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Improving "D"? Strange days,indeed...

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Improving 'D'? Strange Saints days, indeed Nick Deriso nderiso@thenewsstar.com August 9, 2004 Anymore, it's a strange day when New Orleans has both its starting quarterback and running back on the sidelines — and still can call the controlled Black and ...

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Old 08-11-2004, 10:03 AM   #1
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Improving "D"? Strange days,indeed...



Improving 'D'? Strange Saints days, indeed
Nick Deriso
nderiso@thenewsstar.com

August 9, 2004

Anymore, it's a strange day when New Orleans has both its starting quarterback and running back on the sidelines — and still can call the controlled Black and Gold scrimmage a success.

Strange day, indeed.

See, the Saints have inverted the old “fleur de loser� cliché, turning trite (We Love the ’90s!) complaints about a team that can’t score — despite its immoveable defense — on its ear.

That's old school. No, the 21st century version of New Orleans has plenty of offensive firepower on its style sheet. This is a group that has set team records for most points, most touchdowns and most touchdown passes since 2000.

But the defense has needed an operating-system upgrade over the past few seasons.

Personnel had something to do with it. But so does coaching: New Orleans has already improved since bringing back John Pease, a defensive-line assistant from the Dome Patrol era.

“He expects you to be a professional, to do what you are supposed to,â€? said free agent defensive tackle Brian Young. “Heâ₠¬â„¢s been in the league a long time, so he knows his stuff. I’m definitely looking forward to working with him.â€?

After all, this was a unit that gave up an average of 140.1 rushing yards per game in 2003, the most since the awful early 1980s — and a Bum Phillips mile from the dominant 1989-91 era. Back then, the Saints allowed less than 100 yards on the ground per game for three straight seasons.

Back then, it seemed like there were two sacks for every first down. Nobody issued posters with Fourcade, Early, Heyward and Tice.

But things have changed.

In the four playoff appearances before coach Jim Haslett took over in 2000, New Orleans never scored more than 20 points. These Saints averaged 29 points in each regular-season game in 2002, then 21 in 2003.

That said, the defense has fallen from 10th in 2000 to 27th last season.

Somewhere, the Field Mouse is furiously double clicking that link. Twenty … huh??

So, forgive me if I could care less whether backup quarterback Todd Bouman — who had been wowing ’em, man, at practice all week — looked over-anxious in Hammond. I was focusing on rookie linebacker Courtney Watson, who effortlessly anticipated the run, then cruised back into coverage. He was the very vision of controlled aggression.

While rookie receiver Nathan Black dropped some early passes, and veteran running back Lamar Smith looked slow and perhaps done, there were more important observations: Young was chewing through the first-team line the way the last few Saints’ defensive tackles used to approach Miracle Whip.

“He goes 100 miles an hour all day,� Haslett said of Young. “He studies, he works. He’s going to rub off on a lot of these players and I think he’s just good for our football team.�

Strange, needing such a figure on a team with such a proud history on defense.

But what was required out of this scrimmage — which was, after all, for evaluation, not bragging rights — was a rekindling of that lunch-pail attitude of the old days, when the Saints led the NFL on defense.

So, a strong showing served its purpose in Hammond — perhaps even the purpose of the off-season itself. Maybe a quickly degrading defense can be reborn with a couple of key additions.

This is the important part. Not whether Ronney Jenkins can unseat Tavian Banks on the practice squad.

To whit: As a team, the Saints recorded only 32 quarterback sacks last year, less than half of the 66 they had in 2000. Even that stunning 7-9 squad from 2001 — the one that, you know, lost four in a row down the stretch and, you know, gave up 160 points in those four games — had 53 sacks as a unit.

The front office has apparently taken notice of this dropoff, selecting a defensive lineman in the first round each of the last three years: First there was Charles Grant in 2002, then Johnathan Sullivan in 2003 and finally Will Smith this past April.

“We have some great defensive linemen already,� Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said, talking about Smith. “But when you have a chance to get what we think is an elite player, you can’t pass that up in favor trying to reach for a guy that might be in a position of need.�

The Saints didn’t stop there on defense: Young was signed away from St. Louis. Robert Leisle was chosen in the fifth round.

But the second-round pick of Watson out of Notre Dame, originally unheralded, may turn out to be the sleeper draft selection of the Haslett era.

His quickness and range suggest a shift to weakside outside linebacker at the professional level, but Watson’s intelligence and instincts have made him the leading candidate for a spot in the middle. An instinctual player, Watson moves quickly to the ball — a key attribute on a team that desperately wants to improve against the run.

In keeping, they’ve been in pads in all but two of the practices.

“I think that is what we want from the defense,� Haslett said. “The offense probably does not like it, but I think the offensive and defensive lines are really getting at it. The thing we are stressing this year is we have to do a better job of stopping the run on defense. If you have to have the pads to help stop it, then we are really conscious of getting that done first and foremost.�

So what if second-round LSU phenom Devery Henderson looked rusty at first in Hammond? That can perhaps be excused: His agent was reportedly busy trying to get a can of that new carb-friendly Coke added to the incentive package.

Kidding.

The Saints offense — talk about down the rabbit hole, here — isn’t the problem anyway.

Strange.

Somewhere, Bobby Hebert is crying right now. I mean, sobbing.
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