the offseason. He likes where we're at."
Haslett touched on a number of other personnel and performance issues during his one-hour conversation. Some highlights:
-- On quarterback Aaron Brooks: "I don't understand the criticism. . . . The kid throws 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. . . . He did turn the ball over (on fumbles), but his numbers are pretty good. Why the media and the fans are on him so much, I don't understand that. I just think it's the make-up of the fans. Archie Manning was booed. Bobby Hebert was booed."
-- On safety Tebucky Jones: "The guy has got great skills. He's fast. He's big. But he wasn't a great tackler early in the season. He didn't wrap his arms. We're going to start with him (this offseason) like it's high school, working with him on tackling and some of the little things that might have been neglected when he came up. He's a good kid, and he's excited about trying to get better. He really improved last season. The last four games he played really well. We're going to use him in a bigger role this year, too. We're going to use him at corner. We're going to put him in the box."
-- On the middle linebacker position: "I don't know who the middle linebacker is. Our middle linebacker has been inconsistent the last three years. Somebody has got to emerge as an inside linebacker. I don't know who it is, whether it's (Orlando) Ruff or Cie Grant. That's a question mark. We really haven't settled on anyone there. We've got to find one."
-- On the Saints' draft plan: "If you look at our team, we've got five pretty good offensive linemen. So we probably won't address that early. At receiver, you've got Joe Horn, Stallworth, (Jerome) Pathon and Talman Gardner, who I think is going to be a pretty good player. You've got Deuce (McAllister) at running back. Then you look on defense. You've got two first-round picks, a franchise player and a big-money free agent on the defensive line. So it's probably not going to be a lineman. We just gave Freddy Thomas a lot of money. I don't know where you are going to get a starter out of the draft. Corner is one area and linebacker is another area that we'll try to get better at. So I guess we're kind of open. There are some good wideouts in the draft, so don't be surprised."

BlackandBlue 04-01-2004 08:11 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Quote:

We really haven\'t settled on anyone there. We\'ve got to find one.
I know where one is, Jim ;)

Danno 04-01-2004 08:46 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Quote:

Quote:

We really haven\'t settled on anyone there. We\'ve got to find one.
I know where one is, Jim ;)
Yea, I caught that too.
cough** Vilma/Trotter**cough

BlackandBlue 04-01-2004 09:25 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Quote:

We just gave Freddy Thomas a lot of money. I don\'t know where you are going to get a starter out of the draft.
This is what scares me. The ole bait and switch, which Haslett loves to employ. Or maybe he thinks that we\'ll think that, and end up going linebacker in the first. Or maybe he\'ll think we thought that too and draft an offensive lineman :P

Halo 04-01-2004 09:45 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Quote:

Or maybe he thinks that we\'ll think that, and end up going linebacker in the first. Or maybe he\'ll think we thought that too and draft an offensive lineman :P
Or maybe he thinks that we\'ll think what he thinks, then he thinks something else, which we think he is thinking something else, but really he thinks something newer than the second thinking, in spite of it, and he picks a WIDE RECEIVER!!!

If I think about what he is thinking on top of that think on top of that think, I get sick.

[Edited on 4/1/2004 by Halo]

Danno 04-01-2004 09:49 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Well at least \"think\" and \"Haslet\" are being used in the same sentence.
Baby steps guys, baby steps...

saintfan 04-01-2004 10:13 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
The air is thin up there huh Halo! LOL

By the way, I e-mailed ya....

[Edited on 1/4/2004 by saintfan]

[Edited on 1/4/2004 by saintfan]

iceshack149 04-01-2004 11:25 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Great post.

Quote:

On safety Tebucky Jones:We\'re going to use him at corner.
Looks like Haslett is trading up to get Sean Taylor.

Quote:

We\'ll have Darren Howard and can move him inside (to tackle)
Is Howard going to be a tight end on some plays too?

Oh crap. I\'ve been reading too many of 08\'s posts.

Danno 04-01-2004 11:57 AM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
Quote:

Great post.

Quote:

On safety Tebucky Jones:We\'re going to use him at corner.
Looks like Haslett is trading up to get Sean Taylor.

Quote:

We\'ll have Darren Howard and can move him inside (to tackle)
Is Howard going to be a tight end on some plays too?

Oh crap. I\'ve been reading too many of 08\'s posts.
ROFLMAO, I spit-up my coke onto my screen :D
Funniest post of the week!

Euphoria 04-01-2004 12:27 PM

Haslett: Saints' 2004 fate tied to young trio
 
THis time of year, I don\'t put much stock in what coaches are saying. They are either saying the obvious or they are deploying a tactic to disguise what they are really up to so other teams will guess and not have an edge over there decision making process. I get frustrated sometimes so I deploy my on stradegy and that is wait and see what happens, lol. I think Haslett was hinting that he is willing to trade down.


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