Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why is Mike Karney gone?

I was fortunate enough to say that I met Mike Karney once, in the Whole Foods grocery store off Veterans Boulevard (by the way Saints fans, Scott Fujita shops there too). The man I talked to that day was one of the more kind, inviting and personable people I have ever met. His smile was infectious, and it became very clear to me in mere moments why he was so loved by his teammates and the coaches. Oh, and he happens to be a pretty darn good football player too. Who can forget that game against the Dallas Cowboys where he found the end zone three times? Less memorable but just as crucial to the team's success was his ability to absolutely crush opposing would be tacklers. He is known throughout the league as a premiere run blocker. It's been well documented that he's a hard worker and a very positive influence on the Saints locker room. He was so close with Deuce McAllister that he served in his wedding and cried when Deuce went down with another major knee injury. So why on earth would they let a guy like this go?

Well, Karney is a throw back kind of player, caught in a very new wave type of offense. Sean Payton's play calling is all about finesse, trickery, deception and big plays. Mike Karney saw the field much less than he did under the Haslett regime, because the Saints bypassed the traditional offensive "I" formation for more 3 receiver or 2 tight end sets. What that meant was players like Billy Miller and Devery Henderson were seeing the field more, and Karney was seeing it less. There's also no denying that Karney isn't much of a weapon when his hands are on the football. He is incredibly slow, even for an NFL fullback, and that was a big part of his undoing with the Sean Payton offense.

The man that replaces Karney is Heath Evans. He is faster, quicker, has better hands (though Karney's catching ability was vastly underrated) and is still a solid run blocker. He's not going to crack helmets in half like Karney did, but he will be effective. What's most important, he's more versatile which means he'll be a better fit for this offense. When Evans is on the field, that doesn't mean the Saints won't pass. Karney's presence on the field was usually an indicator to other teams that the Saints might run the ball, and when he wasn't on the field it was clear they needed to watch Devery Henderson deep. Evans will tip the Saints' hand less just by merely being on the field, and he's a more capable inside runner than Karney which will come in handy on 3rd and short (because we all know that's a been a problem). Evans isn't going to solve our short yardage issues, though. He may be a decent runner, and a solid blocker... but he's not a better blocker than Karney. Our issues with short yardage can be blamed on both an offensive line more built for pass blocking (quick smaller guys with good technique, but aren't able to overpower) and the lack of a true bruising running back. That problem has not been fixed and likely will be an ongoing issue. Call it the price you pay for having the number 1 offense in the NFL.

So was this the right move? I'm torn and I'll answer it as: I just don't know. Evans is a good fullback, so I'm not going to say the Saints are major losers here. But they've lost a true leader, and a guy who was a great friend to almost every guy on the roster. Those guys are tougher to replace than we sometimes realize. Karney served the Saints very well, and his time with the team should be appreciated by fans. The NFL is a business, and Payton's reasoning seems rational enough... but boy it is hard to see him go, and the Rams really got a good one. He'll fit in great with their offense leading the way for Stephen Jackson, and I wish him all the very best. You will be missed Mike Karney.