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tiggerpolice 08-17-2005 07:11 AM

Saints are seeking healthy linebackers
 
Saints are seeking healthy linebackers
August 17, 2005

The day in camp

Tuesday's practice was the last one open to the public.
TE Boo Williams (hamstring) didn't practice Tuesday and will miss the New England game Thursday.
The Saints have signed OT Brandon Phillips and waived former Louisiana Tech WR Tramissian Davis.


METAIRIE -- If New Orleans Saints linebackers coach Winston Moss is concerned about the recent plague of injuries that has befallen his unit, he's not tipping his hand.

Following Monday's morning practice Jim Haslett told reporters in a nutshell that it would soon be time to cut bait with those who are continuing to nurse lingering injuries.

Starting strongside backer James Allen, Roger Knight, Cie Grant and to some extent, Terrence Melton, have all been nicked up. Cie Grant, a 2003 second-round selection, has yet to see the field for any extended time and re-aggravated his chronic knee injury against Seattle and is likely lost for the season.

Despite all that, Moss took a different approach.

"It's not really a setback," he said. "It's unfortunate that those guys are missing a lot of playing time, but actually, it gives opportunities to other guys, so you can look at it any way you want to.

"Yes, you'd like those guys to continue to get ready for the season, but we also got to get some other guys ready."

Heading into Thursday's preseason contest against the New England Patriots, Haslett hinted that the reserves however, still had a long way to go in that area.

"I mean, you saw the way the first group played and you saw the way the seconds and thirds played. They have to get (on the same page)," he said, referring to the way the Seahawks offense was able to surge in the second and third quarters.

Moss simply chalks it up to youth in the case of third-round draft pick Alfred Fincher.

"Right now this is really a lot for him. He's trying to do all the things in the pro game and in our system. As soon as he settles down some more, you'll start to see his talent come through."

Fincher, who turned 22 on Monday, said he hoped that process comes sooner rather than later.

"Well, I'm getting yelled at every day, but that's just normal," he laughed. "This is the NFL, there's a lot of talented guys in here, so you just have to hurry up and get acclimated to the speed. I'm a rookie and know I've got to get a lot better at everything."

The Saints staff has hinted that it will more than likely keep seven, possibly eight linebackers after the final preseason cuts are made. Moss said as far as the starting three spots go, it would just depend on health.

"We've moved some guys around and looked at a lot of guys, so once this preseason continues to develop, we'll just dial up the three healthiest that are playing the best."

And at this point, other than second-year man Colby Bockwoldt, none of the other 11 players have been what the staff would deem as eye openers.

That's not to say that some aren't heating up.

Former Southern Miss standout T. J. Slaughter is making his case for a roster spot, as is former Arizona Cardinal veteran Ronald McKinnon. Both have expressed interest to the media about the dearth of talent in camp and their eagerness to take on key leadership roles.

"I like what I've seen out of Slaughter so far," Moss said. "He moves around very fluidly and knows football. I look forward to seeing what he can do down the road in these games, as he becomes more accustomed to our system. It's tough for a guy to just come in off the street and just pick it right up."

McKinnon, entering his 10th season, has 141 games played under his belt, but next month, he will be 32, and the Saints have made it no secret they wish to be more youthful in that area of the field.

For now, Sedrick Hodge will playing in Allen's spot. Hodge has oft been criticized for his inconsistency. He has started 31 games the past three years but was replaced by Allen toward the end of last season.

"He's improved on some of the things he needed improvement on like attacking the line of scrimmage and attacking the run. I thought he played pretty good the other day in that area. He's a big, athletic kid that can run, but we need a guy who can step up and stop the run."

It all adds up to somewhat of a nondescript unit that has been a target of fan and media criticism for the past few seasons. But Moss, a former linebacker himself, refuses to let outside attitudes deter him from his job of grooming the middle of the Saints defense into an area of strength.

"To me, this is an exciting group," he said. "It's a young group, they are talented and they want to learn, very coachable. I thought we made a lot of strides at the end of last season. If they can just get healthy and stay healthy and play tough and smart, then we'll be productive. That's all you can ask for."


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