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Online Saints Lines & Predictions - New Orleans Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 New Orleans Season Preview

2006 Saints NFL News - August 24th, 2006
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Certainly, Sean Payton must be a man who enjoys challenges. The former de facto offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, and before that the actual offensive coordinator of the New York Giants, had been mentioned in relation to

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several head coaching vacancies in recent years. Payton could have had the Oakland Raiders job when Norv Turner won it by default in 2004, but most NFL observers figured Payton was biding his time until the perfect opportunity came along.

The position of head coach for the New Orleans Saints is perfect by the standards of few, other than perhaps challenge-seekers like Payton. The franchise has exactly one playoff win in its history. The state of the organization is uncertain, given the rebuilding mode that the City of New Orleans finds itself in following Hurricane Katrina. If owner Tom Benson, who himself has always seemed a couple of tackles short of a four-man front, had his way, the team would probably be in San Antonio already. And no matter what they're saying publicly, behind the scenes you have to believe that the NFL and its owners have the Saints on the short list of franchises with potential to fill the vacant Los Angeles market. Oh, and did we mention that the team comes off a 3-13 season, tied for its worst mark since 1980?

Into this breach steps the 43-year-old Payton, who rides into town with a young but proven former Pro Bowl quarterback (Drew Brees), the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Reggie Bush), and the hopes of a community resting heavily on his shoulders. In an NFC South that figures to be one of the league's best divisions, Payton's climb, at least in the short-term, will be an uphill one.

Hopefully, for the sake of the Saints and their fans, he's up to the challenge.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the New Orleans Saints, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 3-13 (4th, NFC South)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2000, lost to Minnesota, 34-16, in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Sean Payton (first year with Saints, first overall)



OFFENSIVE STAR: Reggie Bush, RB (1st Round, USC)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Will Smith, DE (60 tackles, 8.5 sacks)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 18th rushing, 14th passing, 31st scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 27th rushing, 3rd passing, 28th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Green Bay (9/17), Atlanta (9/25), at Carolina (10/1), Tampa Bay (10/8), at Dallas (12/10)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Drew Brees (from Chargers), QB Jamie Martin (from Rams), RB Reggie Bush (1st Round, USC), WR Chris Horn (from Chiefs), TE Tim Euhus (from Bills), TE Mark Campbell (from Bills), C Jeff Faine (from Browns), T Jahri Evans (4th Round, Bloomsburg (PA)), DT Hollis Thomas (from Eagles), LB Scott Fujita (from Cowboys), LB Scott Shanle (from Cowboys), LB Jay Foreman (from Giants), S Roman Harper (2nd Round, Alabama), S Bryan Scott (from Falcons), S Omar Stoutmire (from Redskins)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Aaron Brooks (released), RB Antowain Smith (to Texans), RB Anthony Thomas (to Bills), WR Az-Zahir Hakim (not tendered), TE Shad Meier (released), TE Boo Williams (cut), C LeCharles Bentley (to Browns), G Kendyl Jacox (released), T Wayne Gandy (to Falcons), DE Darren Howard (to Eagles), LB Sedrick Hodge (to Dolphins), LB Courtney Watson (to Bills), LB T.J. Slaughter (to 49ers), LB Ronald McKinnon (not tendered), CB Fakhir Brown (to Rams), S Dwight Smith (released), S Mel Mitchell (to Patriots)

QB: After five-plus seasons and just one playoff appearance as the starter, the Saints parted ways with Aaron Brooks (2882 passing yards, 13 TD, 17 INT), who eventually made a deal to become the Raiders' No. 1 quarterback. Enter Drew Brees (3576 passing yards, 24 TD, 15 INT with the Chargers), who had back-to-back outstanding years with San Diego but ultimately couldn't keep former No. 4 overall pick Philip Rivers off the field. Brees comes off surgery to repair a torn labrum suffered in the 2005 regular season finale, but has looked good in the initial stages of the preseason. It appears that the No. 2 will be veteran journeyman Jamie Martin (1277 passing yards, 5 TD, 7 INT with the Rams), whose career looked to be over as recently as 2004 but wound up starting a personal-high five games with St. Louis last season. If Todd Bouman (722 passing yards, 2 TD, 7 INT) makes the team, 2005 fifth-round draft pick Adrian McPherson probably won't.

RB: The Saints' fan base was electrified by the team's unexpected selection of Reggie Bush (USC) in the April draft, and the do-it-all running back and 2005 Heisman winner is expected by many to bring a Michael Jordan-like quality to the New Orleans offense. He won't have to do everything himself at first, however, because Deuce McAllister (335 rushing yards, 3 TD, 17 receptions) is still in the picture. McAllister missed 11 games with a torn ACL last season, but is only 27 and should be able to regain most of his previous form. Aaron Stecker (363 rushing yards, 35 receptions) has started seven games over the past two seasons due to McAllister injuries, and remains valuable as a special-teamer. Fullback Mike Karney (10 receptions) was a 14-game starter last season and returns as well.

WR/TE: A major element in the Saints' 2005 decline was the work of No. 1 wideout Joe Horn (49 receptions, 1 TD), who was bothered by injuries for most of the season and turned in his lowest numbers since coming to New Orleans in 2000. Horn is 34 and on the downside of his career, but still has 75-catch, 1,000-yard ability if healthy. Former first-round pick Donte' Stallworth (70 receptions, 7 TD) just missed on the first 1,000-yard season of his career in '05, and represents a capable No. 2. The time is now for former second-round pick Devery Henderson (22 receptions, 3 TD), who was on the field some last season but has yet to make much of an impression. New Orleans brought in a slew of players, both experienced - Chris Horn (18 receptions with the Chiefs), Bethel Johnson (4 receptions, 1 TD with the Patriots) - and inexperienced - Chase Lyman (2005 4th Round, California), Mike Hass (6th Round, Oregon State), and Marques Colston (7th Round, Hofstra) - to compete for the final two or three receiver slots. At tight end, holdovers Ernie Conwell (13 receptions, 1 TD), Zach Hilton (35 receptions, 1 TD) and newcomer Mark Campbell (19 receptions with the Bills) have a beat on the top three jobs, though Conwell comes off offseason knee surgery and could yield his spot to Tim Euhus (3 receptions with the Bills) or Billy Miller.

OL: The biggest concern for the offense is up front, where staples like center LeCharles Bentley, tackle Wayne Gandy, and guard Kendyl Jacox all departed in the offseason. Counted on to anchor this year's unit will be 2005 first-round pick Jammal Brown, who moves from right tackle to left tackle after posting a promising rookie season, and former first-round pick Jeff Faine, who will start at center after three injury-marred years in Cleveland. The leading candidate for right tackle duties is 2003 second-round pick Jon Stinchcomb, who missed all of 2005 after tearing his patella tendon, with Jermane Mayberry, Jamar Nesbit, and Montrae Holland all vying for starting guard jobs. A couple of 2006 draft picks, Jahri Evans (4th Round, Bloomsburg (PA)) and Zach Strief (7th Round, Northwestern), are projects but could have to help sooner than expected on a thin line unit.

DL: The Saints went into last season featuring a pass rush that was considered one of the league's finest, but after combining for 29 sacks in 2004, the trio of Darren Howard, Will Smith, and Charles Grant registered a total of just 14.5 last season. Gone is Howard (33 tackles, 3.5 sacks), who was hurt for much of 2005 and mailed it in when he wasn't. That leaves Smith (60 tackles, 8.5 sacks) and Grant (62 tackles, 2.5 sacks) to lock down the end spots, with Tony Bryant (26 tackles, 4 sacks) and either holdover Jimmy Verdon or newcomer Rob Ninkovich (5th Round, Purdue) contributing pass-rushing depth. On the interior, Brian Young (51 tackles) and Willie Whitehead (35 tackles, 0.5 sacks) return, though free agent pickup Hollis Thomas (35 tackles with Eagles) and holdover Rodney Leisle will threaten for playing time as well.

LB: There are major changes here, as four players who started games last season - Courtney Watson (6 starts), Sedrick Hodge (12 starts), Ronald McKinnon (9 starts) and T.J. Slaughter (1 start) - have all departed. Colby Bockwoldt (89 tackles) is the team's only starting holdover, but he is no cinch to start. Free agent pickup Tommy Polley (96 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT with Baltimore) was penciled in on the weak side before injuring his shoulder in the preseason, thus opening the door for late preseason acquisition Scott Shanle (45 tackles, 1.5 sacks with the Cowboys) and undrafted rookie free agent E.J. Kuale. Alfred Fincher, a third-round pick in 2005, had the edge on the starting job in the middle over former Texans and Bills starter Jay Foreman. On the strong side, holdover Terrence Melton (28 tackles) and newcomer Scott Fujita (53 tackles, 2 sacks) will battle for starting duties.

DB: New Orleans has experience at corner, where Mike McKenzie (46 tackles, 1 INT), Fred Thomas (80 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT), and Jason Craft (37 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) all started games last season and all return. The secondary changes will come at safety, as Dwight Smith (72 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) was excised and Roman Harper (2nd Round, Alabama), Bryan Scott (67 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT with Falcons) and Omar Stoutmire (17 tackles with the Redskins) were all brought aboard. Harper and Stoutmire will compete for starting duties at strong safety, while Scott will be in the mix at free safety along with holdovers Josh Bullocks (67 tackles, 1 INT) and Jay Bellamy (10 tackles). Bellamy missed the final 13 games of 2005 with a shoulder injury.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker John Carney (25-32 FG) will be back for his sixth consecutive season in New Orleans, and punter Mitch Berger (43.2 avg.) is expected back for his fourth. Michael Lewis (17.1 kickoff return avg.) and Aaron Stecker (21.7 kickoff return avg.) are among the Saints holdovers with return experience, but both could yield those duties to Reggie Bush, who had four returns for touchdowns in three seasons at USC. Kevin Houser will begin his seventh season as the long snapper in New Orleans.

PROGNOSIS: The Saints did not have 3-13 talent last season, but the grind of their difficult, nomadic 2005 season obviously took a major toll on the entire team. With eight true home games and a great deal more stability, there is little reason to expect a similar meltdown in 2006, though rising from the NFC South cellar is going to be extraordinarily difficult. The Panthers and Buccaneers were both playoff teams last year and don't look any weaker. The Falcons crumbled under the weight of injuries late last season but look primed to make another run to the postseason this year. That leaves New Orleans, which will be featuring a new head coach, new schemes, and a ton of new personnel on both sides of the ball. Based on that transition, the Saints are the natural pick for fourth place, though they don't project as an easy out by any stretch of the imagination.

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