After basking in the glory of a Super Bowl championship, it is time to look ahead to what our beloved New Orleans Saints need to do in order to repeat. The 2009 New Orleans Saints were flawed, perhaps more flawed than people are willing to admit. Their defensive front 7 was very mediocre, especially in the latter half of the season, and failed to prevent long gains by opposing rushing attacks. The Saints only garnered 35 sacks with one of the most blitz-happy defensive coordinators in the game. Several problems with our front 7 in ’09: Sedrick Ellis being out for several games, Charles Grant’s lazy and pathetic self, the lack of a nose tackle that could anchor the front line in order to allow Sedrick Ellis to make plays in the backfield, and a linebacking corps that is not very good at the blitz.
Guys like Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle, who are very solid leaders, are very intelligent players on the field, and rarely are they ever caught taking a bad angle; but they aren’t very good at getting after the quarterback, which is a key in Gregg Williams’ defense. Also, now that Fujita is gone to the Cleveland Browns, there is a void left at the OLB position. Finally, when the Saints jettisoned the lazy Charles Grant, who failed to register any effort in a very special season, they also left a void at left defensive end; the most primary need for this offseason.
NEEDS IN ORDER OF PRIORITY:
- Defensive End-With Charles Grant gone, and the lack of a consistent pass rush from the front 4, the Saints are left with Bobby McCray, Jeff Charleston, and Paul Spicer as the primary backups. McCray is known as a pass rush specialist but is very inconsistent against the run. In the playoff game against Arizona, on the very first play, the Cardinals ran right in his direction and scored. He also spent the majority of the past season hampered by back and hamstring injuries, preventing him from getting to the quarterback(until he turned it on against Kurt Warner and Brett Favre—lol). Charleston is a solid backup who plays with relentless motor and effort, but doesn’t have the physical tools to be a starter in the NFL. Paul Spicer is an aging veteran whose best days are behind him and probably will not be retained next season. The Saints were reportedly interested in ex-Rams’ defensive ends Leonard Little and James Hall. Both ends are on the downside of their careers and would probably be only situational pass rushers. In my opinion, the Saints should pursue a defensive end in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, and the guy I would really love the see in the black and gold is Brandon Graham. He has a high motor; and although he is slightly undersized, he is outstanding against the run.
- Outside Linebacker-With the loss of Scott Fujita in free agency, the Saints will need to find a man to replace him. There are several options that the Saints already have: Jonathan Casillas and Jo Lonn Dunbar. Both of these guys are very athletic and may be Fujita’s eventual replacement. The most intriguing prospect, however, is last year’s fourth round draft pick: Stanley Arnoux. The Demon Deacon ruptured his Achilles’ tendon on the first day of minicamp last offseason, ending his participation in the Super Bowl journey. Although it would be unrealistic to expect a redshirt rookie to fill the shoes of Scott Fujita, I do believe that he has the potential to become a good starter for us. If the Saints are not satisfied with the guys they have in the building, they can look at guys like TCU’s Daryl Washington or Georgia’s Rennie Curran as replacements in the second round.
- Nose Tackle-In 2008, the Saints drafted Sedrick Ellis in order to generate a consistent pass rush against opposing quarterbacks. The Saints have failed to address the need at nose tackle, however. They need a solid nose tackle that can eat up some blockers so that Sedrick Ellis can make plays in the backfield. It will also clear the path for linebackers to make plays in the run game and force the opposing team to become one dimensional. The Saints pursued ex-Chargers nose tackle Jamal Williams and ex-Panthers nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu, but they were taken by the Broncos and Redskins, respectively. As a result, the Saints need to address the defensive tackle position in the third round of the NFL draft, and give help guys like Sedrick Ellis and Jonathan Vilma reach their full potential.
- Corner/Safety-If Darren Sharper is brought back, this won’t be much of a need, but I do think that we need to groom an eventual successor to the ex Packer and Viking. Many pundits project Malcolm Jenkins to become a Pro-Bowl safety within the next few years, and if that is the case, the Saints will need another corner for depth.
- Backup Quarterback-God forbid, but if Drew Brees gets injured during a game, I would not trust Mark Brunell or Chase Daniel to lead the team to any victories. The Saints pursued Jake Delhomme, but eventually lost out on his services to the Cleveland Browns because they were giving him a chance for a starting spot. They must pursue a veteran quarterback with a good deal of experience as an insurance policy for Drew.
- Runningback-It looks like Mike Bell will be in an Eagles’ uniform next year, so the Saints will need another back to play the 3rd/ 4th runningback spot. If the Saints believe that Lynell Hamilton can handle the role, then they simply need to find a guy who can fill in if there happens to be an injury. The Saints will miss Mike Bell’s physicality and desire to run guys over, as it gave their offense a very physical dimension. Mike Bell was the one who swung the momentum in the Dolphins game in Week 7 this past season.
In conclusion, the Saints biggest needs are on their defensive front 7, and if they can find the right guys to fill the right spots, they have the potential to repeat and give a truly deserving fan-base another Super Bowl Championship. TWO DAT!