Saints News: 6.19.08

Actually a good amount of news today.

The New Orleans Saints official website gave us a little info about Reggie's trip to the UK. He is touring with San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, doing countless interviews and photoshoots. 

"It’s been a long process, but really fun meeting so many people here," said New Orleans’ running back Bush. "It is obvious that there is a lot of excitement here around this game and everybody has been interested to hear from us about every aspect of our sport."

"I have heard about Wembley and I am looking forward to seeing the stadium," said Bush. "One thing I am going to check out is the turf as it is important for a player at my position to be able to get good traction."

I was recently asked about the condition of the turf at Wembley Stadium by a CSC reader and I honestly have no idea what condition it's in. I believe they said after the game last season that they would make adjustments to prevent it from happening again. I also think the turf they played on last season was newly laid.

A panel from Scout.com answered a few questions from readers yesterday. Here are the questions and answers pertaining to the Saints.

Is Will Smith, as his contract would suggest, a top three or even five DE in the NFL?
—Nick from New Orleans

Ed Thompson: No. I'd place him in the top 10, but it's hard to see him in the top five, whether you look at his performance last season or even over the past three years. He's a highly talented player with plenty of upside, which is why he got paid so handsomely. But as of right now, I'd say he still lags behind players such as Minnesota's Jared Allen, Miami's Jason Taylor, Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, Buffalo's Aaron Schobel, and Green Bay's Aaron Kampman.

Chris Steuber: I think a lot of people forget about Will Smith, because he plays in New Orleans on a mediocre defense. But statistically speaking, he's been the Saints most consistent defensive performer and has averaged more than eight sacks a year during his four-year career. The Saints may have overpaid Smith a bit, but the contract he received is the going rate for a pass rusher with his ability. With that said, I don't think Smith is a top five defensive end in the league, he's close, but I'd say he's in the top eight.

Adam Caplan: While Smith is seen as a team leader and is certainly above average against the run, I wouldn't necessarily put him in the top-five of all defensive ends. You could make a case for him around the top-10 as a pass rusher.

Here are the ends I'd put ahead of him:

Jared Allen, Minnesota
Jason Taylor, Miami
Osi Umenyiora, N.Y. Giants
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay
Patrick Kerney, Seattle
Aaron Schobel, Buffalo
Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tennessee
Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis

Tom Marino: NFL GMs have put a premium on QBs, LOTs, DCs and outside pass rushers. Personally I don't think any of them are worth they money the teams are currently paying them, but the market obviously supports what the elite players are getting paid today. I believe Will Smith is a very solid player and among the top five to six at the position within the league. Without question he along with Charles Grant is the best combination within the league. I really liked Will as a college player (light years ahead of Vernon Gholston at a similar stage of his development).

Best combination in the league? More hype!

How are the defensive additions looking on the field and do you think the additions are enough to get New Orleans back in the playoffs? Will Jo Lon Dunbar compete for some playing time at weakside linebacker?
—Clint from Shreveport, La.

ET: I think the Saints helped themselves tremendously on defense. Sedrick Ellis is a monster, pure and simple. He's going to have some veteran offensive linemen wondering how they are supposed to stop this kid. Former Jags defensive tackle Bobby McCray was a very smart addition, as well; his versatility will be a big plus. I fully expect Jonathan Vilma to thrive in New Orleans' 4-3 defense as long as he doesn't have any further trouble with his knee. Tracy Porter is going to surprise a lot of folks, as well. I talked to a few wide receivers from this year's draft class who pointed Porter out as the toughest defender they went up against during their college career. As for Dunbar, I was stunned that he wasn't drafted. While I don't think it's realistic that you'll see him getting much time with the starters this year, I do expect to see him make the team and battling for a starter's role by his third season.

CS: The selection of Sedrick Ellis will prove to be the best addition the Saints made this offseason. Randall Gay and Jonathan Vilma were good additions, but Ellis has star potential written all over him. He's looked very good during OTAs and don't be surprised if he's a starter on opening day. Jo Lon Dunbar has a shot to make the team and will have to perform well on special teams. It all depends on how Dunbar plays during training camp and pre-season games to see if he will compete for playing time at weakside linebacker. The Saints have a lot of veterans at LB and Dunbar could be a player they groom for the future.

AC: One player from the offensive side of the ball told me recently he thought Ellis looked good during their OTAs. The expectation is that Ellis will be an impact player right away. As for Dunbar, he has to make the team first since he was an undrafted free agent. But the backup weak-side job still looks to be open so it's not out of the question that Dunbar makes the team.

TM: Clint, Jo Lon Dunbar was a steady college football player with limited physical qualities. The Will backer position is in most cases the most critical of the linebacker positions. At the outset, I don't think he runs well enough to play a "Will" backer position and if a college free agent was good enough to get playing time over established players (Shanle, Fijuta, Simoneau, and Evans), I would say they have some very big holes to fill in New Orleans. I would say his only chance to make it would be as a back-up special teams player. Vilma, Ellis and overpaid D.C. Gay should provide a big lift to the Saints' defensive unit.

Overpaid?

Here is the traditional synopsis of Jimmy Smith's live Saints Chat over at the Times-Pic.

On Colston.

I expect something will happen pretty soon with Marques Colston. Now that his agent, Joel Segal, has the Will Smith deal out of the way, he can focus his efforts with the Saints on Colston, who has obviously outperformed his original rookie contract. It’s time for the Saints to continue their efforts of stepping up and keeping their key players happy. It’s likely that will happen with Colston before training camp.

On LeCharles Bentley.

Now that LeCharles Bentley has gotten his release from the Browns, he’s free to negotiate with anyone. The problem is, however, that he’d probably want to come into a situation where he’s guaranteed to be the starter. Will that happen with the Saints? Don’t know. The position belongs now to Jonathan Goodwin. It would be difficult to guarantee a starting job to a player who has practiced just once since 2005.

On the wide receivers.

As it has been the last two training camps, NOLAKeith, the wide receiver position is going to be one of the most hotly contested of the summer. And from the looks of all these questions, it's going to be closely watched. Here's what I think is going to transpire this summer in Jackson: Marques Colston, David Patten and Devery Henderson will head into camp as the top three receivers. Robert Meachem is going to push hard for the fourth spot. Terrance Copper is a valuable special teams player who has the inside track for the fifth spot because of that versatility. I think six WRs could be a long shot, but Lance Moore is on the bubble right now. Skylar Green could make the roster simply as a return specialist. Arrington is a long shot, but has skills. If they could sneak him through the waiver process, he'll be a practice squad player.

On a possible Shockey trade.

A weekly update for all you Jeremy Shockey fans out there. As you've no doubt read, he was unhappy last week at the Giants minicamp. He's being guided in his unhappiness, no doubt, by his agent Drew Rosenhaus. But Shockey doesn't want to play with the Giants any more. Sean Payton loves what Shockey can bring to an offense. He's still the property of the Giants, however, and until a trade can be negotiated, he'll still be with the Giants. I don't think the Saints are through with their infatuation, however, and it's possible that up until the October trading deadline, anything can happen. So until that deadline comes and goes, there's still a possibility that the Saints could acquire his services.

On the running game.

Deuce, I believe, will be the starting tailback come September, TheGuy. That said, based on watching Pierre Thomas go through his paces last year on the practice field, I do believe he has the strength and tools to be a capable backup. There are still some guys in front of him, though. He'll have to move ahead of those guys in training camp to be the No. 1 backup.

On the Charles Grant situation.

Spoke with Charles' attorney this morning, Brian from VA, and there's nothing new on the case, no court dates have been set, and nothing appears to be imminent. This kind of schedule could disrupt Grant's presence in training camp or during the exhibition season, but the wheels of justice are turning rather slowly in Blakely, Ga.

On the cornerback position.

All these cornerback queries indicate that some of you have been reading this weekly chat. Still thinking that cornerback, and the secondary in general, is the weak link on this defense. I think the Saints will go into training camp with the cornerbacks who are on the roster. There shouldn't be any additions. Fred Thomas is no longer on the roster. It's tough to compare Porter and Gay. Gay is an experienced NFL player, Porter is a rookie. There has to be some concern right now that Mike McKenzie won't be full speed once he gets to training camp. He didn't have surgery until late December and sometimes it takes   a year to fully recover from ACL repair. Jason David's biggest challenge is his height, or lack thereof. He's not going to get any taller. And being elevationally challenged myself, I can say that. Right now, I'll have to put Jason Craft as the starter in McKenzie's spot and, for good or bad, Jason David, until someone beats him out in training camp.

On Skyler Green.

To answer all these queries, I think Green's best chance to make the roster is as a return specialist, though he did display good hands in the workouts we witnessed. He also showed he still has good speed. I don't think he's as fast as Devin Hester, but in the few special teams drills we witnessed, he is a good returner with good moves. Remember, though, these moves were executed in shorts and helmets. Let's reassess once they put the pads on. But he could upgrade the return game.

On tight end.

Having written a story last week on the return of Mark Campbell from his back injury, Chris, I believe the Saints running game this year will be greatly improved. Campbell is the best run-blocking tight end on the roster. We haven't seen anything of Eric Johnson because he has been limited because of recent ankle surgery. Ortega and Ghent, BirdMan, have looked OK in the OTAs but they'll be hard-pressed to top Campbell, Johnson and BIlly Miller. I still think the Shockey scenarios are alive.

This list  from ESPN is technically for fantasy, but it still should say something. They rated all 32 offensive lines in the league. Saints were ranked an impressive 9.

9. New Orleans Saints
The Saints allowed a measly 16 sacks last year despite Drew Brees' 652 pass attempts. Brees, who is exceptional at feeling the rush and getting the ball out quickly, deserves some of the credit, but obviously, his protection was exceptional as well. However, the Saints didn't do nearly as good a job opening holes for the running backs, who averaged just 3.7 yards per rush. This stark contrast obviously puts a ton of pressure on Brees and the Saints' passing game, but that group has stepped up quite well. Still, to be an elite offense, New Orleans is going to have to run the ball with more consistency. Jammal Brown is one of the top left tackles in the league, but the Saints lost Jeff Faine to division rival Tampa Bay. Jonathan Goodwin, who is bigger and more powerful at the point of attack, will take over at center, but overall, this is a downgrade, and Faine's nasty edge and leadership will be missed. Keep an eye on underrated RG Jahri Evans. He has a chance to develop into one of the best guards in the game today.

The news is so slow that the New Orleans Saints official website reported on the Voodoo themselves. For those of you, like myself, who follow the Voodoo, you know that the game at the Graveyard this Saturday is a must win situation. 

“If we win, we’re in (the playoffs),” VooDoo Head Coach Mike Neu said. “It’s as simple as that. We have a second chance at the same scenarios as we had last week. We have a chance to control our destiny, and we’re at home. That’s all we’re concerned about right now.”

“We control what’s in front of is,” Neu said. “The opportunity is sitting right in front of us and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

For those of you who have never been to a Voodoo game, Saturday is the perfect time to start showing some support.

Here are the Voodoo playoff scenarios.

The New Orleans VooDoo face numerous playoff scenarios this week. Four teams-New Orleans (8-7), Orlando (9-7), New York (8-7) and Cleveland (8-7)-are battling for three remaining playoff spots in the hotly contested National Conference. Philadelphia (12-3), Dallas (12-3) and Georgia (10-5) have clinched playoff spots. If the VooDoo makes the playoff, they would play next week in a wild-card game.

With a VooDoo win:
-New Orleans would host New York is the Dragons win.
-New Orleans would host Cleveland if the Gladiators win and the Dragons lose.
-New Orleans would travel to Orlando if the Gladiators and Dragons lose.

With a loss:
-New Orleans would make the playoffs of Cleveland loses and would then travel to either Philadelphia or Dallas. If Cleveland wins, the VooDoo are eliminated from the playoff race.

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