fan n (prob. short for fanatic)1: an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport) usually as a spectator. 2: an ardent admirer.
Saints Fan n (definitely short for fanatic) 1: an enthusiastic devotee of the New Orleans Saints; (see also: "longsuffering", "martyrdom", "persecution").
Welcome to the newsletter that chronicles the New Orleans Saints from the fan point of view. This correspondance began in 1981 as a series of letters to several Saints Fans who in turn, would copy and distribute it to others. Publication on the internet began in 1997.
This Time, It's About Depth
Dear Saints Fan,
No sooner than the final gun sounded to eliminate the Saints from the playoffs, speculation began about the upcoming season. What would the Saints have to do to improve their chances of advancing to the Super Bowl?
Unfortunately, the annual offseason debate about free agent moves and the draft derailed somewhat when the issue of team's future in New Orleans took center stage. Tom Benson insists that his franchise is at the bottom of the league when it comes to generating revenue and that the only place to go is up, or off the chart altogether. While acknowledging that the easy thing to do would be to sell the team to out of state suitors, Benson maintains that his primary objective is to keep the team in New Orleans.
A proposal from the State should be in Benson's hands shortly, but it will only be the first volley in the negotiations. Fans can only hope that a deal can be consummated quickly that will ensure the Saints' continued presence in New Orleans. Until an announcement is made, it will be business as usual for Mueller and Haslett as they continue to prepare for opening day.
The initial weeks of free agency have been quiet, especially when compared to last year's frenzy. Albert Connell was added to upgrade the receiving corps. The team is presently talking with defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and linebacker James Darling to add depth at those positions. With most of the starting roster intact, Mueller can concentrate on improving the roster primarily through the draft as he attempts to find solid backups on offense and defense along with key contributors on special teams.
The roster looks solid on both sides of the ball when the starters take the field. Mueller scored well in the draft and free agency last year and despite the odds transformed the team from bottom feeders into contenders over the course of a single offseason. There's still work to be done, but for the most part, the Saints are now in a position to fine tune the roster rather than face an extensive overhaul.
On offense, Mueller's priorities are backups at running back, fullback and tight end. It's also possible that another wide receiver could be added since this year's draft is especially deep at that position.
If Ricky Williams is forced to miss significant playing time again this year, the running game will flounder. Chad Morton adds an exceptional change of pace as a situation player to compliment Williams, but it would be asking too much of him to carry the load full time. Terry Allen, Jerald Moore and Fred McAfee did little to assure the coaches that any of them could be adequate long-term solutions should the need arise. A reliable running back to spell Williams has to be on Mueller's wish list this offseason.
When Terrelle Smith went down last year, the running game seemed to go with him. Brian Milne knows the position, but doesn't come close to being the type of lead blocker required in Mike McCarthy's offense. Whether Smith can return to form after sustaining a debilitating neck injury remains enough of a concern where the Saints will probably shore up the position with a middle round pick in the draft, or replace Milne with another veteran who can block.
Cam Cleeland is one of the best tight ends in the league when healthy. Unfortunately, he's been plagued by injuries since being drafted. The loss of Cleeland in the preseason last year was probably the most devastating blow to the offense since McCarthy's scheme was initially designed to rely heavily on the tight end. Cleeland's rehab is on schedule and he recently signed his tender with the club to insure his spot on the roster. But the team desperately needs another tight end to compliment Cleeland since his backups are comprised of journeymen Lamont Hall, Dave Stachelski and Austin Wheatley. It would not be surprising if Mueller uses a top pick in the draft to secure this extremely important position on the offense.
Joe Horn and Albert Connell should pose a significant threat to opposing offenses at receiver, Connell was described by Mueller as the Saint's primary free agent target. It is hoped that Connell will mirror the success Horn demonstrated following a change in scenery from his former team. The problem at wideout is at the third receiver position where Willie Jackson is testing the free agent market and Keith Poole is struggling to inspire the coaching staff. This year's draft is especially deep at receiver and it would be surprising if the Saints overlooked the opportunity to upgrade the position in the draft.
The line will return intact with Roaf, Williams, Fontenot, Naeole and Turley comprising what Jim Haslett described as the strongest unit on the team last year. However, Tom Ackerman is the only proven backup and second year lineman Tutan Reyes has not been tested in live action. Daryl Terrell is also on the current depth chart. Since it's unlikely that the team will expend a high draft pick for an offensive lineman who could start should the occasion arise, additional depth would have to be addressed through free agency. But this could be an area where Mueller decides to roll the dice with the hope that his line stays healthy and that Ackerman, Terrell and Reyes can fill in if necessary.
At quarterback, the only question is whether Blake or Brooks will win the battle to start. The two of them comprise the best quarterback tandem the Saints have ever had and reflect the most significant offseason moves Mueller made last season. The only chance at a new face will be at the third position where Jake Delhomme and Billy Joe Tolliver currently occupy space on the roster.
The starters also look good on defense although depth is needed across the board..
Joe Johnson, La'Roi Glover, Norman Hand and Darren Howard comprise one of the best defensive lines in the league. Unfortunately, none of them can be expected to play the entire game without a breather. The current backups at defensive end are Willie Whitehead, Marques Douglas and Bobby Setzer. At defensive tackle Jared Tomich, Martin Chase and Richard Seals round out the depth chart. While the staring unit is pro bowl caliber, this is arguably the weakest area of depth on the team. Mueller is attempting to sign Cortez Kennedy to spell Glover and Hand. Willie Whitehead is the only adequate backup at defensive end. Mueller would be exposing the defense to a tremendous risk if he cannot upgrade depth at defensive line. It will take an upper round draft pick or above average free agent to insure the level of play Haslett expects from this unit.
Linebacker may be the biggest question mark on the roster at this point in time. Keith Mitchell is the only starter from last season that is certain to return. Mark Fields has been asked to take a pay-cut, which he will reportedly refuse. Darrin Smith is being courted in the free agent market, although he could re-sign with the Saints. Charlie Clemons was projected as a starter last season before he went out for the year with injuries and has yet to be tested in full contact. Current backups include Donta Jones and Phil Clarke. Mueller recently brought free agent James Darling in for consideration, but he remains unsigned at this time. If Mitchell, Clemons, Smith, Darling and Clarke all answer the call, Haslett should be able to field an adequate linebacking corps. If any of them drop out, Mueller will have to find someone who can be expected to contribute immediately. It's doubtful that Mueller would elect to use any of his top picks for a linebacker, but he may be compelled to select more than one linebacker in the later rounds if the need remains on draft day.
The defensive backfield was projected as the weakest unit on the team last season, but ended up holding its own. Cornerbacks Kevin Mathis, Fred Weary, Michael Hawthorne and Steve Israel should all be ready to go in time for training camp. Corey Harris, Fred Thomas and Chris Canty will compete for backup roles. Sammy Knight will retain his starting job at strong safety while Darren Perry is at the top of the depth chart at free safety. Chris Oldham, Rob Kelly, Gerald Vaughn and Steve Gleason will back up the safety slots. While cornerback is a relatively secure position, Mueller will not overlook the chance to upgrade the secondary. The NFL is a pitch and catch league and the Rams still pose the biggest hurdle to securing the NFC West. The Saints could benefit from adding a talented cover cornerback and hard hitting safety to enhance the chance to repeat as division champs. Mueller will find a defensive back or two in the draft and some publications have the Saints selecting Fred Smoot in the first round.
Special teams will be upgraded in this year's draft to provide speed and numbers on punt and kickoff coverage. Mueller has nearly all of his draft picks this year and will use the mid to late rounds to find players that can ultimately be developed into starting positions while immediately contributing on special teams. Somewhat surprisingly, kicker Doug Brien was released in a salary cap move and the Saints will need to re-sign him at a lower price or find a replacement. The importance of the kicking game cannot be underestimated and it is hoped that Mueller will fill this spot with a strong and accurate kicker. This year's draft has more decent kickers available than in recent years so it wouldn't be surprising if Brien's replacement is a rookie.
The Saints should be a better team this year than last, but will also be facing tougher competition by virtue of a first place schedule. The key to success will be the ability of the players called upon to back up or replace starters as the season takes it toll. Hopefully, Mueller can duplicate the success he had last year by producing a roster that Jim Haslett can coach to a championship.
Until Next Time,
Revisit the chronicles that lead up to the present. Past editions of Dear Saints Fan can be found at the links below.
Dear Saints Fan 1999
Dear Saints Fan 1998
Dear Saints Fan 1997
Favorite Saints Sites
My personal favorite that includes daily news from all available sources along with an outstanding Fan Forum and Original Columns.
This site publishes Saints related articles from the Times Picayune.
A fantasy football site but also an up to the minute news and transaction section, Hot Off The Wire.
A link to the Associated Press football wire for daily news from across the league.
The granddaddy of fan run internet sites for Saints fans.
Multisport site with national slants on the Saints and NFL.
National coverage from various reporters.
The guys from your favorite cable station are also on the net.
Official NFL site with coverage of all teams.
The Sporting News
Weekly updates from across the league.
Pro Football Weekly
Great writers and slants on news and issues from around the league.
Deutsche Saints Fan Page
For all of our German speaking friends, Markus Burger has various sites linked and translated.
If you have comments or suggestions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
All marks, logos and images are the property of the New Orleans Saints, the NFL and NFL Properties. We are in no way affiliated with the New Orleans Saints or the NFL. All commentary and original artwork, ©1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by Frank Leon. All rights reserved.
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