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FanHouse NFL Season Preview: New Orleans Saints - Going for Broke

Aug 22, 2008 – 2:11 PM
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Tom Mantzouranis

Tom Mantzouranis %BloggerTitle%

Training camps are underway, the NFL season is right around the corner, and to get you ready for 2008, FanHouse previews all 32 teams, "heat index" style. We'll rate each club in 10 categories on a scale of 1 to 10, high score wins.

Quarterback: Drew Brees is, to me, the third best quarterback in the league. And that's not just because I have a giant man-crush on him. Say what you will about your Tony Romos and Carson Palmers, but I'd take Brees over those two, especially as he appears to be in the prime of his career. All he's done since arriving in New Orleans is put up gaudy numbers through the air, but he plays a heady game based on quick (and good) decisions. He's also a good guy off the field and the unquestioned leader of the team. Mark Brunell was brought in as Brees' backup while project Tyler Palko continues to develop, and while you don't want to see the old lefty play at all, his arm looks good enough in camp to sustain for a couple of weeks if need be. Anything more than that, though, and the Saints are in trouble. Heat Index: 9

Running Back: Running back committees are a bitch for fantasy owners, but none have encountered a mess like this, where four backs are going to get a fair share of touches. Exactly how the carries shake out depends on Deuce McAllister's health; ditto for the productivity of the group. All four backs -- McAllister, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Aaron Stecker -- are talented, but Deuce is the only pounder that can keep the running game glued together. If he's in the lineup, expect Bush to flourish, with Thomas making a solid impact as well. If he's not, Thomas takes on a larger role and, though he rolled up Chicago for over 200 yards from scrimmage in Week 17 last year, it remains to be seen whether he can be a full-time NFL back. Luckily, Deuce has looked healthy so far. Heat Index: 7

Receivers: Marques Colston is going to get his. Believe that. You can pencil him in for 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns. If second-year guy Robert Meachem begins to deliver on his first-round potential, this is one of the best duos in the league. So far, Meachem has had an excellent training camp and preseason, and the team is going to give him every opportunity to prove that he can play. David Patten provides reliable hands and a veteran presence with championship experience. Oh, and there's this guy called Jeremy Shockey, who is thrilled to be playing with Brees and Sean Payton. A wild card is Bush. The team has lined him up out wide liberally in his first two years, but for the first time in his career this preseason they've been sending him on routes and using him in space instead of simply on screens and end-arounds. The passing game is one thing not to worry about. Heat Index: 8

Offensive Line: The brainy but weak Jeff Faine fled to center the line in Tampa, leaving his backup, Jonathan Goodwin, to take over. Goodwin has game experience, playing while Faine was injured, and is bigger and stronger than his predecessor. That strength will be welcome on a line that has excelled in pass protection, allowing the last amount of sacks in the last two years, but struggled mightily in run blocking. Goodwin will provide a better push up the middle, as will continued development from one of the best emerging guards in the league in Jahri Evans, but while I expect the team to continue to keep Brees clean behind the efforts of Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown, I don't expect this group to suddenly turn into a mauling unit on the ground. Heat Index: 6

Defensive Line: The Saints have a lot of hope tied up in their defensive ends, Charles Grant and Will Smith, especially after giving them gigantic deals in the last two years. Bobby McCray was brought on to subsidize their pass rush, pushing Grant inside on passing downs, and the word from the practice field has been that McCray, the fastest player on the line by a lot, should have no problems getting to the passer. Sedrick Ellis seems poised to make an immediate impact, and he provides flexibility in that he can play nose tackle or 3-tech. The team has lost depth inside with injuries to DeMario Pressley and Hollis Thomas, but this is one of the better groups on the team. With new position coach Ed Orgeron providing a fiery approach and a scheme that requires light linemen and quick penetration, these guys should make plays in the backfield. Heat Index: 7

Linebackers: Jonathan Vilma, if healthy, improves this group a lot. And he appears to be healthy. He'll provide something the Saints haven't had since the late, great Sam Mills -- a player who can get to the ball from sideline to sideline. He's even sporting Mills' old no. 51. But can Vilma improve the group enough? Scott Fujita is above average and Scott Shanle isn't, but Vilma will make their jobs easier. Still, one man can only do so much, and those guys are going to have to make plays on their own occasionally. Heat Index: 7

Secondary: Oy vey. The team's best corner, Mike McKenzie, is recovering from a torn ACL. He's expected to play in the opener, but it might take him deep into the season to get back to old form. New faces -- Randall Gay, Tracy Porter, Aaron Glenn, Lance Schulters -- have been brought in to improve the unit, but the biggest improvement might come from Usama Young, a third-rounder in 2007. He's had a great preseason and is fighting Gay for the starting job opposite McKenzie. Still, this unit has looked weak, despite the talent upgrade. Jason David is the biggest offender, and he might not make it through final cuts, but as a whole this unit hasn't looked as good as they should with the moves they've made. Either they'll improve as they play together through the season, or the Saints are just cursed when it comes to defensive backs. I have my money on the latter. Heat Index: 6

Special Teams: There's a healthy competition going on at kicker, where Martin Gramatica has largely been outperforming rookie sixth-rounder Taylor Mehlhaff. The team might keep both, as Mehlhaff has a stronger leg on kickoffs, though that hasn't been obvious from watching their offseason work. The team is going to give Bush a lot more work on punt returns, but with Bush's history of fumbles and muffs, the big plays he produces will probably be negated by some bone-headed ones, as well. Heat Index: 6

Coaching: Payton is one of the best offensive coaches in the league. He also makes some odd decisions and curious mistakes. But he can find a defense's weakness and exploit it better than almost anyone; watch the team's game against the Jaguars last year for proof. He also has the respect, and ear, of his locker room. He's done a good job following Bill Parcells' lead on putting together a team that reflects the proper attitude. Defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs is a different story. His scheming could best be described as questionable, and for some reason he encourages his cornerbacks to play 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, resulting in a lot of 10-yard completions against the defense. Who knows. Heat Index: 7

Intangibles: There's a lot of new blood on the team, but those who remain have gone on and on about how disappointing last year was, and how dedicated they are to avenging that letdown. Whether that happens remains to be seen. They'll get a boost from the presence of Vilma and Shockey, who are uber-talented players looking to prove their former employers wrong. The entire roster is filled with high-character, hard-working players, so the effort will be there. Heat Index: 7

Total Heat Index: 70

The team is counting on a lot of injured players -- Shockey, Vilma, Deuce, and McKenzie -- to play large roles. Those players all appear to be on-track for the start of the season, but those are still a lot of question marks to rely on. The offense will produce no matter what, though, and it seems unlikely the defense can be any worse than it was last year, so it's hard not to picture the team doing better than their 7-9 mark last year. I expect them to look shaky at the beginning of the year but figure it out when it matters in November and December. The team should win a relatively easy division and compete in the playoffs.

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