Despite throwing for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdown passes last season, Brees is looking for some improvement this time around — mainly in taking care of the football. He tossed a career-high 22 interceptions a year ago and would be the first to tell you that's unacceptable. While injuries decimated his running backs corps, he didn't offer that as an excuse. Daniel won the backup job last season and has shown steady improvement.
The Saints finished 28th in the league in rushing with just 94.9 yards a game, a far cry from the 131.6 yards a game they ran for in 2009 en route to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV. But injuries derailed them last year and they are extremely excited to have a healthy Thomas back along with Ingram and Sproles. Chris Ivory, the leading rusher a year ago, may start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Collins made a name for himself in training camp with his willingness to block.
Graham, a former basketball player for Miami, played so well last year he made Jeremy Shockey expendable. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder possesses a rare combination of size, speed and leaping ability and is an inviting target for Brees — particularly in the red zone. Thomas is a solid blocker and excellent receiver who also lines up at fullback in some sets.
The Saints may not have the best receiving corps in the league, but they're not that far off. Brees would certainly agree as Colston, Moore, Meachem and Henderson combined for 228 receptions, 2,888 yards and 21 TDs last year and will be counted on to put those kind of numbers again. Each can cause problems with their ability to stretch the field in addition to causing problems with their ability to run after the catch when the defense takes away the deep ball and gives them the underneath stuff.
After having virtually the same offensive line for three seasons, the Saints will have a new look as Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, and Strief, a five-year backup, join the starting unit. They join forces with arguably one of the best guard tandems in the league in Evans and Nicks and Bushrod, who has performed admirably since stepping in at left tackle two seasons ago. The backups are largely untested in regular-season play and are being groomed for the future.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LDE Cameron Jordan, DT Sedrick Ellis, NT Shaun Rogers, RDE Will Smith. Backups — DE Turk McBride, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DE Jeff Charleston, DE Junior Galette, DT Tom Johnson.
The Saints came to the conclusion late last season that they needed some bulk in the middle of their line and some pass-rushing ability on the edge. So they added four players who they think can do that. Rogers, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, and Franklin should help slow down the run game, while Jordan and McBride are being counted on to help with a pass rush and bring some extra pressure to the quarterback after the Saints produced just 33 sacks a year ago. Ellis played at a high level last season and had a team-high six sacks, while Charleston and Galette bring more speed to the rotation.
With the exception of the steady Vilma, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, this area of the team is still in a state of flux. Casillas won a starting job last year in training camp but then suffered a season-ending foot injury. Herring was signed as a free agent and given a shot to win the strong-side job. But if he doesn't get it done, Shanle, a five-year starter on the weak side, could fit right in, while Wilson, a rookie who has size and speed, learns the ropes.
The Saints ranked fourth against the pass in 2010, thanks in part to the cover abilities of Greer and Porter and the heady play of Jenkins and Harper, who make up a formidable and hard-hitting duo. Robinson, a former first-round draft pick, will likely be the nickel with a year of experience under his belt while Patrick, a rookie who impressed early in training camp, is also trying to be part of the mix. Torrence and Amaya are capable backups.
After missing a chip-shot that cost them a game early last season, Hartley connected on 18 of 19 field-goal attempts — including 13 in a row — to end the season. A hip injury could hamper him, however, which is why the 41-year-old Kasay was brought in. Morstead averaged 45.9 yards per punt last year and can also be an effective kickoff man with his strong leg. Drescher handled the long snapping flawlessly in the second half of last season. Sproles and Roby, who are cousins, form a solid kick returning duo.
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