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pakowitz 01-18-2003 11:41 PM

Senior Bowl Notes
 

By Frank Leon - SaintsReport.com Staff Writer - 5:54 pm CST

When Jim Haslett played the game, he distinguished himself as tough, fearless and smart. For Haslett,it wasn’t enough to simply make a tackle. As I’m sure Terry Bradshaw remembers, sometimes Haslett would step on your head to finish a play.
It’s said that teams take on the personality of their coach, which makes it all the more confusing as to how the 2002 Saints under-performed against lesser competition on the way to playoff elimination.

I spoke with several members of the media who cover the Saints as well as ESPN NFL analyst Sean Salisbury about the Saints 2002 campaign. The consensus was that it was nothing like the 2000 collapse which was fueled by off the field conflict. This time it had to do with the failure to do the “little things� that are the difference between winning and losing in the NFL no matter who you line up against on Sunday.

Sean Salisbury described the Saints demise as “the biggest disappointment of the year.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢à ‚¬? As a contemporary of Haslett, Salisbury can’t reckon how a Haslett coached team could “yawnâ⠬? its way through games they should have won. Kyle Turley told Salisbury it’s all about “here and hereâ€? pointing to his head and heart. The breakdowns were attributable to the failure to focus more so than lack of ability. A dropped ball, missed tackle, dead ball penalties and the other miscues we witnessed were the difference between gaining momentum or giving it to the other side.

Speaking of Turley, word from the Saints camp is that he wants to sit down and talk about staying in New Orleans but no one is ruling out a trade just yet.

As for the talent on hand for the Senior Bowl, everyone I spoke with agrees the Saints are looking at the defensive side of the ball. It’s expected that Charlie Clemons and Sammy Knight will be gone. Mel Mitchell is ready to start in Sammy’s place and the coaches believe James Allen is ready to take the field as a starter at OLB. But the draft is weak again this year at MLB. The Saints intend to make a move for Takeo Spikes as their big splash in free agency but there are a lot of “ifsâ⠬? involved.

The trend that Salisbury sees in the league is versatility. Antowaan Randel El, Hines Ward, Derrick Brooks all can be used to create mismatches. Mismatches are the difference between success and failure on any given play. The more versatile and the more you can do, the more valuable you are to a team. Consequently, the “Slashââ ‚¬? moniker that was once reserved for Kordell Stewart will likely be assigned to one or more players on any team that hopes to have success.

How can you miss on a player in the upper rounds? According to Salisbury, it’s usually a matter of “falling in love� with a prospect without enough reasons to do so. Football instincts, heart and mental preparation are factors that are hard to evaluate, but which are critical to performing in the NFL. It was the difference between Sam Mills being disregarded as an undersized MLB from Montclair State and then becoming one of the best players to ever wear a Saints uniform. All the same, too many organizations tend to play it safe by relying on "“measurables" rather than the ability to make a play.

Salisbury also adheres to the adage that “potential gets coaches fired.� At the next level some guys get in over their head. Ultimately, it’s the mental demands of the game that separate the real players from the guys who have to find other work. For rookies, the biggest challenge is catching up to the complexity of the game and understanding that just because a veteran can take a night off during camp, he can’t afford to fall behind.

As to the art of scouting, Salisbury says it basically comes down to matching the player with the team and what you want to do. A great player on one team might not shine on another, which also makes free agency something of a crapshoot without reliable talent evaluators who have meaningful communications with the coaching staff. It’s fairly simple to observe that a player is “good.ââ ‚¬? What distinguishes the better scouts is their ability to figure out “whatâ⠬? makes him good.

All told, there is a lot of potential in Mobile this week. Most if not all of the players will be drafted and some will end up in New Orleans. This is a strong year for QB and at least six, including those who are here this week, should go in the first round. There are also a number of defensive backs including Andre Woolfolk and Marcus Trufant, who the Saints are evaluating closely. Keep an eye on Nick Eason at DT who would be a terrific value pick if he falls to the Saints after the first round. TE’s Mike Seidman and Bennie Joppru have also progressed steadily throughout the week and could draw interest from the Saints on day one of the draft.

Enjoy the game.

Frank


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