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Ballhawking Darren Sharper leading the way for Saints D

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; MIAMI For Darren Sharper of the New Orleans Saints, this has been a season of many happy returns. In his opening weeks as a New Orleans newcomer, he instantly dispelled the notion that he was just another patch on ...

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Old 02-03-2010, 09:27 AM   #1
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MIAMI For Darren Sharper of the New Orleans Saints, this has been a season of many happy returns.
In his opening weeks as a New Orleans newcomer, he instantly dispelled the notion that he was just another patch on a leaky Saints defense, returning interceptions for touchdowns of 97 and 99 yards.

He finished the regular season his finest with nine interceptions (three for TDs) from his free safety position. His 376 yards on interception returns in a season set an NFL record.

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Now, at 34 and in his 13th pro season, he is back in the Super Bowl. Sharper was a rookie with the 1997 Green Bay Packers when they lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. Now, he is the ball-hawking, big-play leader of a secondary that will take on Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday.

At his position and age, wear and tear can take a toll. He is a testament to staying power and the perfect free agent fit.

"I thought I'd be back (in the Super Bowl) many times, playing in Green Bay, going as a rookie and having Brett Favre as your quarterback," says Sharper, tied with Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott for sixth place on the NFL career interceptions list with 63.

"That just lets you know how tough it is to get to this point. I made sure I let guys on our team know that so that we can appreciate it and make the most of this moment."

Last year, Mike Tomlin, his college teammate and fraternity brother at William & Mary, won a Super Bowl ring as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His brother, Jamie Sharper, 35, won a Super Bowl in the 2000 season as a Baltimore Ravens linebacker.

In a recent TV interview, Manning slipped and referred to Sharper as Jamie. Sharper jokingly responded by referring to Manning as Eli (his brother with the New York Giants). But Manning is well aware of Darren.

"He's an awesome player," Manning says. "He's a center fielder back there for that defense. He covers a lot of ground. He uses instincts. He sees something. He feels like it's going to happen. He reacts to it even though it might not be what he's supposed to do on that play. What a great free agent acquisition for the Saints."

Has he ever tried on his now retired brother's ring?

"I couldn't do that, nah nah, because he shows it in my face so much that I knew what it looked like, so I didn't necessarily want to see what it felt like," Sharper says. "When he first got it, it was like, 'I got one up on you.' But now on this road we're on right now, he wants me to get a ring."

'The ball kind of finds him'

The Saints, vulnerable to big pass plays in 2008 when they finished 8-8 despite having the NFL's top-ranked passing game, were looking for a quarterback in their secondary last March when they signed Sharper, a free agent after four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and eight with Green Bay.

Sharper liked the Saints' prospects. He also liked his chances of making big plays in the scheme run by new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

"He's the ball hawk I've been wanting back there for a while," veteran linebacker Scott Fujita says. "His ball skills and his instincts are as good as anybody in the league and as good as anybody I've ever seen play."

Strong safety Roman Harper, in his fourth season, welcomes Sharper's savvy.

"He takes a lot of pressure off me. He allows me to do some things I do well," Harper says. "I'm just glad he's a part of teaching me and part of this team as a leader."

In the Saints' divisional playoff win against the Arizona Cardinals, Sharper had a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown. In the NFC title game against his former Minnesota team, he had 11 tackles.

Deion Sanders, the former shutdown cornerback who's now an NFL Network analyst, is not shocked.

"Sharper turned my head years ago, not just this season," Sanders says. "Very few guys can go to another team and still remain who they are, and he's one of those guys."

Saints coach Sean Payton salutes Sharper's durability.

"To play double-digit seasons as a safety is rare because it's a collision position. There are a handful of positions that it's hard to have longevity at. That's one of them," Payton says. "I think he takes care of himself. I think he's got good instinct. He's one of the players (where) the ball kind of finds him. Those things have served him well."

Sharper, 6-2, is a bit lighter this season. He says he's under 210 pounds, without specifying what he had been except that it was a "little heavier." However, he primarily credits his success to a scheme in which he feels truly free to play free safety.

He had one interception last season with Minnesota. In his last three seasons, he had a total of nine.

"The style I played in Minnesota last year, I was more of a protective, a guy that kept everything in front of us," he says. "I tried to prevent the big play. In Gregg Williams' style of defense, I'm allowed to be a playmaker, trust my instincts and attack the football. It's two worlds from where I was last year and this year. That's probably why the numbers are so different."

In 2008, the Saints had 15 interceptions. Since-released cornerback Jason David led the way with five. This season with Sharper, they had 26 in the regular season.

"They wanted me to be a guy back there that was going to make things happen," Sharper says.

Staying tight with Tomlin

At William & Mary in his native Virginia from 1993 to 1996, Sharper had 24 interceptions. The first two years of his college career overlapped with Tomlin's final two seasons as a wide receiver. Both were members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

When Tomlin was an assistant in Minnesota, he coached Sharper. "I'm still close friends with Mike," Sharper says.

"When I came in (at William & Mary), he took me under his wing when I was a freshman positively and negatively," he adds, laughing but not elaborating.

"Our relationship is tight. I talked to him before our playoff run and got some tips about some teams the Steelers faced that we might have had the chance to see. We stay in touch a lot. He always has good words of advice."

Then he adds, laughing again, "They are a lot different than the words of advice he had when we were in college."

Another of Sharper's college teammates, Sean McDermott, is defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I've had longevity in this league, but they've ascended pretty quickly," Sharper says. "That's a testament to them, and it's also a testament to me to be able to last to see them get to the points they are in their career."

Sharper is a win away from the high point of his career.

"It's been 13 years for me, and I played on some darned good teams," he says. "When you get to this point, you have to make sure that you do everything so it's a good memory at the end of the day, not a bad one

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Old 02-03-2010, 10:45 AM   #2
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Re: Ballhawking Darren Sharper leading the way for Saints D

I love the "Eli" comment. That's classic.

Sharper is a true professional, and I think he will be ready to ball on Sunday. Let's get that ring for him!
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Old 02-03-2010, 11:24 AM   #3
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Re: Ballhawking Darren Sharper leading the way for Saints D

He plays football as it is meant to be played and he is a class act. What a key pickup this guy was for us! I am sure he will be bringing his "A" game just as he does every game!
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Old 02-03-2010, 02:55 PM   #4
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Re: Ballhawking Darren Sharper leading the way for Saints D

What a great off season pick up. I love the way he hits the ball carrier....with everything he's got.
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Old 02-03-2010, 04:01 PM   #5
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Re: Ballhawking Darren Sharper leading the way for Saints D

Best offseason signing (IMO) next to Coach Williams, of course!
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