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2006 Team Report: New Orleans Saints

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Drew Brees
Backup(s): Jamie Martin, Todd Bouman, Adrian McPherson, Bruce Eugene

Starting QB: Aaron Brooks’ five-year stint with the Saints came to an end with the signing of Drew Brees this past offseason. Brees, 27, comes in as the new starter with a Pro Bowl appearance and four strong years under his belt. He has thrown for at least 24 touchdowns and 3,100 passing yards the past two seasons, placing him amongst the top 12 fantasy QBs in both seasons. The issue with Brees comes from a season-ending injury in 2005 that tore his rotator cuff in his right (throwing) arm. His offseason surgery and workouts have put him ahead of schedule; he appears ready for training camp and possibly even minicamp for his new team.

Backup QB: Jamie Martin was acquired in the offseason to add depth to the position. Martin has been a spot starter for several teams, most recently replacing the injured Marc Bulger in St. Louis in 2005. He has shown to be effective in spurts, possessing a 3-1 record as a starter. Because of the talent on the Saints offense, Martin has the potential to post strong fantasy stats if Brees gets injured. Todd Bouman started the final three games of last season, but threw seven interceptions compared to just two touchdowns.

Running Backs

Starter: Deuce McAllister
Backup(s): Reggie Bush [R], Aaron Stecker, Jamaal Branch [R]
Fullback(s): Mike Karney, Fred McAfee

Starting RB: Last season, Deuce McAllister suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 5. Prior to the knee injury, McAllister was an every-down running back and was given nearly all of the touches for the Saints. He was signed to a long-term contract extension before last season and the 27-year-old rusher was poised to be the feature runner for New Orleans for years to come. The multi-dimensional running back returns for 2006 to face stiff competition for his job and the ball, most notably from rookie RB Reggie Bush.

Backup RBs: Reggie Bush could easily be listed as the starter, and he may be the most valuable running back on the team regardless of McAllister's recovery. Bush, the 2nd overall pick, will be used as both a runner and receiver to take advantage of his unique talents. Bush has rare vision, balance, explosiveness and cutback ability. Save for his size, he projects as the prototypical multi-purpose "factor back" to quote Merrill Hoge. Saints officials must have a lot of confidence in Deuce McAllister's recovery, because they traded Michael Bennett to the KC Chiefs in early August; leaving Aaron Stecker as the Chiefs 3rd RB. Last season, Aaron Stecker was given the opportunity to show how much he could produce as both a feature runner and a complimentary running back. While he's no star in the making, he did reasonably well when given the chance and is an affordable safety valve.

Fullback: Mike Karney is a classic fullback, a 260-pound bruiser, which means he does very little as far as fantasy production. He does serve a huge purpose, which is to make sure the Saints’ tailbacks perform to the best of their abilities.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Joe Horn, Devery Henderson, Marques Colston [r]
Backups: Chris Horn, Michael Lewis, Mike Hass [r], Lance Moore, Nate Poole, Chase Lyman, Bethel Johnson

Starting WRs: Prior to 2005, Joe Horn had ranked fifth in receptions, fifth in receiving yards, fourth in receiving touchdowns among wide receivers and had made four Pro Bowl appearances. The 2005 season was a huge disappointment, as nagging leg injuries resulted in Horn failing to collect 75 catches or 900 receiving yards for the first time in five years. Donte Stallworth built upon his 2004 successes with increased catches, yardage and touchdowns, but was traded in late August to the Eagles. With the new opening, Devery Henderson and the rookie Marques Colston to compete for the second receiver spot. Devery Henderson is a younger and less accomplished version of Stallworth. Henderson was finally able to contribute in 2005, catching 22 balls for 343 yards and three scores. He demonstrated his speed by averaging over 15 yards per catch. The addition of QB Drew Brees to the offense and an offensive-minded new head coach gives both receivers positive outlooks for the 2006 campaign.

Backup WRs: Michael Lewis is one of the league’s electric return men and re-signed to come back with the Saints after a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. He's averaged 19.8 yards per reception for his career but is limited as a route runner. Mike Hass (Louisiana) was drafted in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He has been compared to steady possession receivers such as Ricky Proehl, and could contribute in 2006 as a third down slot receiver. Former Patriot Bethel Johnson is bordering on bust status with only 30 total receptions over three seasons.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ernie Conwell, Zach Hilton
Backups: Mark Campbell, Nate Lowrie, Billy Miller, Tim Euhus

With Ernie Conwell and Boo Williams lost due to injuries, Zach Hilton had the opportunity in the second half of 2005 to impress the Saints with his abilities. In the final eight games of the season, Hilton caught 32 balls for 373 yards and a touchdown. The 6-8 tight end is a big target, and both new head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees have an affinity for using the tight end in the passing game. Conwell seems to have been getting the majority of the work this preseason, making many Hilton fans concerned over his lack of playing time. Mark Campbell was added to the roster as a blocking tight end and for two tight end formations, but the starting job appears to be Hilton’s to lose. If Hilton can improve on his run blocking skills, he could be on the field for most of the offensive plays for New Orleans. The team added veterans Billy Miller (free agency) and Tim Euhus (trade) to add further depth and possibly push for roster spots.

Place Kicker

John Carney : Now heading into his 19th season in the NFL, Carney just keeps plugging along. He’s now 7th on the all-time scoring list. With an average year’s scoring, he would pass Jan Stenerud, Nick Lowery, and possibly Norn Johnson this year. Amidst the difficulties faced by the Saints last year, Carney managed 25 of 32 FGs (78.1%) and 22 PATs. Although he didn’t attempt any FGs over 50 yards for the first time since 1997, he still showed decent leg strength while kicking off part time.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Bethel Johnson, Aaron Stecker, Jamal Jones, Reggie Bush, Michael Lewis [PUP], Devery Henderson

WR Michael Lewis ranked first in fantasy return points in 2002, scoring three times and setting the NFL record for combined return yards. He followed that up with ninth place in 2003 and sixth in 2004. In 2005 he suffered a knee injury in week two and missed the remainder of the season. He is on the PUP list for the first five weeks of 2006. The big question is first round draft pick RB Reggie Bush returned kickoffs and punts for USC. He could either spell, share time with, or replace Michael Lewis. WR Bethel Johnson was the leading KR for the Patriots the last year three years (31 returns, 22.4 avg. in 2005). RB Aaron Stecker (31 returns, 21.7 avg.) filled in during Lewis’ absence. The Saints have not used WR Devery Henderson on kick returns; however he averaged 24.7 yards during college at LSU.

Punt Returners: Reggie Bush, Jamal Jones, Devery Henderson, Michael Lewis [PUP], Bethel Johnson

Michael Lewis continues to rehab his knee. The Saints re-signed him to a three-year contract in April. They did not re-sign free agent WR Az-Zahir Hakim, who took over punt returns while Lewis was out. Reggie Bush returned one punt for a TD last year and two as a sophomore. If he is going to be partially involved on returns, punts are more likely since they’re his strong suit. Bethel Johnson has retuned punts occasionally, including one last year for 11 yards. In 2003 and 2004 he averaged only 2.0 yards.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Jon Stinchcomb, RG Montrae Holland, C Jeff Faine, LG Jermane Mayberry, LT Jammal Brown
Key Backups: C/G Jamar Nesbit, T Jhari Evans (r), G/T Zach Strief (r), Jonathon Goodwin

The Saints disappointed up front in 2005 but new OL coach Doug Marrone, formerly of the Jets does have some talent to deal with. Jammal Brown had a very good rookie season for the Saints at right tackle and will be making the switch over to the left tackle position this year. He is big, athletic and should be a cornerstone for this team at the left tackle position for the next ten years. By the end of this season, Brown may be considered one of the best young tackles in the entire NFL. The Saints offensive line however will look much different this season with the loss of young, talented center LeCharles Bentley and veteran tackle Wayne Gandy. It appears that veteran Jeff Faine, brought in from the Cleveland Browns will get the nod at center. He has good technique and quickness but is undersized and has a difficult time avoiding injuries. Guard Jermane Mayberry was brought in last season but was unable to stay healthy and his first season with the club was disappointing. He should be better this year although he hasn’t played a full season since 2002. Montrae Holland has started 23 games over the past two years and has looked very good when in the lineup. He has good power at the point of attack and should start this year… The Saints have a massive hole at right tackle and it is still unsettled although Jon Stinchcomb may be considered the front-runner at this point. The club drafted tackle Jhari Evans from obscure Bloomsburg and he has great upside. However he is still very raw and very unlikely to see the field this season. He may become a great player in time though if he works hard at improving his technique. The Saints have some good linemen but the hole at tackle and their lack of continuity hurts their grade this season.

Team Defense

The Saints finished dead last in total defense in 2004. They had nowhere to go but up in 2005. At first glance, their 14th overall finish and 70 yard improvement in yards allowed per game in 2005 looks very promising for the future of the Saints defense. Upon closer inspection, however, the future ain’t so bright for New Orleans (bad pun intended). New Orleans allowed the 5th most points against and finished in the bottom third of the league in rushing yards per carry and overall yards per play from scrimmage. They produced only 19 takeaways all season, ahead of only the Texans and injury riddled Patriots. Even their third overall finish in passing yards per game is tainted as the pass defense faced fewer pass attempts than any other team. The Saints still have two formidable pass rushing ends in Charles Grant and Will Smith and promising safety Josh Bullocks. But their linebacker corps has been replacement level at best. Free agent acquisitions Anthony Simmons and Scott Fujita are modest upgrades. Saints fans need to hope that new defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs brings new focus and urgency to the unit. Gibbs has experience in running a defensive ship; he showed great potential while coordinating strong SEC defenses at Georgia and LSU earlier in the decade.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Charles Grant, LDE Will Smith, RDT Brian Young, LDT Willie Whitehead
Backups: DE Michael Haynes, DE Rob Ninkovich (r), DT Hollis Thomas, DT Antwan Lake

Starting DL: In 2004, the Saints had one of the strongest groups of pass rushing defensive ends in the NFL, tallying 30 sacks among Charles Grant, Will Smith, and Darren Howard. Last season saw the Saints finish the year with the fewest number of sacks (15.5) in the league. While Will Smith stepped up in a full time role and showed promise as a two way end, Charles Grant fought through a season of injury and disappointment. Darren Howard, who left for the Eagles in free agency this offseason, was disappointing as well, struggling through both injury and disputes with management. Grant has the talent to return to an elite level in 2006 and should if his toe injury has fully healed. With the emerging Smith, the Saint pass rush can and should rebound. Brian Young is a solid defensive tackle but provides little in pass rush. Willie Whitehead can play both tackle and end and while he was a capable pass rusher at end, he hasn’t been as effective inside.

Backup DL: The Saints grabbed disappointing end Michael Haynes off waivers after final cuts. He'll rotate in on passing downs. Ninkovich, a fifth round draft pick, is a solid two way defender who adds needed depth and has been very impressive in training camp. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Willie Whitehead move outside if either starting end were injured for an extended period. Hollis Thomas was acquired from the Eagles on draft day and made the disappointing Johnathan Sullivan expendable. He will be used in rotation with Whitehead and Young. Former Falcon Lake was a late training camp addition off waivers.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Scott Shanle, MLB Danny Clark, SLB Scott Fujita
Backups: LB Albert Fincher, LB Mark Simoneau, MLB Tommy Polley (IR), LB James Allen (IR)

Starting LBs: At times in 2004, it seemed like the Saints were throwing linebackers against the wall in bunches to see who’d stick. It’s not good when an aging stopgap like Ronald McKinnon is pressed into service as your MLB. The Saints made two veteran acquisitions this offseason, signing former Cowboy Scott Fujita (who played under Gibbs last year) and former Seahawk Anthony Simmons. At 6’5”, 250lbs, Fujita has the skill set to play all three spots but may be best suited for the SLB role. Simmons retired shortly after camp, bumping yet another offseason pickup, Tommy Polley, onto the first team only to be lost with shoulder surgery in camp. Scott Shanle, another former Cowboy acquired during camp, assumes the WLB for the time being. The Saints may finally have stabilized their middle linebacker hole with free agent signee Danny Clark who was released by the Raiders. Clark is a plugger and solid tackler who gets the job done but won't significantly upgrade the run defense. Still, he's an upgrade over the previous options.

Backup LBs: The Saint LB corps was a mess all summer. Colby Bockwoldt was demoted to the third team during training camp, then back to the first team with the losses of Simmons and Polley, then back to a reserve role after Shanle and Simoneau were brought in and finally cut. Fincher was all but handed the MLB job this pre-season and so ineffective that the team looked at two other options before finding Clark. Simoneau will see time in nickel packages but isn't a threat to start at this point. The club was hopeful that Polley would become a factor on the weak side but placed him on IR as camp ended after shoulder surgery. James Allen, who missed much of 2005 with an MCL injury, suffered a torn ACL in May.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Fred Thomas, LCB Mike McKenzie, SS Roman Harper (r), FS Josh Bullocks
Backups: CB Joey Thomas, CB Jason Craft, CB/S Bryan Scott, S Omar Stoutmire, S Jay Bellamy

Starting DBs: Both McKenzie and Thomas were inconsistent last year and both are on the wrong side of 30. Between them, they have accounted for only three interceptions in the past two seasons. Both are prone to giving up the big play. The new coaching staff targeted the safety position for improvement this offseason, bringing in Omar Stoutmire and Bryan Scott. The Saints also added Roman Harper in the second round. After every Saint safety saw time with the first team in training camp, the two youngsters will begin the season as starters. Bullocks was impressive after Jay Bellamy’s season ending injury and should be a solid FS. Harper becomes the SS and should give the Saints a thumper to help stop the run behind a weak LB corps.

Backup DBs: Thomas had potential in Green Bay but quickly wore out his welcome after being beaten for big plays and racking up pass interference penalties. On this team, he’s likely the third corner after Craft’s poor 2005. Scott was acquired from the Falcons in trade for Wayne Gandy. After a solid 2004, Scott regressed terribly last season. There were whispers that his poor tackling was due to the after effects of a concussion he sustained early in the season. If he can return to form, he has the cover skills and hitting ability to push for a starting job. There have been rumors that Scott could return to corner as well, although he hasn't played there since his junior year at Penn State. Stoutmire, originally thought to be signed as depth and special teams help, currently sits atop the depth chart at SS. He isn't anything special, but is a known commodity for Gibbs from their days in Dallas together.

Last modified: 2006-09-05 21:47:45



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