2005 NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints

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Last Year

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.

This Year

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.

Really?

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.

Enjoy.

Over/Under: 7.5

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.

Fantasy Sleeper

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.

Stay tuned as Dave Golokhov brings you previews for all 32 NFL teams! Sponsored by CyberSportsbook.com, a great casino for horse racing and sportsbook action.

Comments and Conversation

August 22, 2005

JONATHAN RICARD:

THE SAINTS WILL DO A LOT BETTER THAN WHAT YOU ARE SAYING. A BIG PART WILL BE AARON BROOKS. ITS TIME FOR HIM TO STEP IT UP AND HE WIL

August 22, 2005

Glenn:

Hard Hitting but Very True. Been a Saints fan all my life and these are the very things all Saints fans dread going into the season.

You really have told us as it is. Still, we haven’t played a single game and we are all 0-0. Frankly, I don’t see a team on the schedule that I fear playing. Having said that, I do fear the Saints ability to self destruct. I find your analysis of the Saints to be fair. Hopefully we will prove you wrong. Oh yea… I’m not putting money on them. Stopped doing that a long time ago.

Thanks for the review. It hurts but it is accurate.

FOREVERFAN

August 22, 2005

Mike Darby:

I do not belive this nut knows what he is talking about, Devery Henderson did not play one play last year how streaky is that? What an idiot I bet his draws have more streaks… sounds like he is full of you know what. Gota Have Faith

August 22, 2005

Jason:

Henderson played in the Arizona game, was hampered by a hamstring injury for part of the season, but was too inconsistent in practice so the team shut him down.

I would call that streaky.

August 22, 2005

Cody Jones:

You obviously get your information only from other writers’ opinions, and not by actually watching Saints games. Nothing you write is original, and some of it isn’t even accurate.
And I wonder what kind of crap you put out there when writing about the 2000 season? Or were you still in school then?
Too many of you “sports writers” base every single opinion and prediction on last year’s success or failure. In today’s NFL, regardless of what you think, you just never know when a team will turn the corner. I doubt you predicted Carolina had what it took to reach the Super Bowl 2 years ago. No, you were too busy looking up the previous year’s record.
Why don’t you do us a favor and grow a spine, or a set of big furry nuts, make a bold prediction.
Here’s mine: Saints lose to the Vikings in the NFC championship.

August 23, 2005

JD Abbott:

are you kidding me? half of your info is incorrect, devery henderson didnt even play, how can you call that streaky??? you also said to “keep in mind, there last 4 games were against…” one of them was carolina, it seemed like u said they were a bad team, that was because of injuries in the beginning and they won 7 straight games in the end!!! so that will effect the record, but not the team they played in week 16, when they were at tops that year. and you called them the ‘Aints, no1 has said that since the 70’s, and i wonder who your favorite team is, because obviously you have no clue. I want to see what you wrote about the 1999 Rams that won the superbowl, probably that they had a bad defense, good o-line, inconsistent QB, great running back, and a solid wide reciever, hmmmm, sounds like the saints! hey man everything can happen


good luck keeping ur job

annonymous

August 23, 2005

dimeaux:

Look here bruh, you have to be the worst sports writer I have encountered in quite sometime. Did you do any research? Henderson did NOT play in one game last year. And when we were playing Dallas, Tampa, and Carolina in the last four games of the year, they were all in wildcard playoff contention when we played them. Actually, the Saints knocked them all out the playoffs when we played them to stay in playoff contention. Atlanta was already in the playoffs. So watch the games and verify your facts, because you will never make it as a sports writer if you don’t. You lack originality when you write and you should leave it to professionals to comment on a team that you obviously know noyhing about.

August 23, 2005

NRC:

I was gonna comment on your complete lack of original thought about the Saints or intalligent thought for that matter . But after reading the rest of the comments I think they summed it up pretty well. Who hired you to be a sportswriter anyways? Do they actually pay for that kinda work?

August 23, 2005

Marc James:

Wow, congratulations, you’ve all managed to look like a bunch of eighth graders with your insults and “ur gay lol” remarks. Personal attacks and profane language WILL be deleted, so don’t try it. Also, the only thing any of you can think of is “Henderson didn’t play.” Jason’s comment eliminates that point, and now you have nothing. Your blind homerism has prevented you from seeing just how bad the Saints have been and if you don’t want them to get trashed, get them to perform on the field.

August 23, 2005

Paul bordelon:

Any Sunday, any team with heart can win. The sanits need a QB & tackles. Everybody know that already. But lets see how for they go with what they have. I say 10-6.

August 24, 2005

JD A.:

Who is Marc James? answer back, and there is a reason i looked like an 8th grader, i am one, so it must be pretty embarrasing knowing less about a team than an 8th grader, that would be better at your job, writing an NFL preview on the Saints, and Marc James, what team are you a fan of?

August 24, 2005

Rob:

I am assuming that Marc James is a moderator/ contributor to this “supposedly impartial” website. While I am not trying to tell you how to do your job, your comments towards your readers are out of line and unprofessional. Your job is to moderate this discussion, not insult your readers. In addition, the author of this commentary has the right to his opinion, providing he backs them up with accurate facts. Let me show you a few examples.

First your assessment of the Saints linebackers, you seemed to infer that Derrick Rodgers along with our current three starters does not project as a game-breaker. Fact: Derrick Rodgers was cut before training camp, either your grammar was wrong or you did not do your homework. Furthermore, while your assessment of the Saints linebacking crew is somewhat accurate. It is next to impossible to determine what type of player, particularly a linebacker, will become after 1 season and handful of starts. This is the case for both Watson and Buckwoldt.

Second, it is easy for you to put the “streaky” tag on player you have seen, such as the case for Henderson. Fact he played in 1 game and no more than 5 plays. Correct if I am wrong. How can you make an assessment that he is streaky with no examples to sight? The truth: Henderson did not play last year because of his inability to learn an NFL size playbook and his lack of contribution on special teams. You also failed to mention Talman Gardner, who if not had suffered an ankle sprain last week would be the #3 receiver.

Lastly, if you rely on general consensus assessments of talent league wide (reference your linebacker analysis) you would know that the general consensus about Fakir Brown is that he is capable starter that provides the Saints with a solid set of starting cornerbacks. Brown stepped up last year, but you would not know that, maybe due to your shallow research.

Shall I go on?

Fred Thomas is not the dime defensive back; he is in danger of getting cut. Look for Jimmy Williams (google his name if you don’t know who is) and Bullock to vie for that spot.

The whole is point of this is to show both the writer and moderator need to understand the responsibly of what they write. Opinions are just that, opinions. A commentary needs facts to draw from. When your facts wrong it weakens your credibility and argument. Marc James rebuttal of your reader’s comments goes to prove this websites lack of professionalism. Please, Dave Golokhov respond to your own discussion boards. Don’t let a closed minded moderator speak for you. It only weakens your argument. Prove to me, and the rest of the readers why I am wrong. But first make sure you do your homework.

August 24, 2005

Marc James:

Rob,

I’m sorry if you felt my comments were out of line, but we’re not running a church here. I am a fan like the rest and if you saw a fraction of the unintelligent, bashing, even hateful comments that come through here, you’d have the same frustration. My comment was hardly over the line. How is calling immature comments immature over the line or unprofessional? If we’re going to have an open interaction, it’s only fair some of these mindless bashers get called out. You all get to take shots at the writer and yet if we say something a fraction of what’s being said, now we’re unprofessional jerks?

If people would post intelligent, insightful comments like yours (even though it is criticism), I wouldn’t say you’re all liking a bunch of whining infants when your team isn’t lauded. Get over it. The Saints have earned the reputation they have.

I’m sure some of the criticism is valid and there were some minor mistakes, but let’s not have the writer brave enough to write full previews for all 32 teams on the side have his head chopped off. Could YOU write complete team previews for every team in the league in the span of a month and not make a single mistake?

Bottom line, this is an opinionated commentary site for fans, by fans, but you do have a right to call out someone who you feel makes inaccuracies. It’s great to have that — it’s not great to have immature name-calling and insults, a lot of which are deleted that you don’t see.

I truly appreciate comments like yours, Rob, and to clarify, I am the do-it-all owner of this site, not just a moderator. And having read all the previews of to now, I can say Dave Golokhov does not write with biases and partiality. For example, Vikings fans come on here calling him a Packers lover for his preview of their team, yet he gave the Packers an even less optimistic preview.

August 24, 2005

Dave Golokhov:

Rob,

Fact: I talked about Derrick Rodgers in the review of last year - I never mentionned him in the preview of this year.

Fact: Fred Thomas is the dime back and is no where near in danger of getting cut from the team. He is overmatched starting, which he was forced to do at times last year, but is a decent nickel/dime back. Check the official deptch chart.

http://www.neworleanssaints.com/depthchart.cfm

Fact: Use that same chart to see that Jimmy Williams is fifth/sixth on the official depth chart and has been no better than a special teams guy during his career. Fred Thomas is a much better cover guy - if Williams was half-decent in pass coverage the SF 49ers, a team desperate for DB’s would not have cut him.

Fact: Bullocks is a strong safety.

Fact: Henderson was hurt for part of last season, then he played a game, then showed inconsistency in practice so Haslett decided to go with “players that will give him a better chance to win at the position”. He was streaky, inconsistent or whatever other synonym you want to use.

As far as the current linebackers, nobody projects them to be gamebreakers. In fact, it is usually the first aspect that is cut up of the Saints defense. If you look at the other linebackers that have come from the draft that the Saints could have had their hands on (Karlos Dansby/Daryl Smith) you would realize that the crew they have is average.

So please, save your own time, and don’t go on.

How about you check your own facts, and then contribute something intelligent instead of ripping the me for my assessment of the New Orleans Saints.

I have no problem with anyone criticizing but contribute something worth discussing instead of just tearing in to me.

Have a nice day,

Dave

August 25, 2005

Rob:

Dave,

Question: How often is the official depth chart actually accurate in preseason?
The fact is Fred Thomas has not been on the field at all this pre-season. He is over-paid for a dime. He fell from starter to dime last year and continues to slide. Jimmy Williams has been excellent in special teams. Coaches feel he could be another Fakir Brown. Good work ethic, decent speed and good technique. The DB coach for Saints was the defensive coordinator for the Niners last year. He must see something in him.

I understand you are at disadvantage when writing these reviews. You don’t follow the Saint’s or any other team a closely as, say me as Saint’s fan. My last comments were meant to contribute, inform and debate what you had written. They might have slighted due to the contrite statements by Marc towards the other reader’s comments.

I agree with a lot you stated. I agree the linebackers are average, but disagree with their lack of potential. Yes, Bullock is a strong safety and has been working in dime packages this preseason.

I am average writer and do not know your background, but readers will take something literally, such the case with your comments about Henderson. If you had clarified your opinion in the original article, like you did in your response to my comments, no one would have had a problem with it.

You assessment of Aaron Brooks was right on, he lacks the inherit qualities that make a great quarterback. I think the Saints recognize his abilities and have scaled the offense to compensate. Yes I am a bit partial, but after following the Saints for the last 25 or so years of disappointment, I think I can judge them somewhat honestly. I do see them going 9-7, 10-6. There is a positive atmosphere that is genuine and unique during the Haslett era. Let me also say I not a huge Haslett fan, but see him learning as well. A poor man’s Bill Cower.

Marc,

Never did I call you an unprofessional jerk. I called your comments unprofessional. You summed up the inherit problem with an opinionated media outlet, chrism. If can’t take it, don’t publish it. That is our right as readers. I totally respect the fact that you remove inappropriate comments, your job as the moderator. But you are not making your site any more popular by calling your reader base “a bunch of eighth graders.” You don’t see the New York Times degrading their readers this way. I agree, people make some stupid comments and they warrant being put in their place, but not by the moderator and owner. That is unprofessional. Just remove the comments; these people will get the point. You add fuel to the fire when you stoop to their level.

Thank you for you kind words about my previous comments. I hope you take these comments constructive.

Good Luck,

Rob

August 26, 2005

JD Abbott:

Dave,

I apologize for my comments earlier, with your response to Rob it showed details on what you said, and explained the stuff, im not saying this to be mean, but heres 1 thing of constructive critisism, you knew more details, but did not say it, with your response to Rob, add that into your writing, so you have more detail and explanation, which leaves less room for questions. You have potential to be a great writer if you do those things, another word of advice, add in some good things about each team, like pros and cons, so you do not get almost all critisism, look at the comments, people are just saying all this stuff, out of defense for there favorite team, if we said bad things about your favorite team, whoever that may be, you would try and defend them, thats just what these fans are doing. Good luck in your future writing career, and keep those tips in mind for future team reviews.

JD

September 30, 2005

JD Abbott:

SAINTS 1-2 YAY!!!

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