The road ahead
For Saints RB Deuce McAllister, the offseason has been full of changes from the coaches behind him to the linemen in front of him as he gets back to work during the club's Coaching Sessions.
The fifth-year back went over the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season in 2004 and needs only 74 yards to become the club's all-time leading rusher, surpassing RB George Rogers, who had 4,267 from 1981-84.
This season, he will have a new position coach in long-time NFL assistant Johnny Roland and a new offensive coordinator in Mike Sheppard. The men doing the blocking in front of him have changed as the team acquired G Jermane Mayberry in free agency and drafted T Jammal Brown in the first round to strengthen the offensive line.
"The workouts have been pretty good so far," McAllister said about the Coaching Sessions. "Everybody's picking it up very well on the offensive side with a new coordinator. Everything is coming along well."
With all of those changes, the goal of the 14 workouts is simple, according to McAllister. "They (the new players) have to pick up the offense and we have to get a feel for each other, especially up front with the new linemen, like my thoughts on certain plays and their style as far as run-blocking. It will take some time, but we are working on it."
With the type of success that McAllister has had in running the ball, he knows what a strong offensive line can do for him individually and the offense as a whole.
"You're only as good as your offensive front," he said. "Regardless of how good you think you are as a back, if your offensive line is not sustaining blocks and getting up to that next level as far as the linebackers are concerned, you are not going to be real successful as a running back. Those guys are an extension of the running back."
One of the major storylines of the offseason was the promotion of Sheppard from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator and the simplification of the offensive playbook. McAllister said the work done in this area will assist the offense in making adjustments as defenses shift sets and coverages before the snap.
"The easiest thing it does now is gives you an opportunity to read the defense more," he said. "We came out of the huddle with seven or eight seconds on the play clock and the way defenses are today and how they disguise themselves -- they're moving at the last second -- those guys are smart as well. They know we have a short time and they hold what defense they're in until the last second and change to another one. Now, we have an opportunity to be aggressive and we'll be out of the huddle with 14 or 15 seconds to go which gives you time to go over the defense and process it better."
McAllister has a new position coach in Roland, one of the league's most respected teachers at the running back position. The two are getting to know one another and McAllister respects Roland's experienced ways.
"He's an old school guy," McAllister said of Roland. "We had to feel it out and I had to understand coming in that some of the drills -- you might not want to do them -- are only going to make you a better football player."
Roland has worked with many of the game's greats, including the last two all-time NFL rushing yards leaders in Walter Payton (Chicago 1983-87) and Emmitt Smith (Arizona 2003).
"Obviously, he's been around a lot of good running backs," he said. "Hopefully, he will continue the positive production he's had over his career. I haven't played a game with him yet to see the fire and the passion that he has, but as far as his knowledge of coaching, he has all of the tools."
McAllister's training regimen to be ready for the rigors of an NFL season has not changed much since he entered the league in 2001.
"I'm usually here for the offseason workout program," he said. "Rock (Gullickson, the team's strength and conditioning coach) does a good job year-in and year-out. The biggest difference is that since I've played for four years, I understand and I know what shape my body needs to get in to be able to play a 16-game season. The first year going in, I didn't know what to expect -- you are tired and don't know how to space out your time and now I know what my body can handle and what it can't."
McAllister has been very active in the community during the offseason with his participation in the club's Eastern Regional Caravan and his recent "Rookie Premiere Night" at New Orleans' Generations Hall.
McAllister will hold another event -- his Catch 22 Foundation Celebrity Fishing Tournament/Celebrity Waiter Dinner & Auction -- June 4 in Gulfport, Miss. Fans can fish with a celebrity during the day and then have their dinner served to them by some of those same celebrities in the evening as they compete for tips for his foundation.
"It is an opportunity to get out and be seen without the helmet on," he said about his off-the-field activities. "You can go up to a player, get your picture taken and sign some autographs and just talk, and not necessarily about football. Any player shouldn't let football make him as a person. You should be able to do more than just play football. Any type of event I get involved in has to have a meaning for me. You might deal with people who don't have a chance to see a lot of professional athletes, so it's probably the most important thing for me in doing these events."
McAllister, who has held the Celebrity Waiter dinner in New Orleans the last two years and will do it again in September, wanted to add a location that is in the Saints regional market area.
"Gulfport is in our region and in our market and we can make the event work there," he said about the event. "We've done the celebrity waiter dinner the last couple of years in New Orleans and now we want to take it to the Mississippi Coast and see how well it does."
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