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tiggerpolice 08-18-2005 07:54 AM

Saints made the right move with Deuce
By Jim Mashek

There's always a lot of unknowns when you're talking about the New Orleans Saints.

Will Aaron Brooks finally turn the corner, and maximize his potential? Can the Saints' run defense stop anybody? Can Mike McKenzie be the big-time cornerback they've lacked for, I dunno, a decade or so? Will the addition of rookie tackle Jamaal Brown and free-agent acquisition Jermane Mayberry solidify a shaky offensive line?

Legitimate questions, all.

The Saints, however, can take a bow on one front.

They had the good sense to lock up gifted tailback Deuce McAllister, perhaps for the rest of his NFL career.

McAllister, 26, is the Saints' public-relations gold mine. He signed a seven-year contract extension, worth about $50 million, with the club at the beginning of training camp. The former Ole Miss star could have played the 2005 season with the Saints and then tested the free-agent waters, which, truth be told, can be a tricky deal for veteran running backs.

Limited tread on the tires, if you will.

The Saints play their second exhibition game tonight, on the road against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. McAllister and the rest of the Saints' starters are expected to play into the third quarter, and Patriots coach Bill Belichik says he plans to do the same.

So if nothing else, tonight's game figures to be a better barometer of where the Saints stand than their dismal 34-15 loss last week to the Seattle Seahawks.

McAllister, for one, was pretty hard on himself after the Seahawks debacle. He lost a fumble on the game's third play, which led to the first Seattle touchdown, and finished the night with nine carries for 38 yards.

"We've got a long way to go," McAllister said afterward. "Speaking personally, I can't fumble. I thought my forward progress was stopped on (the fumble), and I basically relaxed. Regardless of whatever success we had, as an offense, it all starts with that turnover.

"And that turnover was mine."

McAllister has always been a stand-up guy. He donated something like $1 million to help Ole Miss build its indoor practice facility. He's opened businesses in Jackson, his adopted hometown. He was willing to underwrite the Saints' intrasquad scrimmage at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, but management decided that wouldn't be necessary, because they'd be able to cover the expenses for the trip to Jackson.

He's been involved in several charitable causes since his rookie year with the Saints.

McAllister should break George Rogers' club record for career rushing yards (4,267) in the first or second week of the 2005 season, but barring a serious injury, he's really only getting started. He's a terrific receiver, a decent blocker, and most of all, a decent human being.

He expressed gratitude to Jim Haslett, Mickey Loomis and the rest of the Saints organization for believing in him, for getting his deal done before he laced up the pads and hit the field.

"You always appreciate an organization that shows a commitment to you," McAllister said.

He thought about that quote for a moment, and added, "I don't think they'd let me out of here, anyway. My heart was definitely here."

Now, about McKenzie, the offensive line, Aaron Brooks and the run defense...

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