I’ve always considered the New Orleans Saints
as a talented group of players, not a team. One of the biggest team killers in all of sports is a team without cohesiveness. For the past several years, the Saints lacked the heart and continuity to finish an entire NFL season the way they started it. In 2006, the Saints organization took steps forward hiring a new head coach, drafting a phenomenal collegiate athlete, and signing a veteran pro bowl caliber quarterback. The New Orleans
Saints have a good chance of surprising a lot of teams in the NFL this upcoming season. The question is whether the team is ready to take the next step forward.
Drew Brees will be entering his sixth season as an NFL quarterback and his first with the New Orleans Saints. He was good enough to keep 1st round pick Phillip Rivers on the bench two years ago and will be just as good when he’s taking snaps down in the bayou this season. The problem with Brees is the injured shoulder from last year. The offensive line for the Saints will need to keep Brees off the ground. In 2005 the O-line gave up 41 sacks to opposing teams. This year, there is no more LeCharles Bentley. Jeff Faine and Jammal Brown will need to be the anchors on a unit that produced a ton of penalties in 2005.
The state of Louisiana was shocked when the Houston Texans passed on Reggie Bush to snag Mario Williams. With the second pick in the 1st round, the Saints drafted Bush to be the starting tail back and a symbol of hope to a region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Reggie Bush is that good. Some critics are already trying to secure a spot for Bush in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I wont go that far just yet. He hasn’t went up against the best defensive units in the NFL yet. Until then, he will be sharing the load with Deuce McCallister. McCallister is still an very good running back and has shown year after year the ability to carry a full load. With Bush and Deuce splitting playing time, this could be one of the most dangerous rushing tandems in the NFL.
With the addition of Drew Brees, Joe Horn and Dante Stallworth may shine more than they ever did with the Saints. We all know that Horn is great receiver, but we have yet to see the best in Stallworth. This may finally be his year.
The Defensive line under achieved in 2005. Will Smith (DE) led the team in sacks, but the entire D-Line unit lacked a consistent pass rush. This season, they better pick up the pace and produce a pass rush or the entire defense may suffer. The linebacker corps is basically a no-name unit with the additions of free agents Scott Fujita and Anthony Simmons, but head coach Sean Payton believes this unit can provide the defense with a solid pass rush and coverage over the middle. In the secondary, Mike McKenzie was brought in from Green Bay to add some experience to a unit that was demolished in 2005, but McKenzie is not an elite defensive back and is often embarrassed himself. The defense has more concerns than the offense, but coach Payton will push this team until they begin to have the success he wants.
A QUICK LOOK AT THE 2006 SCHEDULE
The Saints will face six playoff teams this season (Carolina, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Washington, and the N.Y. Giants). The hardest teams in their division will be the Panthers and the Buccaneers. I can see the Saints going 3-3 in the NFC South division and a winning record at home. Playoffs may not be in the picture for the New Orleans Saints in 2006, but a foundation will be laid down for the future.