New Orleans Saints notes, quotes

Saints coach Jim Haslett went into the exhibition season trying to find a happy medium as it pertains to risking serious injury to his regulars.<p>

He lost three players in his first preseason opener back in 2000 and, now in his fifth season as a head coach, Haslett was still trying to figure out the best way to approach games that don't count in the standings.

If you play the starters too much, you risk injuries that could impact your team for the entire season. Or if you don't play the regulars enough, you risk starting the regular season unprepared mentally and physically.

After losing three regulars in that first exhibition game, Haslett decided to treat exhibition games like practice sessions. He limited the playing time of his starters and rested every player with even the slightest injury.

But that attitude seemed to carry over to the regular season a year ago. The Saints started 1-4 and had to scramble all season just to finish 8-8.

So Haslett and General Manager Mickey Loomis spent the off-season plotting how to use their regulars this preseason and still have them sharp enough for the regular season. The starters are going to spend more time on the field together and the coaching staff will put in a full game plan for one of their opponents.

"We're just doing some things different to give us a better understanding of who we are playing," Haslett said. "We've been together for three years on offense now, and really our second year on defense as a group. The learning point of the defense is far ahead of where it has been the last three years, so we can concentrate on other areas."

Haslett said he talked with several other coaches in preparing his preseason strategy, but there was no consensus on the best plan. With the exception of two-time Pro Bowl running back Deuce McAllister, he played most of his starters for a little more than a quarter in a 23-13 exhibition-opening win over the New York Jets.

"If you hold them back and don't play your starters a lot, are they ready to play (the regular-season opener)?" Haslett said. "If you play them a lot and they get injured, then you're subject to scrutiny. You've got to get a feel for your team year in and year out and go with it." Camp closes Aug. 25.


--Loquacious wide receiver Joe Horn has kept a low profile during training camp, but he couldn't help himself after learning that Terrell Owens accused Horn of copying him in a magazine article.

In 2002, Owens pulled a pen out of his sock to autograph a ball after a touchdown. Last December, Horn retrieved a cell phone from under a goal post pad and tried to make a call to his children after a touchdown catch.

Horn said his stunt had nothing to do with Owens', he simply wanted to do something for his kids. Since it was a Sunday night game, he explained, they had to stay home in order to get up early for school.

"A Sharpie and a cell phone are 100 ways different from each other, and he said I was imitating him," an irritated Horn said. "I don't see how a Sharpie can imitate a cell phone. I wasn't trying to outdo Terrell Owens.

"So let's get the record straight," he said. "I love Terrell Owens, man, I'm not player-hating anybody. But don't come out of your mouth with something if you don't know why I did it."

--Haslett said middle linebacker Orlando Ruff, who started 10 games last season, has done a nice job in camp so far while playing a diminished role.

Ruff, a six-year veteran, played with the third team while Courtney Watson and Cie Grant got the bulk of the work with the first and second units during the first week of training camp. Ruff did play more with the second team when Grant was sidelined with a knee injury.

"We sat down and talked about it (before camp)," Haslett said. "What we were trying to accomplish is give every opportunity of Cie and Courtney to win that job, but Orlando's not out of it.

"We know what he can do," he said. "When you draft somebody in the second round (Watson) and draft somebody in the third round (Grant) and have the skills they have, they're fast and explosive, you have to give them that opportunity to play. When you stick them way down the depth chart, they're not going to have those opportunities."

--The Saints' exhibition opener with the Jets was the first game played on the Superdome's new Momentum Turf. The carpet was installed by the Ontario, Canada-based SportExe in the past month.

--The Saints last week topped the 50,000 mark in season tickets for the second straight year. In 2003, the team sold more than 53,000 tickets -- a club record.

Season tickets will be sold until the regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 12. The team is working on a streak of 30 consecutive home sellouts.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We always want to win, but the most important thing is for us to evaluate some of the young guys that we haven't seen." -- Saints coach Jim Haslett on his approach to the preseason.


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Montrae Holland vs. Jamar Nesbit for starting RG -- This continues to be a spirited battle as they take turns with the first unit. Nesbit has received reps with the starting group since camp opened and started in the Black & Gold Scrimmage, but Holland, a second-year pro, was in the lineup for the exhibition opener with the New York Jets. Nesbit, who has started 47 of 69 games in his career, can play center and both guard spots.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: James Allen vs. Sedrick Hodge for starting SLB -- Allen, a third-year player, continues to hold off Hodge, who started the past two seasons. Hodge is faster, but Allen is better at defending the run -- a top priority this season.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB J.T. O'Sullivan -- The third-year pro had a solid season in NFL Europe and it's carried over to training camp. He played most of the second half against the Jets and was 10-of-13 for 141 yards. He also had a good week of practice while getting some work with the second-team offense because of starter Aaron Brooks' strained right quadriceps muscle. ROOKIE REPORT: DE Will Smith (D1), who has shown lots of speed and quickness off the ball, had an impressive debut with a sack in the exhibition opener with the Jets. ... WR Devery Henderson (D2a) had one catch for nine yards against the Jets, but has impressed the coaches since ending his eight-day holdout. ... MLB Courtney Watson (D2b) has held on to the starting job in the middle and looks more and more like an opening-day starter. ... DT Rodney Leisle (D5a) is working with the second-team defense. ... FB Mike Karney (D5b) is a starter. ... LB Colby Bockwoldt (D7) has impressed the coaches with his speed and is making an impression on special teams while trying to get a few reps on defense.

INJURY REPORT: QB Aaron Brooks missed the exhibition opener with the Jets because of a strained right quadriceps muscle, but he's expected to be back at full speed this week and play on Saturday against the Green Bay Packers.

--MLB Cie Grant, who was expected to vie for a starting job, has missed considerable practice time with a hyperextended knee. Grant played in only seven games as a rookie last season because of knee and calf injuries.

--DT/DE Willie Whitehead, who has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since training camp started, continues to be bothered by a bone bruise on his right knee.

--TE Lamont Hall had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 7, but he hopes to return to the practice field this week after being sidelined for two weeks.

--SS Steve Gleason, who plays mainly on special teams, underwent surgery Aug. 3 after breaking his left thumb in practice. He hopes to have his cast removed in another week or two.

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