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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; PLENTY OF METTLE Saints TE Ernie Conwell rounds back into shape following injury By Brian Allee-Walsh Staff writer Saints tight end Ernie Conwell said he did not know why he triggered a security device at Honolulu International Airport en route ...

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Old 05-25-2004, 12:38 PM   #1
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Saints TE Ernie Conwell rounds back into shape following injury

By Brian Allee-Walsh
Staff writer

Saints tight end Ernie Conwell said he did not know why he triggered a security device at Honolulu International Airport en route home from the NFL Players' Association meetings in March.

He had passed through other metal detectors in the past with nary a beep. But it became clear after the wave of a wand.

"For some reason it went off," Conwell said on the first day of coaching sessions last week at the team's practice facility. "Sure enough, the security guy kept hitting the same spot with that thing. A bunch of other NFL players apparently had been coming through, and the same thing happened to them.

"The bombings in Madrid, Spain, had just happened, and I guess the security levels were probably turned up a bit. But the guy saw my scar and knew I wasn't hiding anything in my ankle."

What could not be seen by the naked eye were 7 ½ screws and a metal plate that doctors inserted in Conwell's lower right leg to hold the fibula, tibia and ankle in place.

Doctors also had to repair torn tendons and ligaments during season-ending surgery in November, forcing Conwell to the sideline for the final six games.

Conwell, who finished his first season in New Orleans with 26 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns, said he plans to be near full strength by the start of training camp in July.

"I'm probably at 75 percent right now," he said. "I can do pretty much everything right now up to three-quarters speed, and I feel pretty efficient. But once I start picking up beyond that, I can tell I don't have the rhythm that I should have.

"Going from three-quarters speed to full speed is when you've got to have that real ballistic movement, with an ankle especially. But my Achilles tendon keeps feeling stronger, and all the little ligaments and tendons in there are getting thicker and stronger. I have no doubt I'll be at full speed by training camp."

A healthy Conwell is expected to bolster a position that features Boo Williams, veteran Lamont Hall, second-year prospect Zach Hilton and newcomers Danny Curley and Kyle Acker.

Williams enjoyed a breakout season in 2003, catching a career-best 41 passes for 436 yards and five touchdowns. Down the stretch, he emerged as one of the team's most reliable playmakers.

"Last year, Boo showed a greater maturity level," Conwell said. "Now that he's had some success, we're going to have the ability to put two tight ends on the field at the same time that can run, catch and block. That gives you the ability to cause mismatches and force defenses out of some of their packages.

"We're not going to be just a two-tight offense, because we got tons of offensive talent all over the place. Football is like chess where you can move all 11 pieces at one time. But it's nice if you can have a couple extra rooks or knights on your side, because that's what you got."

Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy said Conwell's return will give the team more flexibility in one and two running-back alignments.

Equally important, Conwell is considered to be a team leader and serves as a role model for younger players.

"You always want guys like him around here," McCarthy said. "We talk about it all the time -- the most important room in our building is the locker room. Some people think it's the payroll department. That's a hard one to argue with. But the locker room is a really important place, and the chemistry in that locker room is vital to our success."

Conwell's injury not only knocked him out of the lineup, but it kept him away from Saints camp through the regular season. Reporters often inquired as to his whereabouts with team officials.

Conwell was couch-bound at his home in Mandeville for nearly two months because of persistent swelling in his ankle.

"I pretty much had to have my leg elevated 24 hours a day," Conwell said. "Talk about irritating. My wife will attest to that. It was cabin fever at its worst.

"But not being able to play was the toughest thing for me. I was just starting to settle down with a new offense, new teammates, new quarterback, new city, new fans and a new organization. I was starting to see what Aaron (Brooks) was seeing and beginning to understand what Mike (McCarthy) was wanting. All the little things, then bang! . . . the injury. But I'll be back."
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