MIKE DETILLIER'S FOOTBALL WORLD
MIKE DETILLIER'S FOOTBALL WORLD
Roland in charge of getting Deuce rolling
If the New Orleans SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ offense is going to click in 2005, the heavy burden will fall on the shoulders of running back Deuce McAllister. The person in charge of Deuce and the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ running game is an old hand at the NFL game.
Growing up in the 1960s, I watched a hard-charging running back from Missouri by the name of Johnny Roland develop into an All-Pro for the St. Louis Cardinals. At 62 years old, Roland has quite a few more gray hairs, but he is still as enthusiastic today as he was as a standout player.
"You watching me play as a kid tells me we both are getting much older," Roland laughs. "But I still have a great hunger to mentor backs and get them to perform to the best of their abilities. Everybody has their own style and I know only one way, and that is to go all out in practice and in a game. I like to promote an aggressive and physical style of football, and I think that it rubs off on my students."
Roland brings 27 years of coaching experience on the college and professional levels to the Saints, and last season in Green Bay he coached a Pro-Bowl backfield that included Ahman Green and William Henderson. Roland says he sees great possibilities in New Orleans due to its commitment to the running game.
"For the running game to be successful, you have to have a commitment to running the football," Roland said. "You just canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t say you want to run the ball more and not honor that commitment. Some coaches just give it lip service, and when things donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t go well early, they forget about running the ball. There is no question that Jim Haslett and the coaches here have a real commitment to the running game. How many times in a game do you see a team fall behind by a touchdown or 10 points in the second quarter and they totally forget about all the effort they put into developing a running game? This football team will have good balance, but they will also put a heavy hand on running the ball more."
One of the main reasons Roland, who has mentored the likes of Walter Payton, Jerome Bettis, Green, Wilbert Montgomery and Emmitt Smith, came to New Orleans was the opportunity to coach McAllister.
"Deuce has the qualities you would want in a workhorse back," Roland said. "He can run with power and speed, and he also is a good receiver and blocker. He is a tough, very physical runner, but he also has the speed to go the distance.
"He is going to be our bell-cow runner, but with that type of load you also need quality people to spell him sometimes and I am really impressed with Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker. Smith is a big back who runs with power and, if Deuce is down for an injury for any length of time, he can come in, and we can run the same type of plays. Aaron (Stecker) has gotten much stronger in the off-season, and he brings some real versatility to the table. I also think that our fullback, Mike Karney, is a pretty good player also.
"We are going to find a way to really give Deuce the ball quite a bit and then give him a spell late in the second and third quarters and have him fresh for the fourth quarter."
Roland says he sees the same traits in McAllister that he saw in Smith and Payton during their pro careers.
"ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s amazing how the great football players are usually the ones that want to be coached," he said. "God has blessed them with certain talents, and that certainly helps. But the truly top players are students of the game, and they are always looking to find an edge. Deuce is just like those guys, and he wants to be coached and he is always striving to be at the top of his game. I really believe that the trait to be coached and to always want to be thoroughly informed about how to get better is the key to being on top of your field in any business. Deuce has that trait."
While Roland has been around some truly great football players, you can clearly see the twinkle in his eye when you mention his favorite NFL player, Payton, who he coached in Chicago from 1983-87.
"Walter was special, no question about it," Roland added. "He was the best of the very best, and we spent quite a bit of time together talking not only about football, but also about philosophical issues. For all his talents and accomplishments, he was a guy that wanted to be coached, and he accepted issues about his game. We had great respect for one another, and he was as giving to me as I was to him."
CORNERBACKS LOOK STRONG
Last week in this same space, I wrote that in my opinion Mike McKenzie was the most talented cornerback I had seen in a Saints uniform in my 20 years of covering the team, and I am more convinced than ever that he is indeed a high quality cover man.
McKenzie has just shut down virtually anyone who lines up on his side of the field during practice sessions, and he looks primed for a Pro-Bowl season. The last time the Saints had a Pro-Bowl selection at cornerback was in 1995 when Eric Allen made the prestigious team.
While McKenzie has clearly made his mark in camp, so has fellow starting cornerback Fakhir Brown. Brown had lost his starting mark in the spring when he missed some drills because of a contract dispute, but he has quickly reworked his way back into the starting role and has been very impressive in one-on-one drills. Due to McKenzieÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s reputation in the NFL, Brown will have plenty of balls thrown in his direction, but Brown has made great strides in developing into a very solid starting cornerback himself.
With McKenzie, Brown and the addition of former cornerback-turned-free safety Dwight Smith in the starting lineup, the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ secondary will have some real playmakers. When is the last time you could say that about the Saints without a chuckle?
JEFFERSON MAY BE A SLEEPER
If Saints fans are looking for a late-round selection to keep a close eye on during the preseason, try watching Wisconsin defensive tackle Jason Jefferson.
Jefferson, a sixth-round pick, has been impressive in practices, especially in his ability to fight through blocks. He also displays good leverage skills. The 310-pound defensive tackle is built low to the ground but had established quite a reputation as a run stuffer at the college level and has clearly flashed this ability in the first week of practice.
When my draft book came out in late March, I ranked Jefferson as the 10th best defensive tackle in the 2005 draft, and I projected him to be selected in the fourth round.
Within the first week of my book being out on the market, I received a phone call from a Big Ten coach who told me that I had underrated Jefferson and that he would be surprised if he lasted past the third round.
"I totally donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t understand the NFL draft, but I do know that Jason Jefferson is going to be one heck of an NFL player," the offensive coach said. "He didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t put up great numbers in college, and he is no great pass rusher. But this guy is strong, instinctive, and every time we played him we could not move him off the line of scrimmage. Jason made every one of those other defensive linemen better because he just totally clogged up the inside running lanes. If that guy lasts past the fourth round, I will owe you a dinner."
I am still waiting for the dinner, but the Saints may have won themselves quite a defensive prospect in Jefferson.
Within the past five months, Saints owner Tom Benson has signed off on six new contracts totaling $151.33 million. The most telling part of the Benson spending spree is that $44 million of the $151.33 million spent are in guaranteed signing and roster bonuses. Listed below are the breakdowns of the six key signings by the Saints in the offseason.
Jermane Mayberry -- four-years contract, $12.03 million; $5.5 million signing bonus.
Dwight Smith -- five years, $15.2 million; $3.5 million signing bonus.
Joe Horn, six years, $41 million; $7 million signing bonus.
Deuce McAllister -- eight years, $50.1 million; $12.5 million dollar signing bonus.
Jammal Brown -- five years, $11 million; $8.5 million signing bonus.
Mike McKenzie -- five years, $22 million; $7 million signing bonus.
LSUÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s GREEN GEARED UP
LSU standout wide receiver/kick returner Skyler Green is gearing up for his senior season, but he has spent quite a few afternoons watching practices at the SaintsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ practice facility and keeping a close eye on his cousin, Howard Green, who is projected as a starting defensive tackle for the Saints.
Skyler Green says he has lofty expectations after having a injury-plagued junior season due to a high-ankle sprain he sustained late in fall drills and reaggravated during the season.
"I had arthroscopic surgery on the left ankle in late June, and I feel great," Green said. "It was a small cleanup process, and even before the minor scope I ran a 4.45 and a 4.47 40-yard times for the scouts in the spring. I really believe now that everything is cleaned up, I can get back to running under 4.40 in the 40s."
Green, a second-team All-SEC selection in 2003 because of his return skills and 48 catches for 519 yards and five touchdowns, says the right attitude and stability at quarterback will be the keys for 2005.
"This LSU team is talented, but more importantly we are very hungry to make another run for the national championship," Green said. "We have a lot of very talented senior and junior players that got that one taste of a championship season, and we want that again. I would love to duplicate my numbers as a sophomore, but if it means me sacrificing numbers for this team to win I am all for it.
"JaMarcus (Russell) is very talented, but he went through what every quarterback goes through early in their careers. No one can question that JaMarcus has the talent to take us far, and he has really grown into his job as a leader on this team. The fans will be surprised just how much better he is this season."
Green, who is projected as a late second- or third-round draft choice, says that despite his lack of great size (5-8ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½, 190), he is confident he can play and excel in the NFL.
"My main strength is my quickness and ability to make people miss out in the open field as a receiver and return man," he said. "I know that the NFL likes bigger receivers, but most of those big receivers donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t return punts and kicks, and I give them that option. I see smaller receivers like Michael Lewis and Az Hakim on the Saints and they have played quite a few seasons, and I truly believe I can play in the NFL and, who knows, maybe even for my hometown team, the Saints."
Mike Detillier is an NFL analyst based in Raceland.
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