NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints

Home: Louisiana Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana

Owner: Tom Benson
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael Jr.
Defensive Coordinator: Gregg Williams
Special Teams Coach: Greg McMahon

Schedule:

Thursday, September 9: Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Monday, September 20: Vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, September 26: Vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, October 3: Vs. Carolina Panthers
Sunday, October 10: @ Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, October 17: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, October 24: Vs. Cleveland Browns
Sunday, October 31: Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, November 7: @ Carolina Panthers
BYE WEEK
Sunday, November 21: Vs. Seattle Seahawks
Thursday, November 25: @ Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, December 5: @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, December 12: Vs. St. Louis Rams
Sunday, December 19: @ Baltimore Ravens
Monday, December 27: @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, January 2: Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected Offensive Starters

Left Tackle: Jermon Bushrod
Left Guard: Carl Nicks
Center: Jonathan Goodwin
Right Guard: Jahri Evans
Right Tackle: Jonathan Stinchcomb
Wide Receiver 1: Marques Colston
Wide Receiver 2: Devery Henderson
Tight End: Jeremy Shockey
Fullback: Heath Evans
Running Back: Reggie Bush
Quarterback: Drew Brees

Projected Defensive Starters (Base 4-3 Defense)

Left Defensive End: Alex Brown
Left Defensive Tackle: Sedrick Ellis
Right Defensive Tackle: Remi Ayodele
Right Defensive End: Will Smith
Weakside Linebacker: Jonathan Casillas
Middle Linebacker: Jonathan Vilma
Strongside Linebacker: Scott Shanle
Left Cornerback: Jabari Greer
Strong Safety: Roman Harper
Free Safety: Darren Sharper (Malcolm Jenkins if Sharper isn’t back from injury)
Right Cornerback: Tracy Porter

Projected Special Teams Starters
Kicker (FG and KO): Garrett Hartley
Punter: Thomas Morstead
Long Snapper: Jason Kyle
Holder: Thomas Morstead
Kickoff Returner: Courtney Roby
Punt Returner: Reggie Bush

Key Offseason Pick-Ups

Thanks to winning the Super Bowl, the saints were very limited to free agent signings. They had to wait until late July or until they lost one of their own in order to sign another. When they did sign some though, they were good ones. Defensive ends Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson are big improvements over Grant at the end position opposite long-time Saint Will Smith. Running back Ladell Betts and linebacker Clint Ingram were both signed with known injuries but are expected to add significant playing ability to both the offense and defense.

Key Offseason Losses

Somehow the Saints managed to keep most of the team together and only lost a few players.The biggest departure was that of linebacker Scott Fujita who signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent. Fujita has been a staple in the Saints’ locker room for the past few years and became loved not only by the team, but by the fans and the city. Fujita has the ability to be everywhere on the field and the Browns may have gotten an aging linebacker, but he’s still one that is better than most others out there.

The only other big name loss was defensive end Charles Grant. Grant was waived and ended up signing with the MIami Dolphins, but it’s not a big loss to the Saints. Grant has severely underachieved ever since receiving a huge contract extension and when that wasn’t the case, then he was simply injured. Bobby MCray filled in perfectly for Grant in the playoffs and it proved even more so how expendable Grant was.

Rookie Watch

The Saints got a decent crop of rookies from the draft this season, but there are two in partciular that need to be watched this season. Cornerback Patrick Robinson has already come under the ire of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after not focusing on his game as much and even being a little out of shape. Williams went as far as to call Robinson his “whipping boy” after one training camp practice. Robinson answered back at the criticism the next day in practice by intercepting two passes. He’s going to have to do a lot to get his playing time in a crowded cornerback position, but some nickleback and special teams culd show Williams that Robinson is ready to step it up.

One other rookie to pay close attention to is tight end Jimmy Graham out of the University of Miami. The Saints already have two great tight ends in starter Jeremy Shockey and veteran David Thomas, but there is a lot of potential in Graham. He only played one season of football in college as he was focused on his basketball playing time, but the his hands, height, and speed make him a huge target for a quarterback like Brees. Graham has spent some time in training camp injured and with a walking boot surrounding his right ankle, but it didn’t appear to be too serious. Given the chance and playing time, this kid is going to make a lot of noise.

Season Expectations

The New Orleans Saints are going into a new season as the defending Super Bowl champions for the first time ever and so many are worried about the hangover that can come from winning a title. Coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees are going to make sure that doesn’t happen. Brees will lead the always potent offense that actually appears to have more weapons this year then in the past and a totally healthy Reggie Bush. That could end up being very dangerous and add an entirely new dimension to an offense that already confused most teams in the NFL. No worries are to be had about the offense as it will produce and rack up the points.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints see a lot of strengths which were once absolute weaknesses. Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer make up one of the best cornerback tandems in the league while Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins, and Roman Harper will sit back at safety and make sure no-one goes by unseen. The line has been built up nicely and linebacker Jonathan Vilma is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the field. Vilma is a born leader that is going to be surrounded by some young prospects at linebacker that have a lot of talent but simply need to be pointed in the right direction. Vilma is the one to do that.

Special teams is a huge concern for the Saints though and a lot of problems need to be addressed on that front. The return game isn’t a big issue as kickoff returner Courtney Roby has the skills and agility to get good field position or bring it to the house. It is on the defensive side of special teams where the Saints truly suffer. Tackling on punt and kickoff returns has been horrendous and often times, kicker Garrett Hartley and punted Thomas Morstead were seen making the final save. Payton has already let it be known that if the players he has on special teams now don’t produce, then he has no problems taking starters and throwing them out there.

History isn’t on the side of the Saints as past Super Bowl winners have not fared well the next season. Often times though, the champions are decimated by free agent losses or trades and that didn’t happen to the Saints. Almost every starter is back on both sides of the ball and the Saints have a schedule that works in their favor. That especially holds true because New Orleans has talent in their starting positions and back-ups. As long as the injuries stay at a minimum and things are kept in check, then we could be seeing the black and gold make another deep playoff run. If special teams aren’t fixed soon though, things are going to be a tad more difficult.

Record Prediction: 12-4

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