Saints’ football fever epidemic increasing daily
Anything possible this season as training camp opens
At this time last year the New Orleans Saints were the national media’s trendy pick to win the Super Bowl. Instead, they limped to a putrid 7-9 record, missing the playoffs and playing disgusting football that left shocked fans with the 100-yard stare.
But as training camp opens, Saints fans are entering the preseason optimistically with high hopes for the coming campaign. Unfortunately, it may be another heart-braking, mediocre year for the Black & Gold.
It’s been a long seven months without football, and most of the team’s off-season headlines left fans dumbfounded. Gone are linebacker Curtis Lofton, guard Ben Grubbs, running back Pierre Thomas, wide receiver Kenny Stills and, most notably, leading receiver and fan favorite tight end Jimmy Graham.
Several new faces were added to the team, including veteran center Max Unger, running back C.J. Spiller and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and draft picks tackle Andrus Peat (1st round, 13th overall), linebackers Stephone Anthony (1st, 31st) and Hau’oli Kikaha (2nd, 44th), quarterback Garrett Grayson (3rd, 75th), and cornerback P.J. Williams (3rd, 78th).
The Saints will be good this season when starters are healthy, but depth may be a serious issue. It has yet to be seen if the Saints were able to adequately replace the talent they lost, and it may not be evident until Week 1.
The sufferers of being upside down salary cap wise, the team will look and play much differently this year than fans have become accustomed. Instead of the “greatest show on turf,” look for the offense to be much more balanced between pass and running plays this year.
The Saints attack will be led by Drew Brees. At 36 and entering his 15th NFL season, he is still playing at an elite level and is easily among the league’s top quarterbacks. He will be backed up by Luke McCown and Grayson.
The ground attack will feature Mark Ingram in a power role and Spiller in the finesse role previously filled by backs like Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles and Thomas, who turned the screen pass into a work of art.
Speaking of passing, who will catch Brees’ passes is one of the biggest questions entering the season. Dropped balls, missed assignments and injuries doomed this unit last year causing the expected focus on running the ball more often. With Graham traded to Seattle and Stills sent to the Dolphins, wide receiver Brandin Cooks should become Brees’ primary target, with an aging Marques Colston, who took a pay cut to remain with the team, still adding his signature fantastic catches when needed. Receivers Joe Morgan and Brandon Coleman and tight ends Ben Watson and Josh Hill will also be looked upon to figure prominently in the passing game.
Upfront, the offensive line will likely see Terron Armstead at left tackle, Tim Lelito at left guard, Unger at center, Jahari Evans at right guard and Zach Streif at right tackle. It’s a veteran unit that will hopefully give time for first-round draft pick Peat to ease into play at the NFL level.
An old adage says, “offense wins games, defense wins championships.”
Over the past two seasons, the Saints D went from one of the league’s best to one of its worst.
The best news is that the oft-maligned Saints secondary may be the best in the NFL. Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner and safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro have the potential to be a special unit. Unfortunately, depth could be a concern.
Lack of pressure was one of the main reasons for the Saints defensive drop off last year. The front seven must get a consistent pass rush in order to rattle opposing quarterbacks. The Saints will feature a base 3-4 with nose tackle Broderick Bunkley or John Jenkins and ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks on the line. Junior Gallete will lead the linebacker corps from the one OLB slot with David Hawthorne, Dannell Ellerbe and Anthony competing inside and Anthony Spencer, Parys Haralson and Kikaha at the other outside position.
Special teams duties will include place kicking by Shayne Graham, punts & kickoffs by Thomas Morstead. Jalen Sunders could be kept to return kicks, but Cooks and Spiller might be available, too.
While Saints fans are known for their faith, the future of this team may be bleak. Fans will have to get used to that. In order to be successful, the team must get off to a good start in September to set a positive tone. A year ago they started 0-2, couldn’t establish consistency and stumbled to a losing season. We know now that many issues lead to the putrid season, including the split of the Benson family off the field and lack of leadership on the field from players who were expected to be emergent.
I can’t say enough how important staying healthy and avoiding injuries will be to the Saints. On the very bright side, I think this team is capable of going 10-6. But if guys start getting hurt and attitude problems arise again, the Saints could easily face their losing record in four years.
Saints Regular Season Win Total 2010-14
2010 – 11 (11-5)
2011 – 13 (13-3)
2012 – 07 (7-9)
2013 – 11 (11-5)
2014 – 07 (7-9)