Defense key for Saints|[5/12/05]
Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2005
When the New Orleans Saints gather next Monday for their annual coaching sessions, head coach Jim Haslett will be anxious to gauge where his team stands.
The Saints are coming off an 8-8 2004 season. The bad news was that they were 4-8 after 12 games and playing so bad that owner Tom Benson said they looked like a high school team.
The good news is the team went on a four-game winning streak to close the season and just missed the playoffs.
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“You hope that the carry over is there,” Haslett said Tuesday during the Saints’ Eastern Regional Caravan Tour that stopped at the Vicksburg Good Shepherd Community Center. “The biggest thing was that our young guys on defense started to grow up.”
The Saints appeared to have had a good draft landing the best available offensive linemen in Outland Trophy winner Jammal Brown of Oklahoma.
“He’s a guy we expect to start right next to our new free agent guard in Jermane Mayberry,” Haslett said.
Mayberry, a starting guard on the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl team, was the Saints’ biggest free-agent signing of the off-season.
“I think our second round pick is a very smart kid. And our third round guy showed that he can be a leader,” Haslett said.
As for the returning veterans, Haslett said the team has some immediate concerns heading into its June minicamp.
“The two biggest things are our linebackers on defense and can Devery Henderson be our third wide receiver,” Haslett.
Henderson will be counted on to fill the role left when Jerome Pathon signed with Seattle as a free agent.
The Saints defense, which was atrocious at times during its 4-8 malaise, must get better at the linebacking spots, Haslett said.
“We need Courtney Watson to be a consistent player. We need him all the time, not just four or five games,” Haslett said. “We have also got to have James Allen to play well.”
The areas of strength for the Saints, Haslett said, will be the running game, the pass rush and its play on the corner against the pass.
“Our defensive ends, with their ability to pass rush, is the strength of our defense. We also now have two corners who can play.
“Our running game could be the best we’ve had. We’re counting on Deuce McAllister on having a 1,600-1,700-yard season,” Haslett said. “With Brown and Mayberry on our right side, this gives us one of the biggest offensive lines in the league. We’re going to average 6-feet-6, and 320 pounds across our line.”