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By Mike Detillier - SaintsReport.com NFL Player and Draft Analyst
Posted 10/14/2006



Name: Scott
From: Houston

1.) Mike, now that the season how kicked off in grand fashion can you give some commentary? The O-Line has given up very few sacks. Can they keep this up?

2.) Is 100 receptions a possibility for Reggie Bush?

3.) Can Colston be a future #1 receiver?

4.) The linebacker play has been much better than expected. Does coaching make that much of a difference?




<HR color=#a29b4f>

1.) Scott, the biggest surprise for everyone has been the play of the offensive line this season. That group, as a unit, has played extremely well and basically kept Drew Brees’ uniform clean in just about every game. Drew has a very quick release, but he is not feeling a lot of outside or inside pressure and it has opened up a host of options for him in the passing game. I have always felt that an offensive line, if it doesn’t lose people to injuries, gets better as the season progresses.

To answer your question I would say yes, but this week’s game will be a major test because the Philadelphia Eagles defensive front comes from so many angles and different looks could be confusing to a line that has not played that much as a unit together. Also, give O-line coach Doug Marrone a lot of credit for piecing together this unit and keeping Drew Brees standing upright most of the time on Sundays.

2.) I think 80 to 90 receptions for Reggie Bush is quite possible. The only running back that I have seen over the years catch the ball as well as Bush (and I would include Marshall Faulk in that group) was former San Diego Chargers RB. Ronnie Harmon. He was a tremendous receiver coming out of the backfield and Bush could well be in that 90 to 100 catch group before the season is over with. He is a tremendous receiver coming out of the backfield and he gives opposing defensive coaches nightmares trying to match-up against him. Bush is a great weapon as a receiver, no question about that and 90 receptions is not out of the realm of possibility.

3.) Yes, I think that Marques Colston has a shot to be a #1 receiver in the NFL. He has great size, a real strong burst of speed after the catch and he will fight for the football in traffic. He seems to be a very well grounded young man with a strong work ethic and if that continues I certainly could see him be a #1 wide-out in the NFL. He plays this game with confidence and almost with ease and that is not the normal case for rookies at wide receiver.

When I first saw him play, he reminded me a lot of Tony Hill, a former All-Pro wide-out with the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He is a little bigger than Hill was, but he has that same lanky build and explosive qualities after the catch. Like most rookies, he will have some games that he doesn’t stand out as much as in others, but this guy is a very talented young man and he has taken to Curtis Johnson’s coaching methods extremely well. I don’t remember that many times that a veteran QB will look for a rookie like Drew Brees looks for Colston in critical spots. He has become Brees’ version of Antonio Gates “money receiver” in New Orleans.

4.) The linebacker play has been good this season, and in particular Scott Fujita. That guy comes to play hard each and every week and it doesn’t matter who he has played with either. In Kansas City and Dallas, he was a favorite with the coaches and fans. I thought he would be a solid starter, but he has exceeded my expectations production-wise and he is a good team leader. You can clearly see this guy comes to play with a lot of emotion, heart and he is very smart football player.

You have to give the coaches their due here. They saw early on the linebackers in camp, for the most part, were not getting the job done and they went out and acquired, two solid starters in Mark Simoneau and Scott Shanle. Both are a bit undersized, but they are smart, tough and they make plays flowing to the football.

If teams continue to run the ball with success up the gut don’t be surprised to see former Raiders LB. Danny Clark start to see more playing time, especially in short yardage and goal line situations. He is a very physical player, with good size and he works pretty well stuffing up plays in-between the tackles.

All three starters play good as a unit and they also do a solid job dropping back in coverage also. They are just blue-collar football players giving their very best out on the field. They play smart and that is all you can ask for. Yes, good coaching from Joe Vitt and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs has made this a very productive unit. Give the coaches their full credit. They saw the problems and quickly made moves to try and solve the defensive woes at linebacker. They would have made one more LB move if things hadn’t been bickered with so much with the San Diego Chargers and Donnie Edwards.

Making moves late in training camp would have not happened with Haslett. He would have continued to play the guys who couldn’t make plays in the past. He was stubborn to a fault about not admitting mistakes and moving on. In this business, everyone makes mistakes. You just compound that error by keeping someone around who can’t play in this league or doesn’t fit your system.

I have always felt you win in college and pro football with talent, but in the pros when the talent level is so close, coaching is much more critical to your success or lack of. Teaching, good rep work and having people understand a system in which they feel as though they can win with is essential to winning in the NFL. Coaching is huge at every level, but in the NFL when the margin of talent level is less noticeable than in high school or college it is much more valuable. Just look at the way the Saints are coaches now than in the past few seasons and you can clearly see how much coaching means in the NFL.

Take care, Scott




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Name: Joseph Guidry

From: Nacogdoches

Comments:

Mike, I really enjoy your column in the Houma Courier as well as your forum here on SaintsReport. Thanks for taking such an active interest in the fans of the New Orleans Saints.

I know you questioned moving Jamal Brown from the RT to the LT spot and using John Stinchcomb as a tackle instead of a guard. They've exceeded my expectations in their new positions, and I'm wondering if you think both Brown and Stinchcomb are the long-term answer at LT and RT for the Saints?




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Joseph, thanks for the complimentary comments, I appreciate them.

I questioned the move with Jammal Brown after watching spring drills, summer camp and the first 2 pre-season games. I said and wrote that if his play did not improve dramatically before the end of the pre-season that I would move him back to right tackle and try to acquire a veteran left tackle. Brown had developed quickly into one of the top right tackles in the NFC in just one season and early on, he seemed to be uncomfortable on the left side. The strange part of this story, and I have written this before, is that both Jim Haslett and former O-line coach Jack Henry both told me last season they would move Jammal to the left side also, if they had returned.

With Brown, the question mark was never about his skill-level, but the confidence level. I think anyone at just about any position in life who is doing something for many years and then asked to change has some rough spots in adapting. Jammal just seemed not to be playing with confidence at the left spot early in pre-season and he was having some trouble with his footwork and techniques. He just had never played that position before in either high school or in college.

Things totally changed in the 3rd pre-season game against the Indy Colts when he went up against Dwight Freeney. From that moment on, Jammal has played with a strong sense of confidence and he really has upgraded his overall play at left tackle. He completely shut down Simeon Rice last week against the Buccaneers. He seems much more comfortable with his footwork and his ability to cut off the edge to opposing pass rushers. It took him a little while to come around and you can only comment on what you see, when you see it, but he really has turned the corner at the left tackle spot.

Yes, Jammal is the long-term answer at left tackle for the Saints.

To be honest, I still believe that Jon Stinchcomb is a better inside player than at right tackle, but I have to give him full credit because he has played solid football for the Saints at right tackle. He still gets walked back to the QB at times and he will have some leakage come in from the edge, but he fights, scratches and just gets the job done. He didn’t play particularly well against Green Bay and Aaron Kampman, but overall he has played much better than I thought he would at the tackle spot.

The thing all of us must remember is that he basically saw no playing time his first two seasons in the league and last season he was hurt early on in training camp. Jon has played solid football at right tackle, and while he lacks some of the athletic skills and lower-body strength you might want in a right tackle, he gives his all, he is intelligent and he really works at trying to better his craft on and off the field.

This is his contract year and it will be interesting to see if he feels as though he should test the waters of free agency. I know he felt as though the prior regime never gave him a real shot, but Sean Payton and his staff have given him the opportunity and he has really made the best of it. I know the Saints management team has talked to him about a contract extension, but nothing has been agreed on yet. I still feel as though his best spot is inside, but he has more than held his own at starting at the right tackle spot.

Before I end this, let me throw kudos out to O-line coach Doug Marrone. He has done a great job working with this group and showed great patience working on the little technical parts of the game and trying to build some precision from this group. Every one of these guys are playing new positions and doing a real good job protecting Brees and opening up running holes for Deuce and Bush.

I know one thing he stressed in summer drills was to not to let D-linemen get a hard pass rush from the inside. He really worked with this group of pushing the outside pocket as much as possible, but not letting D-linemen get good inside position. He worked day-in, day-out on the techniques to keep D-linemen from getting pressure from the inside and it has really paid off.




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Name: Milton Charles

Handle: MCSaintstone

From: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Comments:

Hey Mike, I love your work. I am out of my service duty, but business opportunities took me out of Louisiana and into Michigan. Love the Saints and the SaintsReport. Thanks for everything you did for us during our tour of duty overseas.

1.) Do you see Jermane Mayberry back on the team in 2007?

2.) You told me back in August that Steve Weatherford would beat out Mitch Berger. I think he has done real well, what’s your take?

3.) Do you think we are still interested in Chargers MLB Donnie Edwards?

4.) Living in Michigan, all I hear about is Mike Hart. What’s your take on Hart and how about the little guy Garrett Wolfe from Northern Illinois?

5.) Why isn’t Payton using the tight end more in the pass offense? Drew really used Antonio Gates quite a bit in San Diego.

6.) You were right on about Jim Haslett and his lack of real good coaching skills as a head coach. You took quite a bit of heat from him and many from the “kissers” on this site about your criticism of his coaching methods. Do you feel vindicated now that everyone sees just how bad he was as a head coach?

Thanks for everything.




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Milt, glad to hear you are back home. Thanks for the nice comments.

1.) Jermane Mayberry will not be back on this club in 2007. To be honest, I think he has played his last game in the NFL. It was a huge mistake in signing him last spring and counting on him to be a big part of the offensive line for future years. Like everyone else who has played this game, his talent level and his ability to recover from injuries have been betrayed by Father Time. Father Time loses no battles. He will not be back in 2007.

2.) Steve Weatherford has done a very good job punting the football. He gets excellent hang-time, he gets the ball off quickly, and he is a good directional punter. It’s his consistency as a punter that really impresses me. Young punters and kickers normally have really big inconsistencies in their game and that is why you see so many bounce around the league. Give the scouting department a lot of credit here because Weatherford didn’t punt as well as a senior after Ron Zook’s staff tried to reinvent the wheel with him on his punting style. Sean Payton and special teams coaches John Bonamego and Greg McMahon, who coached him early on at Illinois, did a good job putting him back into his rhythm as a punter and he has done an excellent job. His strong leg and consistent nature have earned him an NFL spot and I really believe he has a chance to be a very good NFL punter for many more years.

3.) I think the Saints still like Donnie Edwards, but I don’t see them making a play for him before the trade deadline. It just doesn’t make any sense for the Chargers to deal him now. He has played extremely well, as usual, after missing most of the pre-season and demanding a trade. He is just a really good player who is on the wrong side of 30 years old and there is not a huge market for him via a trade.

The Chargers offered Edwards to New Orleans for a 3rd round pick, but the Saints only offered a 4th round pick and the Chargers rejected it.

Later the Saints offered a 3rd round pick, it has been rumored to be a 3rd in 2008, but the Chargers passed on that deal and I haven’t heard of any other trade talk about Edwards and the Saints since.

But, with A.J. Smith running the show in San Diego, anything is possible. Man, this guy is a real pip. Personally, as well as that Charger defense is playing, it would be foolish to deal off Donnie now unless a team paid above and beyond what he is worth as a 33-year old linebacker, but stranger things have happened in this league.

4.) Mike Hart is one hell of a college back. He is just a junior, but he is a tough little runner who runs with good power for a 5-8 ½, 197-pounder. He also has a real good burst of speed up field and he catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’s one of the top playmakers in college football, but he has had a past history of injuries and his lack of great size may have him downgraded by NFL scouts, if he decides to come out early. Remember that the Detroit Lions selected Brian Calhoun, a similar type runner from Wisconsin, early in Round 3. He declared after his junior season.

Garrett Wolfe in many aspects is similar to a less stout version of former UCLA halfback Maurice Jones Drew. Wolfe has Drew’s speed and his versatility and he can also return kicks. He is not as well built or as strong in-between the tackles like Maurice was. Maurice has done an excellent job running the ball for Jacksonville and at times, he reminds me of a younger version of Dalton Hilliard. I see the versatile and super quick Wolfe going early in the 3rd round. His lack of great size (5-7 ¼, 175 pounds) and some injury concerns will drop his draft status, but with so many teams using 2-halfback combination sets he would be excellent teamed up with a power halfback. His darting, “make-you miss” style of running and the ability to hit top speed quickly make him an interesting pick in Round 3, if he can stay healthy.

5.) Well he doesn’t have Antonio Gates in New Orleans and actually Marques Colston has become Drew Brees’ Gates in New Orleans. Coach Payton on his show last week, said he wants to get the tight end more involved in the passing game, but Ernie Conwell is more of a blocker than a real consistent receiver and Mark Campbell has not been utilized that much in the passing game either. I do believe that they will try to pump the football more to the tight end in the future, but to be honest Brees threw the football a lot to Gates because he was an All-Pro tight end who just had a knack for consistently getting open. Right now Colston, who has played terrific as a rookie, and is his version of Gates in New Orleans and he has used Reggie Bush as a receiver, just like he did L.T. in San Diego. Right now, it’s a matter of playing to your strength and the receiving skills of the tight ends is not a huge strength on this team when you consider the talents of Colston, Bush and Joe Horn in the passing game.

6.) I feel no vindication about what happened with Haslett because the fans and ticket buyers had to endure some really poor football play for the past few years. Jim had his strengths as a coach, but he was just not a real strong CEO and the team had little respect for his ability to hold the line with players and making them accountable. In one-on-one situations we got along very well, but he took his shots at me and I wrote and spoke what I felt should have been said. Jim really is better off being an assistant coach in the NFL, but I know he wants to be a head coach again.

While I am thrilled to see how this season has played early on, I don’t feel good that I was correct about Haslett. The fans and tickets-buyers had to watch some really bad football over the years though. There just was no consistency from this club and that shows a lack of focus and concentration by the coach and the players. I am just glad maybe a little football fate has been bestowed on this club -- it’s about time.

Take care, and I am sure glad you are back in states.




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Name: Burt, Jason

Handle: Burtifus

From: Baton Rouge

Comments:

Mike, thanks for taking the time out to answer our questions and all that you do for the site.

You've been skeptical of Stinchcomb's ability to play tackle (feeling he was more suited for guard) since we drafted him and you also felt that Jammal Brown's switch to left tackle was not going to work out. I wanted to get your re-assessment after the first quarter of the season since both have seemed to rise to the occasion. Have they performed that well or has the coaching staff made adjustments to cover up for their deficiencies?




<HR color=#a29b4f>

No problem, Burtifus. Enjoy chatting with the cats from the SaintsReport.

Both guys have performed much better than I thought they would at their respective positions. No question about it. It took a little time and patience, but both have played above what I thought they would. I was watching the Saints/Titans game with a former NFL coach and after one quarter of play he said, “they better move Jammal back to right tackle tomorrow, he looks awful at left tackle.” I think everyone who watched the line early felt that way also, but give this coaching staff some due and also praise them for their patience. They saw something in both Jammal and Jon confidence-wise that they would come around in time and it has paid off handsomely.

Listen, there has been some good coaching on this squad, but I have to give the guys their just due and say both have played well, particularly Jammal Brown at left tackle. He really did turn the corner as a left tackle during that Indy pre-season game. I will say this though, the most improved player from the Jim Haslett regime to Sean Payton’s has been Jon Stinchcomb. Many on that staff privately felt he was not good enough even to play guard in the NFL, much less tackle. Coaching has helped their development, but both players come to play hard each and every week. I am glad to be wrong on them after what I saw in the summer. The coaching staff really likes the long-term future of Zach Strief also. With Brown, Strief and Petitti in the fold, this could turn into a strength talent-wise and depth-wise, if they chose to re-sign Stinchcomb. That is something I could have never said in August.

Take care.




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Name: Robbie

From: Frisco, TX

Comments:

Mike,a few questions:

1.) Drew Brees has played really well this year. However, not much has been said about his lack of height and the more than usual blocked passes this year. Is this something that's been typical with Brees and should be expected?

2.) Do you see our defense (particularly the run defense) continuing to play like it has? Are these linebackers that good?

3.) Why isn't Montrae Holland playing? Does he still have nagging injuries or is Nesbit really outplaying him?

4.) How would you assess the young safeties' play so far this year?

5.) Have you heard anything about Michael Lewis? Will he be ready for the Baltimore game? If you're on PUP List, are you prohibited from practicing?

Thanks!




<HR color=#a29b4f>

1.) Drew Brees has played extremely well this season. It just amazes me how quickly he recovered from the shoulder surgery. In my 22 years covering the pro/college game the two things that jump out at me as the biggest changes are the raw speed of the game has been upgraded so much and modern medicine and the procedures to operate and rehab serious injuries has been upgraded tremendously.

When you consider how well and how quickly Brees, Deuce McAllister, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Rodney Harrison recovered from serious injuries, it is amazing.

Because of his lack of great height, Drew Brees will have a few more passes than the average QB knocked down at the line of scrimmage, but he makes up for it with his accuracy skills, touch and he is now getting excellent chemistry with his receivers. He is just a terrific leader also. Right now, you really couldn’t ask him to play any better considering the surgery, lack of extensive timing work with his receivers in the off-season and so many new faces along the offensive line. He has a nice over-the top delivery, and while he will have some passes knocked down, it is not a huge concern.

Drew is not the tallest quarterback around, but he is taller than Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young and Bob Griese and those guys are in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame. To be honest, Drew reminds me a lot of former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. Len also was a true leader, smart player out on the field, very accurate passer and he sprayed the ball around to a host of receivers also.

2.) I have a strong feeling teams will really go after the Saints defense running the ball. It has been back-to-back games with 100-yard plus rushers and I see opposing clubs going after that middle more as the season progresses. What I am surprised is that more teams have not attacked the Saints deep coverage downfield more. Now the Saints have gotten a pretty good pass rush early on, but I have a feeling with McNabb, Palmer, Roethlisberger, and McNair coming up soon that may change.

The linebacker play is been very solid and productive. Scott Fujita has played extremely well and Shanle and Simoneauu have played very solid against the run. They also have been quite productive in pass coverage. The tempo of most games have been set by the Saints defensive front four and these linebackers flow well to the football. The linebackers deserve plenty of credit for the defense’s turnaround, but the real key has been the play up-front by Will Smith, Charles Grant, Brian Young and Hollis Thomas. That group has tied up blockers and let the linebackers flow very well to the ball carrier.

3.) Excellent question. Jamar Nesbit has just outplayed him and earned the starting spot. Montrae Holland had injury problems early on in camp and Nesbit has played extremely well and won the starting spot. The play of both Nesbit and Jon Stinchcomb has been very solid and it has been the huge surprise this season. Montrae is in the final year of his contract and I don’t see him back here next season. Don’t be surprised to see him sign up next spring with the Carolina Panthers.

4.) The play of the young safeties has been very good early on in 2006. It’s a real shame, but it is part of the game that rookie Roman Harper was lost for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, but he was playing extremely well and matching up well in pass coverage. He was noted for his run defense skills and he has been aggressive in that category, but he really played well against the pass also and he was a ball hawk. He had a little trouble in Game #1 against Kellen Winslow, Jr., but he was really developing into a real strong rookie player before the injury. Omar Stoutmire is a real tough run defender, but he has never been noted for being a real strong pass defender and look for opposing clubs to try and match-up on him in coverage with a tight end.

Josh Bullocks is a good run defender and he is a smart playmaker against the pass. He will get beat sometimes deep because he is so aggressive against the run and he will bite on play-action plays, but he has good catch-up ability and match-up skills.

Bullocks is a really good football player and to be honest, the young safeties are the building blocks for the future along with DE Will Smith. Hopefully they can come to a long-term deal with Charles Grant, who says he wants to stay here. Again, he hasn’t signed anything yet and he wants blue-chip defense end money, but Grant has played very well this season now that he lost quite a bit of weight due to his workout sessions with Tom Shaw.

I was very impressed with the play of Josh Bullocks and Roman Harper (before the injury) and that twosome was a major part of the Saints defensive success early on.

5.) Michael Lewis is eligible to come back after Week #6 and if he gets medical clearance, he will be back on this roster. Michael had made a super quick recovery from the knee surgery, but then he had some infection set in and it put him on the shelf. Everyone says he is back and running very well and if he is healthy, I expect Lewis to be back on the roster as a kickoff return man and also at receiver.

Michael always felt the last few years that the he should have been used more as a receiver and I agree with that (and so did many of the defensive coaches on the Haslett staff). Now that Sean Payton is running the show, I see a healthy Michael Lewis more involved with the offense as a receiver and you just can’t get enough big-play weapons on offense. People that can change games due to their skills as a return man or receiver have to be utilized and I have a lot of confidence in Sean Payton fully getting the most out of Michael Lewis, if he is healthy. If he doesn’t have any setbacks with infections or extreme swelling in the knee, I expect him back on the roster. Aaron Stecker does a solid job as a kickoff return man, but a healthy Michael Lewis is a game-changer.

Being on the PUP list you can workout and practice with the team. It’s just a matter of getting the timing down with Drew Brees and taking care of the injury and getting the proper treatment. I know Lewis has a great desire to help this team and get back out on the field.

Take care, Robbie.




<HR color=#a29b4f>

Name: MobileSaintsFan

From: Mobile

Comments:

Mike, after the first quarter of the season, what do you see as the Saints biggest needs for the draft and free agency next year?

Thanks for all that you do!

MSF




<HR color=#a29b4f>

MSF, thanks for the kind works..

A lot on what will happen in the off-season will be predicated on who this team resigns or tries to resign. DE. Charles Grant, DT. Hollis Thomas, Jon Stinchcomb, MLB. Mark Simoneau, are all unrestricted free agents.

I really think the Saints would love to bring in a veteran linebacker, particularly in the middle if Simoneau leaves (they will probably go after Donnie Edwards-San Diego Chargers real hard in the off-season). I think they will use early draft choices on a cornerback, defensive tackle and wide receiver. Cornerback, or I should say cornerbacks plural, is an area I believe they will focus on in free agency and the draft. Payton comes from the Bill Parcells-school and he also likes big defensive linemen and offensive linemen with early picks.

With Joe Horn getting up in age and question marks on Devery Henderson, the team will probably use an early pick on a wide-out.

Right now I would say cornerback, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and wide receiver would be on top of the need list for the Saints.
 

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