Cornerback Mike McKenzie, in his first training camp with th
Cornerback Mike McKenzie, in his first training camp with the Saints, is a rejuvenated player and his teammates have taken notice
Thursday, August 11, 2005
By Jeff Patterson
Arms dangling over the barricade reached for the player who couldn't stop smiling.
Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie was a very popular player after practice Monday night at the Superdome.
Fans screamed for the dreadlocked defender, they wanted his picture and autograph, and they also had questions and advice.
"You going to the Super Bowl, Mike?" asked Jonathan Barnes, 17, of New Orleans.
Having heard that question over and over, it didn't take McKenzie long to answer.
"That's the game plan," he responded in a matter-of-fact way.
Decked out in his gray Saints sweatshirt, McKenzie signed everything handed to him, from "Faith" signs to white Saints bandannas.
"It's been pretty cool today," he said.
A smile has been glued to his faced ever since arriving for training camp. He has 22 million reasons to beam.
Shortly after training camp started, on July 30, McKenzie signed a five-year, $22 million contract. It replaced the five-year, $17.1 million deal he signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2002.
"I just sat it in the bank," McKenzie said. "This isn't my first contract. It was a blessing."
McKenzie held out of camp until early in the 2004 season with the Packers, before being traded to the Saints on Oct. 4 for backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan and a second-round pick.
"You don't get guys like that in the second round," Saints coach Jim Haslett said.
In 10 games in the black-and-gold uniform, McKenzie had 39 tackles and five interceptions.
"He knows what he's doing," Haslett said. "We picked him up in the middle of the season, and he had no idea what the defense was, so it wasn't fair to throw him in there like we did."
Now that he's getting his first training camp with the Saints under his belt, his teammates and coaches have noticed a different player. He's now comfortable in the Saints' defense.
"His techniques and what he's doing are 100 times better right now than they were last year," Haslett said. "He's a coachable kid. He's got great ball skills. He's a big kid for a corner. He's got all the things you are looking for in a corner."
Safety Dwight Smith said McKenzie takes the pressure off the rest of the defensive backs.
"When you talk about cover corners, he's probably the best I've played with," Smith said.
Two cornerbacks in team history have made the Pro Bowl. Dave Waymer did it in 1987, and Eric Allen made the team in 1995. McKenzie would like to end that drought this season.
"That would be nice," he said. "But the most important thing is we play together as a unit and that we win a lot of games as a team. I think everything else will take care of itself."
McKenzie, a seven-year veteran, doesn't like to talk about personal accolades.
The rocky ending in Green Bay is not a distant memory for McKenzie.
"Any time you consider it to be work, it becomes dreadful," McKenzie said. "I just take the approach that I enjoy what I do; I enjoy where I'm at; I'm having fun doing it. So, if you got all those things going, you can't help but have a smile on your face."
Near the end of his tenure in Green Bay, football no longer felt like a game -- it was work.
"Without a doubt," he said. "It was very dreadful up there. Our coaches and general manager made it very uncomfortable up there.
"I'm happy to move on from there. I'm just really looking forward to getting my first full season here in New Orleans."
There's also now a comfort level between McKenzie and defensive coordinator Rick Venturi. After the trade, there were growing pains between the player and coach.
"Initially, we had to fight through things because we just threw him in there," Venturi said.
Every day at practice, the two can talk to each other. It's a very positive relationship, Venturi said.
"He's a cool guy," McKenzie said. "You have got to admire the passion that he coaches with."
In practice, McKenzie is a rejuvenated player.
"He's another one like Darren Howard to me, who's really had a zest out there and has enjoyed playing," Venturi said. "Mike gets more comfortable with the overall defense every day."
The chemistry part is there with his teammates, too. Members of the secondary go out to dinner and hang out.
"We got a bunch of cool guys over there," McKenzie said.
The long dreadlocks, which partly conceal his name on his jersey, get plenty of attention from the rest of the unit. They are, after all, the best in the NFL, he said.
"Black Jesus, what are you over there talking about?" cornerback Jason Craft yelled across the locker room Tuesday after practice. "Sometimes I think I'm in heaven."
Lowering his head to play with his shoes, he smiled even wider.
"Those guys are silly," McKenzie said.
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Jeff Patterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3405.
RE: Cornerback Mike McKenzie, in his first training camp wit
"McKenzie said. "You have got to admire the passion that he coaches with."
And that's about the only thing he coaches with, cause he sure doesn't use his brains most of the time.
This is a question for some of you guys who have closely followed Saints offseasons in prior years...
Do you guys remember an offseason where Saints players seemed to really like each other, be on the same page, and be more positive, than this one?
We have GOT to beat Carolina in Game 1.
It's gonna be a tough game. We just hired a Carolina fan and he was talking about the Smith comeback and the addition of Gardner. Jenkins coming back on D....they have a lot of reasons to like their team right now.
In my opinion, that game will be for 1st place in the division. Call me crazy.
It's gonna be all about Deuce and AB just needs to take care of the ball and make a couple of throws where they count(fingers crossed).
We also have to hope that Jake's arm isn't calibrated like in week 17 last year, cuz he's got some weapons. Still not sure about their O line....
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