Saints off to a good start...
Saintsoff to 'a good start'
Defensive line plays big in victory against the Jets
Saturday, August 14, 2004
By Jeff Duncan
As with every NFL exhibition game, the highlights and lowlights were plentiful for the Saints in their preseason opener against the New York Jets on Friday night at the Superdome.
When Coach Jim Haslett evaluates the game film of the Saints' 23-13 win, the main highlights will come from the unit he expected to see them from most: the defensive line.
Throughout the offseason, Haslett has placed the onus on the unit that includes three first-round draft picks, a franchise player and a prize free agent to start living up to its paychecks and draft status.
On Friday night, the front four and its reserves started to deliver.
The first- and second-team front fours combined to sack Jets quarterbacks three times, force a fumble and recover two more loose balls that set up and prevented first-half scores.
"That's a good thing," defensive end Charles Grant said. "They want us to become playmakers, and that's something we're looking forward to."
It was a collective effort.
Grant and Darren Howard combined to thwart an early Jets' scoring chance when Howard sacked and stripped the ball from Jets backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger and Grant fell on it at the Saints' 41-yard line.
Defensive tackle Howard Green recovered a fumbled snap by Bollinger that led to a 6-yard touchdown pass from Todd Bouman to Jerome Pathon that gave the Saints a 7-3 lead.
Rookie defensive end Will Smith, known for his speed, brandished his strength when he tossed 6-foot-4, 295-pound tackle Adrian Jones back on his heels and ducked inside to sack Bollinger for a 2-yard loss inside the Saints' 10. The Jets settled for a field goal.
But the most impressive performance came from the most unlikely of linemen: defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan.
Belittled and beleaguered for his poor conditioning throughout the offseason, Sullivan played like a first-round draft pick who'd been demoted to the second team. He led all linemen with three tackles, including a sack for a 9-yard loss, and disrupted at least that many other plays to the delight of a crowd estimated at 45,000 at the Superdome.
"I feel a whole lot better than I did at this time last year," Sullivan said. "I feel like my body's getting back into it, but it hasn't been the last three or four months."
Even though he looked like it, Sullivan said he's not playing with a chip on his shoulder, even though Green, a former street free agent, has been elevated ahead of him on the depth chart.
"Not a chip, but I feel like I've got something to go out there and prove this year," Sullivan said. "But definitely not a chip. If anything it's motivation."
Haslett said he'd prefer to wait until the film review before he commented on Sullivan's performance.
"He flashed plays," Haslett said. "I thought he played much better, but I'll look at the film and evaluate him."
Overall, Haslett called it, "a good start." The Saints outgained the Jets 295-259 in total yardage, but also committed two turnovers and nine penalties for 58 yards. The run defense was shaky, especially in the first half when the Jets gained 81 of their 114 yards on the ground.
"We were slow starting," Haslett said. "The first drive on offense and on defense wasn't the tempo we'd like, but they got acclimated pretty quickly. There was a lot of good and a lot of bad, a lot more good than bad."
Among the good were the offensive performances by offensive reserves J.T. O'Sullivan and Aaron Stecker.
O'Sullivan burned the Jets' reserves like he did NFL Europe defenses. Playing most of the second half, he completed 10 of 13 passes for a game-high 141 yards and directed scoring drives of 69 and 62 yards.
"J.T. is a gamer," Haslett said. "When he gets into a game he usually plays well."
Stecker rushed for 42 yards on 11 first-half carries to bolster his position as the primary backup to Deuce McAllister.
The Saints played without quarterback Aaron Brooks, who is sidelined with a strained quadriceps muscle. Bouman started and directed the Saints to two scoring drives in six first-half series.
His best play was his scoring toss to Pathon, which came on a scramble out of the pocket that showcased his athletic ability. The play helped erase the interception he threw to Jon McGraw on his third attempt of the game.
"He's a guy who hasn't played a lot of football, so he's going to be rough around the edges and the interception is the same interception he threw in practice the other day against the same coverage," Haslett said. "This is a learning experience for him."
Fortunately for Bouman, the defensive line bailed him out when Howard and Grant combined to take the ball back on a sack and fumble recovery against Bollinger three plays later.
"It's something we've been working on all offseason," Grant said. "If we keep working hard with Coach (John) Pease, with the great things he's getting us to do, it's going to be a great season."
Saints off to a good start...
Sully was right about the motivation and it was self motivation. This guy is going to be a horse this year.
I know it was only a preseason game, but I\'m glad I got his Jersey again.
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