Camp countdown: Saints face tough task in fighting Super Bowl hangover

On the morning after he led the New Orleans Saints to the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, sleep-deprived MVP quarterback Drew Brees said, "I think what’s going to be fun is using the term ‘repeat’ all next year."
 
Pierre Thomas will see a bigger role in the Saints' offense this season.
Pierre Thomas will see a bigger role in the Saints’ offense this season.

But as recent history has shown, that will be much easier said than done. Over the past 11 years, only one team has repeated a Super Bowl win (the 2004 Patriots). None of the other 10 defending champions even reached a conference championship game, and five missed the playoffs altogether.

 
Still, the Saints have plenty of reason for optimism, as they kept their roster almost intact. The defense should be even better in Year 2 under coordinator Gregg Williams. And, of course, they still have offensive whiz Sean Payton calling the shots for Brees, a master at running the offense.
 

What’s new

Offense: The Saints used a committee approach at tailback in 2009, with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell splitting the workload. But Thomas emerged as a bona fide No. 1 back in his third season, gaining 1,095 yards from scrimmage in the regular season.
 
Thomas appears primed to take on a bigger role now that Bell has gone to Philadelphia. Third-year pro Lynell Hamilton seems like a natural fit to replace Bell as the short-yardage specialist and physical pounder, though he has only been used in small doses so far in his career.
 
With the trade of Jammal Brown to the Redskins, Jermon Bushrod is now cemented at left tackle. With Brown out last season, Bushrod stepped in and did a solid job. He held up well during the playoff run and should be improved after a full year of experience.
 

Defense: The Saints parted ways with longtime left end Charles Grant, releasing him before the start of free agency. But they replaced him with another proven veteran in former Bears starter Alex Brown, who has the skill set to play the run and rush the passer.

 
The Saints also lost Scott Fujita, a reliable starter at strongside linebacker who left for Cleveland in free agency. New Orleans is hoping a solid replacement emerges from free-agent pickup Clint Ingram and a group of young candidates that includes Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Jonathan Casillas, Marvin Mitchell and Anthony Waters.
 
Free safety Darren Sharper, who re-signed with the team after looking at other options, is coming off knee surgery and can’t be expected to intercept nine passes again. The team moved 2009 first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins to safety in case Sharper has more knee troubles.
 

Breakout player

Robert Meachem: 'I want to be out there every day.'
Robert Meachem: ‘I want to be out there every day.’

Robert Meachem, WR
He has been an annual breakout candidate since the Saints drafted him in the first round in 2007, but last season he finally showed how dynamic he can be. He caught 45 passes for 722 yards and nine TDs. If, after offseason toe surgery, he returns to full speed during training camp, he should be able to pick up where he left off.

 
"As a competitor, it’s tough (to be out with the toe injury during the offseason program). I want to be out there every day. But the best thing is I’ve still been getting mental reps, getting to learn from the guys, see what they’re doing wrong, see what the coaches are teaching them. So when I get my chance to get out here, I’ll do everything how they want me to do it." — Meachem
 

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Saints)
"The trigger man there, Drew Brees, is obviously special. He has a real instinct about him and an awareness, and they take good advantage of that. One of the things that he does really well is work with Sean (Payton) in getting you into personnel groupings that they can take advantage of. They’re great at manipulating you by using motion or some sort of formation and just getting the coverage or personnel matchup they want. …

"Their receivers are all very good, and what makes them so tough is that each one is his own monster. At running back, everyone is going to tell you that Pierre (Thomas) is just a guy, but he’s a workhorse and he’s a powerful runner. And while he may not be real flashy, he’s just flat-out productive.

"On defense, you’re going to have a little bit of a transition away from Charles Grant there up front. Will Smith is still a very good pass-rush guy, but how they play it now after signing Alex (Brown) is hard to know. With the inside guys, a lot of people are still waiting for Sedrick Ellis to kind of snap out of it. I can’t say he’s bad on film; it’s just OK. I don’t think he’s what they expected out of the seventh pick in the draft."

 

Bottom line

The Saints have what it takes to win another Super Bowl, and there is no clear reason why they should suffer a drop-off in 2010. As long as New Orleans has Payton calling the plays and Brees running the offense, it has a chance to win. And Atlanta appears to be the only serious threat in the NFC South. Even if the Saints don’t make another run at a 16-0 season, they should remain among the top challengers in the NFC.

 

Projected depth chart

Offense
QB: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
FB: Heath Evans, Jason McKie
RB: Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush
WR: Marques Colston, Robert Meachem
WR: Devery Henderson, Lance Moore
TE: Jeremy Shockey, David Thomas
LT: Jermon Bushrod, Charles Brown
LG: Carl Nicks, Tim Duckworth
C: Jonathan Goodwin, Nick Leckey
RG: Jahri Evans, Terrence Metcalf
RT: Jon Stinchcomb, Zach Strief
 
Defense
LE: Alex Brown, Jeff Charleston
DT: Sedrick Ellis, Anthony Hargrove
DT: Remi Ayodele, Al Woods
RE: Will Smith, Jimmy Wilkerson
SLB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Clint Ingram
MLB: Jonathan Vilma, Marvin Mitchell
WLB: Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas
LCB: Jabari Greer, Randall Gay
SS: Roman Harper, Chris Reis
FS: Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins
RCB: Tracy Porter, Patrick Robinson
 
Specialists
K: Garrett Hartley
P: Thomas Morstead
KR: Courtney Roby
PR: Reggie Bush
LS: Jason Kyle
On the morning after he led the New Orleans Saints to the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, sleep-deprived MVP quarterback Drew Brees said, "I think what’s going to be fun is using the term ‘repeat’ all next year."
 
Pierre Thomas will see a bigger role in the Saints' offense this season.
Pierre Thomas will see a bigger role in the Saints’ offense this season.

But as recent history has shown, that will be much easier said than done. Over the past 11 years, only one team has repeated a Super Bowl win (the 2004 Patriots). None of the other 10 defending champions even reached a conference championship game, and five missed the playoffs altogether.

 
Still, the Saints have plenty of reason for optimism, as they kept their roster almost intact. The defense should be even better in Year 2 under coordinator Gregg Williams. And, of course, they still have offensive whiz Sean Payton calling the shots for Brees, a master at running the offense.
 

What’s new

Offense: The Saints used a committee approach at tailback in 2009, with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell splitting the workload. But Thomas emerged as a bona fide No. 1 back in his third season, gaining 1,095 yards from scrimmage in the regular season.
 
Thomas appears primed to take on a bigger role now that Bell has gone to Philadelphia. Third-year pro Lynell Hamilton seems like a natural fit to replace Bell as the short-yardage specialist and physical pounder, though he has only been used in small doses so far in his career.
 
With the trade of Jammal Brown to the Redskins, Jermon Bushrod is now cemented at left tackle. With Brown out last season, Bushrod stepped in and did a solid job. He held up well during the playoff run and should be improved after a full year of experience.
 

Defense: The Saints parted ways with longtime left end Charles Grant, releasing him before the start of free agency. But they replaced him with another proven veteran in former Bears starter Alex Brown, who has the skill set to play the run and rush the passer.

 
The Saints also lost Scott Fujita, a reliable starter at strongside linebacker who left for Cleveland in free agency. New Orleans is hoping a solid replacement emerges from free-agent pickup Clint Ingram and a group of young candidates that includes Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Jonathan Casillas, Marvin Mitchell and Anthony Waters.
 
Free safety Darren Sharper, who re-signed with the team after looking at other options, is coming off knee surgery and can’t be expected to intercept nine passes again. The team moved 2009 first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins to safety in case Sharper has more knee troubles.
 

Breakout player

Robert Meachem: 'I want to be out there every day.'
Robert Meachem: ‘I want to be out there every day.’

Robert Meachem, WR
He has been an annual breakout candidate since the Saints drafted him in the first round in 2007, but last season he finally showed how dynamic he can be. He caught 45 passes for 722 yards and nine TDs. If, after offseason toe surgery, he returns to full speed during training camp, he should be able to pick up where he left off.

 
"As a competitor, it’s tough (to be out with the toe injury during the offseason program). I want to be out there every day. But the best thing is I’ve still been getting mental reps, getting to learn from the guys, see what they’re doing wrong, see what the coaches are teaching them. So when I get my chance to get out here, I’ll do everything how they want me to do it." — Meachem
 

Opponent’s view

(An anonymous opponent breaks down the Saints)
"The trigger man there, Drew Brees, is obviously special. He has a real instinct about him and an awareness, and they take good advantage of that. One of the things that he does really well is work with Sean (Payton) in getting you into personnel groupings that they can take advantage of. They’re great at manipulating you by using motion or some sort of formation and just getting the coverage or personnel matchup they want. …

"Their receivers are all very good, and what makes them so tough is that each one is his own monster. At running back, everyone is going to tell you that Pierre (Thomas) is just a guy, but he’s a workhorse and he’s a powerful runner. And while he may not be real flashy, he’s just flat-out productive.

"On defense, you’re going to have a little bit of a transition away from Charles Grant there up front. Will Smith is still a very good pass-rush guy, but how they play it now after signing Alex (Brown) is hard to know. With the inside guys, a lot of people are still waiting for Sedrick Ellis to kind of snap out of it. I can’t say he’s bad on film; it’s just OK. I don’t think he’s what they expected out of the seventh pick in the draft."

 

Bottom line

The Saints have what it takes to win another Super Bowl, and there is no clear reason why they should suffer a drop-off in 2010. As long as New Orleans has Payton calling the plays and Brees running the offense, it has a chance to win. And Atlanta appears to be the only serious threat in the NFC South. Even if the Saints don’t make another run at a 16-0 season, they should remain among the top challengers in the NFC.

 

Projected depth chart

Offense
QB: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
FB: Heath Evans, Jason McKie
RB: Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush
WR: Marques Colston, Robert Meachem
WR: Devery Henderson, Lance Moore
TE: Jeremy Shockey, David Thomas
LT: Jermon Bushrod, Charles Brown
LG: Carl Nicks, Tim Duckworth
C: Jonathan Goodwin, Nick Leckey
RG: Jahri Evans, Terrence Metcalf
RT: Jon Stinchcomb, Zach Strief
 
Defense
LE: Alex Brown, Jeff Charleston
DT: Sedrick Ellis, Anthony Hargrove
DT: Remi Ayodele, Al Woods
RE: Will Smith, Jimmy Wilkerson
SLB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Clint Ingram
MLB: Jonathan Vilma, Marvin Mitchell
WLB: Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas
LCB: Jabari Greer, Randall Gay
SS: Roman Harper, Chris Reis
FS: Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins
RCB: Tracy Porter, Patrick Robinson
 
Specialists
K: Garrett Hartley
P: Thomas Morstead
KR: Courtney Roby
PR: Reggie Bush
LS: Jason Kyle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*