2005 NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints
August 22, 2005 by Dave Golokhov • Print Story •
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Oh, when the Saints went marching into the 2004-05 season, everyone knew they were an enigma. All the talent in the world — allegedly — yet no results. Last season was no different as the 8-8 finish was as up and down as a roller coaster and even though there is more talent at Jim Haslett's disposal this year, there's no reason to believe the pattern of inconsistency will change.
What We Learned From Last Year
The biggest misconception about the Saints is that they have a breadth of talent on the roster. That is inaccurate. Talent implies consistency, production, and flashes of excellence. Most of what the 'Aints encompass is unproven prospects and garbage.
In 2004, the Big Easy sported one big and easy defense.
There was nothing saintly about the Saints' worst-ranked defense as they allowed 383.8 yards per game. Opponents had a blast running or passing against a squad that was quite yielding.
The defensive line boasted a wealth of talent on the ends (Charles Grant, Darren Howard, and Will Smith), but lacked a presence at tackle. Bryan Young rarely attracted double-teams while former first-round pick Johnathan Sullivan was a bust.
If you're tackles are subpar, then your linebackers easily become blocked out.
For the Saints, there was no talent or prospects at the linebacking position in 2004. The three main linebackers the Saints started down the stretch were young and inexperienced. Courtney Watson and Colby Bockwoldt were rookies and James Allen was a third-year player. Veteran Derrick Rodgers was also in the mix, but all of these players are second-rate. No one here projects to become a game-breaker.
The team traded for Mike McKenzie midway through the season and added a quality starter to a group of prospects. Jason Craft, Fakhir Brown, and Fred Thomas were overmatched facing top wideouts. Strong safety Jay Bellamy has been one of the few consistent, quality defenders for the Saints over the past few years, but he started to look old on the field — at times — last year.
If you were looking for the abundance of talent, it was mostly on the offensive side of things.
Deuce McAllister persisted through an ankle injury last year that clearly slowed him down. He missed three games early on in the season after spraining the ankle and the injury lingered the rest of the way.
Understandably, the rushing offense took a hit, dropping to 27th overall.
Donte Stallworth continued his protracted development as a wide receiver, but he too was limited because of a leg injury. Joe Horn went to the Pro Bowl, but aside from him and Stallworth, the Saints had few options for a third target.
Jerome Pathon and rookie Devery Henderson were too streaky while tight end Boo Williams was invisible. He didn't have more than 38 receiving yards in any single game.
And then there was quarterback Aaron Brooks.
They say that a team takes on the personality of a quarterback, well in that case, the Saints are a mirror image of Brooks.
Brooks has every tool necessary to be a top-notch NFL quarterback. He's tall, he's mobile, and he has an excellent arm. It's the intangible quarterback characteristics, which he lacks. He's not a vocal leader, he doesn't feel pocket pressure very well, he has trouble reading coverages and, of course, he sometimes gets that Jake Plummer fever of forcing a ball into coverage or making a painful turnover.
The defense was laced with prospects that were not consistent, while the offense was replete with talent that endured a couple of key injuries.
Winning or losing often depended on the offense and, more specifically, Aaron Brooks. The Saints were 5-0 when he didn't throw a single interception.
Jim Haslett is running out of chances, so he better milk this team for whatever it's got or he'll be looking for a new job very shortly.
The Saints are like that 6-out-of-10 girl from your gym that keeps trying to hook you into a relationship, but you keep turning her down.
On appearances alone, she's tempting, but she's nothing to be serious about.
This time, she got a few highlights, and she says she's changed.
The 2005 Saints look painfully similar to last year's version with a few minor amendments.
The defensive line still has best set of ends the NFL has to offer, but nothing bulky in the center. Bryan Young is undersized, but can disrupt blocking schemes while Howard Green, the other starting defensive tackle, is a mediocre overachiever.
The linebacking issues from a season ago were also not seriously addressed throughout the offseason. Ronald McKinnon was added and is a solid veteran, but he won't start ahead of the team's best linebacker, Courtney Watson. James Allen and Colby Bockwoldt will round out the starting trio, but few members outside of the Saints organization are high on either of these guys. The latter two are both fairly raw and have trouble shedding blocks, which is an ominous combination without any imposing defensive tackles.
Expect most teams to run the ball run up the middle with a lot of success.
The secondary stands to improve with the additions of free safeties Dwight Smith and second-round pick Josh Bullocks. Smith is a playmaker while Bullocks is a budding prospect, but they play the same position. Bullocks needs to develop a physical aspect to his game before he can replace Jay Bellamy on the field.
Mike McKenzie is the team's best cornerback and Fakhir Brown has shown signs that he could be the opposite starter. Jason Craft and Fred Thomas would be excellent nickel and dime backs, but if Brown doesn't step up, teams will attack whoever McKenzie is not covering.
On offense, the Saints have one of the league's most powerful offensive lines, even though tackle Jon Stinchcomb was lost to a season-ending injury in training camp.
First-round draft pick Jammal Brown has looked impressive thus far in training camp and will team with Wayne Gandy as the starting tackles. Center LeCharles Bentley and right guard Jeremy Mayberry are both excellent players, which leaves Kendyl Jacox and Montrae Holland, both starting guards from last year, to battle for the left spot.
New offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard is simplifying the offense and refocusing on pounding the ball through the team's best player, Deuce McAllister.
The simplification of the offense includes less of a mental aspect for everyone including less verbiage and more straightforward formations. Less thinking, more playing.
It's questionable whether that will extract consistency out of Aaron Brooks, but concentrating on the running game will definitely help.
At wide receiver, the Saints should be well-equipped — better than in recent memory.
Joe Horn is the big dog, but Donte Stallworth should cross the 1,000-yard receiver benchmark any time now.
Stallworth creates great separation with his speed and has a superior pair of hands, but he needs to stay healthy. Devery Henderson and Az Hakim are also blazers and will compete for the third role, providing this grouping a great deal of speed to work with.
Brooks is still the same old Aaron Brooks, regardless of how dedicated his offseason workouts have been. It's hard to envision him ever leading a team deep into the playoffs especially since he doesn't have a defense to pickup the slack when his inconsistency surfaces.
The Saints are not competing for any championships this year and would be lucky to win the division. They have a talented offense led by an up-and-down quarterback, a defense that is still a few bricks short of a load, and an average coaching staff that doesn't get the best out of their players.
The Saints were 3-5 at home last year and 5-3 on the road. Sure, they did win the last four games, but keep in mind who they beat: Tampa Bay (5-11), Dallas (6-10), a Mike Vick-less Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina. I wouldn't trust this team with your money, let alone mine. They play: NYG, @MIN, BUF, @GB, @STL, MIA, CHI, @NE, @NYJ, and DET.
After three very average fantasy seasons, most players have soured on Donte Stallworth, but his issues have mostly been with health, not talent. As long as he stays healthy this year, he will have the opportunity to post excellent fantasy numbers. Especially with Joe Horn attracting all the attention on the other side.
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