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tiggerpolice 06-13-2005 09:32 AM

Saints offense adjusting
 
Saints offense adjusting


By LES EAST
Special to The Advocate

METAIRIE -- The New Orleans Saints' offseason preparations on offense have included an adjustment to a new offensive coordinator, a modification of the playbook and dictionary, a rebuilding of the offensive line, and a search for a third wide receiver.
Former offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy left for a similar job with the San Francisco 49ers and was replaced by former quarterbacks coach Mike Shepperd, whose first tasks were to condense the playbook and the verbiage used to call plays.

The Saints put the modified offense, which is the same basic system used by McCarthy, to work during a two-day mini-camp that concluded Saturday.

"We wanted to take advantage of the players we had," coach Jim Haslett said. "We wanted to simplify some things for the quarterback. The verbiage is very long, so I thought the offensive coaches, especially Mike, spent a lot of hours reducing things, where it's easier for them just to play and not worry about thinking so much."

"We didn't want to change what we were doing because we had a lot of young guys who grew up in the system and it was the only system they knew."

Shepperd, who had been quarterbacks coach since 2002 and was a coordinator with Buffalo (2001) and San Diego (1997-98), has tried to make the Saints more efficient at getting the plays to the quarterback, so he has more time to examine the defense before the ball is snapped.

Aaron Brooks and the other quarterbacks will wear wristbands with the plays written on them by situation, allowing Sheppard to call the offense by play number.

"We've done it for a week-plus, now," Shepperd said. "There is a real adjustment to that because you are used to hearing the play, and while you are on your way or stepping into the huddle, you are visualizing the play, so you kind of have the concept in your mind.

"Now, when I call (a play), they will look and read what (the wristband) says. So, the first chance they will have to visualize the play is when they have broken the huddle and they are on the way to the line of scrimmage, so there is a change in the processing of the play and what's on defense."

Haslett expects the offensive line to be better than it's been in recent seasons. The team likely will have at least three new starters on the line.

First-round draft choice Jammal Brown is expected to start at right tackle, replacing Victor Riley, who was not re-signed. Jermane Mayberry, a Pro Bowl guard two years ago, was signed as a free agent from Philadelphia and will start at right guard.

Montrae Holland has moved from right guard to left guard, though Kendyl Jacox, who started at right guard last season, is still competing for playing time.

Center LeCharles Bentley is the only incumbent assured of keeping his job.

Wayne Gandy is likely to start at left tackle for the third straight season, but Haslett said he expects Jon Stinchcomb, a former second-round draft choice who has played little in two seasons, to push Gandy. Spencer Folau and Jamar Nesbit add depth and versatility.

"We've upgraded a lot in that area," Haslett said of the offensive line. "I think there's going to be some good battles in who's going to be the starters. It's a good situation to be in from a depth standpoint. I think our line is finally where we want it to be after a couple of years and we're going to have to take full advantage of them."

In early March, the Saints released Jerome Pathon, their third wide receiver, creating an opening behind starters Joe Horn and Donté Stallworth. Former LSU receiver Devery Henderson, a second-round draft choice last year, is competing with kick returner Michael Lewis, third-year player Talman Gardner, and Nate Poole, signed as a free agent from Arizona, for the third spot.

"We have confidence that Devery will handle the job," Haslett said. "(The third receiver) has got to play more of the inside slot position. He's not outside, he's going to be banged around, he's going to have to be able to go across the middle, he's going to have to catch in crowds.

"He's going to have to be quick enough to separate himself from probably their best cover guy inside, and there's also linebackers involved, so you've got to block some."

Also in free agency, New Orleans signed former Tennessee tight end Shad Meier, who will compete with returning veterans Ernie Conwell, Boo Williams and Zach Hilton, plus Lamont Hall and Mike Banks, who also have NFL experience.

"There's some competition at tight end," Haslett said. "We can't keep them all. We can decide to keep three or four, but somebody's going."

New Orleans also added former Bills and Patriots running back Antwain Smith to give it a backup for Deuce McAllister who's more of an every-down back than Aaron Stecker.



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