Even after earning a start in the Pro Bowl, Saints running back Deuce McAllister says he still has work to do to become a complete back
Saturday February 01, 2003
By Darrell Williams
Could it be too much too soon?
Saints running backs coach Dave Atkins doesn't think so.
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While running back Deuce McAllister is extremely confident in his abilities, he also has a reputation for being humble and level-headed. So Atkins sees no reason to be concerned about any negative repercussions that could come from McAllister receiving too many individual accolades, like his invitation to the Pro Bowl, too soon.
"He set his goals high each week, and he achieved them," Atkins said. "We wanted to get to the playoffs, but his just being a Pro Bowl starter is a huge accomplishment because he hardly played his first year.
"He's going to the Pro Bowl on top, but he'll want to stay there and get even better. We want to get to the Super Bowl, and with a guy like that in a key position, we can get there."
McAllister was the NFC's leading rusher (1,388 yards on 325 carries) this past season, despite having a severely sprained ankle the last 6ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ games and missing one game. He said he was looking forward to this week in Honolulu, site of the game. For one, he'd never been to Hawaii. And he wanted to pick the brain of St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, a former NFL MVP, and the Green Bay Packers' Ahman Green.
"I want to meet them and see if I can pick up some techniques to help my game," McAllister said. "They have gone to the Pro Bowl a couple of times, so obviously they're doing something right.
"I haven't played in an all-star type game since high school. I didn't play in the Senior Bowl or the Hula Bowl or anything, so this is different."
McAllister's ankle has healed in the month since the season ended, and that alone should make playing more fun. The injury limited his mobility and caused him to play with a lot of pain.
"The biggest thing was that I needed to stay off of it," he said. "But I couldn't do that with us in the playoff race."
More painful than the ankle, he said, was the Saints' collapse at the end of the season, when it appeared a playoff berth was a sure shot. He said the team, which got better but also became younger this past season, learned a lesson.
"The biggest lesson is if you have an opportunity, you have to seize it," he said. "Next year, knock on wood, we could be besieged by injuries."
His injury, which occurred Nov. 17 against the Atlanta Falcons, seemed to mark the beginning of the Saints' slide. New Orleans was 7-2 heading into the Atlanta game but finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Quarterback Aaron Brooks was injured for the final four games, and the Saints lost three.
McAllister wonders what could have happened had he not been injured.
"It probably took away from the big-play ability and made us a one-dimensional type offense," he said. "I put up good numbers, but I wasn't the home-run threat after I got hurt.
"If I stay healthy, next year will be even better. This was like my rookie year. I had a pretty good understanding of the offense. Now, there won't be any hesitation."
Not making the playoffs left him unfulfilled, Pro Bowl start notwithstanding. But McAllister came a long way in a year, Atkins said.
"He obviously was gifted when he came to us, but he ran upright," Atkins said. "We got him to lower his shoulders and get underneath defenders. He knew we were going to run him between the tackles, and he put on 10 pounds of muscle, and that helped him, also."
McAllister also caught 45 passes for 342 yards. However, he often was lacking as a blocker. He and Atkins said that's something they'll fix for next season.
"I didn't do a lot of blocking at Ole Miss, but I got better this season," he said.
Atkins said it's very important that McAllister improve his blocking, and not just so he could be recognized as a complete running back.
"In our three-receiver and two-tight end sets, he assumes the role of the fullback in pass protection," Atkins said. "So we'll start working on that in March," when the team's offseason workouts begin.
For now, however, it's time to savor an excellent first year as a starter.
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Darrell Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3874.
What a breath of fresh air. I wish we had 52 more just like him next year. This guy has what it takes. Thanks 08 for the story.
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