Training camp position analysis — New Orleans

BucsBlitz.com is committed to keeping its readers up on not only the Buccaneers but on the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today ends BucsBlitz's position-by-position analysis of Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. Today, it's the New Orleans Saints.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Drew Brees. Backups -- Jamie Martin, Jason Fife, Tyler Palko.

Brees is coming off an All-Pro season that few people could have expected when the Saints signed him in March 2006, mainly because he was just eight months removed from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. This year, the biggest question won't be about Brees -- but what happens if he gets hurt. If Brees were to miss significant playing time, Martin would have to carry the load -- a disconcerting fact for fans who see him as nothing more than a journeyman who could fill in for brief spells but not for a long period of time.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- HB Deuce McAllister, FB Mike Karney. Backups -- HB Reggie Bush, HB Aaron Stecker, HB Antonio Pittman, HB Jamaal Branch, HB Pierre Thomas, FB Kevin Dudley.

McAllister and Bush certainly proved that they could co-exist in the Saints' backfield after Bush became one of the biggest gifts in team history thanks to the Houston Texans. Sean Payton drew up a plan that would utilize the strengths of both backs, who figure to be better with a full year and an off-season under their belts. Stecker and Pittman, the first of the team's two fourth-round draft picks, could be battling in training camp for possibly one roster spot. Karney has proven to be a top blocker and was honored as a second-team All-Pro pick last season.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Mark Campbell. Backups -- Eric Johnson, Billy Miller, John Owens.

Campbell quickly became the team's top tight end when Ernie Conwell injured his knee and was lost for the second half of the season. Miller, who had been cut at the end of training camp, was re-signed, and, like Campbell, was a solid addition with his blocking and receiving. Johnson will be another big target for Brees, who was used to having one around when he was throwing to Antonio Gates when they played together in San Diego. Owens was a pleasant surprise as a mid-season pickup, but may find the competition to be a little stiffer this summer.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Marques Colston, Devery Henderson. Backups -- Terrance Copper, Robert Meachem, David Patten, Jamal Jones, Lance Moore, Dante Ridgeway, Rhema McKnight, Aaron Hosack, Tramain Hall.

The Saints will hold auditions in camp to find out who will fill the role as the No. 2 receiver behind Colston, the biggest surprise in the NFL a year ago as a lowly seventh-round draft pick who won a starting job and went on to catch 70 passes for the league's top-ranked offense. The speedy Henderson, as well as Copper and Meachem, will likely vie for the second spot. Patten, who was injured the last two seasons, will be trying to regain the form that made him a big threat for the Patriots, while Jones and Moore will try to earn roster spots after turning some heads a year ago.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jammal Brown, LG Jamar Nesbit, C Jeff Faine, RG Jahri Evans, RT Jon Stinchcomb. Backups -- T Zach Strief, T Jermon Bushrod, G/C Jonathan Goodwin, G Andy Alleman, T Rob Petitti, T Ben Archibald, G Dave Yovanovits, G Wes Sims, G Jake Kuresa.

This area of the team was one of the biggest concerns going into the season, but came out of it as the biggest surprise. Faine, who had struggled with injuries in his days with the Browns, came in and anchored a unit that allowed just 18 sacks in the first 15 games. Brown successfully made the switch from right tackle to the left side and came on to earn All-Pro honors after struggling early in camp. Nesbit and Evans, a little-known fourth-round draft pick from tiny Bloomsburg College, teamed with Faine to form an imposing interior wall.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Charles Grant, LT Brian Young, RT Hollis Thomas, RE Will Smith. Backups -- T Kendrick Clancy, E Rob Ninkovich, T Antwan Lake, T Rodney Leisle, E Josh Cooper, E Willie Evans, E Anton Palepoi, T Lance Legree, T Brandon Villarreal, T McKinley Boykin, E Jon Hamm.

The Saints shelled out a lot of money to keep their bookend ends intact when Charles Grant was given a monster long-term contract after being tagged with the franchise designation. Once again, he will team up with Pro Bowl pick Will Smith to give the Saints one of the top pass-rushing tandems in the entire league. Young and Thomas give the Saints a presence in the middle, but the club will have to do a better job of stopping the run in order to improve on their No. 11 total defense ranking. Clancy is expected to push Thomas, who signed a new contract in the spring, to greater heights.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Scott Fujita, MLB Brian Simmons, WLB Scott Shanle. Backups -- MLB Mark Simoneau, SLB Dhani Jones, WLB Troy Evans, MLB Trev Faulk, WLB Alfred Fincher, SLB Marvin Mitchell, WLB Desmond Sims.

Much like the offensive line, the linebacking corps was an unknown going into training camp last summer. This year, things are more settled with Shanle, Simoneau and Fujita working together from the start of camp. That doesn't mean, however, that you can count veterans Brian Simmons and Dhani Jones out after they were signed in the off-season. Simmons has a good shot at taking over as the starter for Simoneau, while Jones will try to make a splash as well. Evans and Faulk are other newcomers who will attempt to add some youth and athleticism to special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Mike McKenzie, FS Josh Bullocks, SS Roman Harper, RCB Jason David. Backups -- S Kevin Kaesviharn, CB Fred Thomas, CB Jason Craft, S Jay Bellamy, CB Usama Young, CB David Jones, S Steve Gleason, CB Anwar Phillips, S Chris Reis, S Curry Burns, CB Joe Porter.

Two of the team's off-season priorities were scratched off the to-do list when David and Kaesviharn were added to the roster during free agency. The Saints are counting on David to give them a solid cover corner and playmaker to pair with McKenzie after Thomas had a poor second half of the season last year. Harper returns from a torn ACL to lay claim to his starting strong safety spot, but Bullocks may get a challenge from Kaesviharn.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Olindo Mare, P Chris Hanson, LS Kevin Houser, H Jamie Martin, P Steve Weatherford, PK Brett Bergstrom.

Former Miami Dolphins kicker Mare takes over for the dependable and accurate John Carney, while Hanson will attempt to unseat Weatherford, a second-year pro. Mare possesses a strong kickoff leg, which should help the Saints' defense with field position battles. Houser has developed into one of the leagues' better long snappers over the years.

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