It's about damn time:
NEW ORLEANS -- Jim Haslett's first magical season with the New Orleans Saints seems a lot longer than four years ago.
Haslett has a 34-30 record in New Orleans and has not had a losing season since replacing Mike Ditka. But he has never matched that first year, when he not only won the NFC West, but delivered the first playoff victory in franchise history. And that has cranked up the pressure this year.
"That's the nature of this business," Haslett said. "If you don't win, you're going to be in the hot seat."
In the offseason the coaches and players met and set up a new, more businesslike atmosphere and environment. Before training camp began, the tables where players spent their time between practice and meetings playing dominoes and cards were gone from the locker room.
Cell phones, which last year provided an almost constant background of rings and chatter, were banned from the locker rooms. So were boom boxes and video games.
"It's a more professional approach," said general manager Mickey Loomis. "We just want the players to be thinking about football the minute they come through the gate."
The Saints' 8-8 finish last season did not lead to a massive shake up. Haslett replaced two of his assistants -- John Pease at defensive line and Jimmy Robinson for wide receivers -- but New Orleans was far less active in the free agent market than in past years.
The key ingredients were already in place, Haslett said.
"It's the first time we've had some continuity since we've been here," he said.
The players worked hard during the offseason, for the most part reporting to training camp in good shape.
The team will be young. Two longtime veterans, center Jerry Fontenot and linebacker Darrin Smith -- both starters last season, but aging -- were cut in the final roster trim.
New Orleans is also fairly healthy entering the season. Defensive tackle Kenny Smith and linebacker Cie Grant went on injured reserve before the season. But of the 22 starters, only defensive end Darren Howard is questionable for Sunday's opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
Starting quarterback Aaron Brooks played sparingly in the preseason because of a strained muscle in his right leg. He's expected to be ready for the opener, however.
Although the Saints might scale back some, Haslett did not expect Brooks to suffer from the lack of preseason play.
"He missed some time," Haslett said. "But the good thing with Aaron is he's been in the offense for four years. He's played with the same players for four years."
The Saints lost fullback Terrelle Smith to free agency, but don't expect to miss him. They will use their tight ends more and run more one-back formations.
Deuce McAllister remains the backbone of the offense, with Joe Horn and Donte' Stallworth adding speed at wide receiver.
"I have no worries about this season," Horn said. "When I look around this locker room there's too much talent not to be successful."
The biggest keys to the season will be stopping the run and staying healthy. Last season New Orleans was near the bottom in rushing defense, allowing 4.7 yards a carry.
The Saints added a No. 1 pick to a defensive line that was already well stocked. There are two other first-round picks on the left side, Charles Grant and Jonathan Sullivan. Sullivan reported to training camp overweight, but had shed the pounds by the time camp ended.
"We've got the right attitude this year," Grant said. "We're all concentrating on the business at hand and nothing else."
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