Saints 'D' focusing on interceptions
Saints 'D' focusing on interceptions
By LES EAST
Special to The Advocate
METAIRIE -- The New Orleans Saints hope to get more interceptions from their defense this season.
The Saints ranked 27th in the NFL last season with 13 interceptions, but had five as their defense played much better during a season-ending four-game winning streak.
"The one area we wanted to improve in is (getting) more interceptions," coach Jim Haslett said.
The secondary was brought up to full strength Friday when cornerback Fakhir Brown, who started the final 10 games last season, ended his holdout and reported for the first day of a two-day mandatory minicamp.
Brown unexpectedly skipped 13 "coaching sessions" to let the team know that he wants a new contract to replace the one that expires after this season.
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said the team would not negotiate with Brown while he was holding out.
"I planned on being here all along," Brown said. "This is mandatory. This is where I want to be. Hopefully, something gets done. I don't regret anything I did. I want a new deal.
"But I've got to take care of business. I know the starting job isn't mine anymore. I know they had to move on. I understand that. Hopefully, I can earn it back."
Jason Craft, a backup last season, Fred Thomas, who lost his job to Mike McKenzie last season, and Jimmy Williams, signed as a free agent from San Francisco, received more repetitions in Brown's absence.
"I think it's still open," Haslett said of the starting position opposite McKenzie. "He knows that he has to battle, and he won it fair and square last year. I think he did a nice job and earned it.
"But he's only started eight games in the league. We gave him the opportunity when he was on the street, and I think he appreciates that. I thought he made the most of it last year. The last eight games, I thought he played extremely well."
McKenzie also is looking for a new contract, but he has been participating in the offseason work. He held out with Green Bay last season, then reported shortly before being traded to New Orleans on Oct. 4.
"The contract is not an issue right now," McKenzie said. "I've been here throughout so right now everything is on pace. Everything should be squared up. I'm pleased as of right now."
McKenzie started 10 games and had four interceptions during the four-game winning streak.
"I know there have been talks and I know that he's pleased up to the point of where it's at," Haslett said. "I know he's here, he's working really hard. I know the kid is a heck of a football player and he wants to be here and help us win a lot of games. That's the most important thing to me. I know his demeanor on the field has been outstanding."
Thomas is trying to regain a starting position after foot and ankle injuries and personal problems contributed to a sub-par season last year.
"It was a disappointment," Thomas said of his losing his job. "Everyone in this organization, as well as myself, had high hopes for me. It just didn't work out that way with the injuries and also personal issues. I came here this offseason to prove myself and now I'm focused on getting back to my old form of 2002 and 2003."
Thomas was the Saints' most consistent cornerback in 2002 and 2003, starting all but three games and making nine interceptions.
Dwight Smith, signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay, and second-round draft choice Josh Bullocks of Nebraska bring a history of making interceptions to the safety position.
"(Smith) loves the game, he loves playing, he loves practicing," Haslett said. "I think it's important to him. He does have great ball skills. He is tough. I think he's a great addition to our football team.
"I think Dwight, Josh Bullocks, McKenzie, and Jason Craft give us the chance to get more interceptions. Bullocks has shown great play-making abilities, he's making an interception every practice."
Smith, who has also played cornerback, made 12 interceptions during the last three seasons with the Buccaneers.
"I'm the type of guy who loves to make plays and the coaches are giving me an opportunity to get in position to make plays," Smith said. "We have veteran guys who know how to play the game and that can't do anything but help me.
"I was always told that (making interceptions) was how you make your money. We're all here to showcase our talent and get the ball back for our offense. That was always our goal at Tampa -- to either score or get the ball back for our offense."
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