The other side of the fence: New Orleans

We know the Panthers fans' point of view, but what does it look like from the other side of the fence?

In researching the Saints for the Panthers vs. Saints season opener, I contacted my friend David Eleuterius, (who runs WhoDatZone.com; a popular Saints website), hoping he could answer some of the questions I had about the Saints coming into the season.

PantherInsider: We've heard there is a new emphasis on the Saints running game. Explain what's changed.

David: The addition of Mayberry and Brown, along with another year of Bentley at center, will create running lanes for McAllister. Karney has another year in the system as a lead blocker for Deuce so the expectation is that McAllister will put up 100 yards every time out.

There is a new commitment to running the football to take the pressure off of Brooks, and I think this is going to be effective. While the right side of the line is going to be a factor, the signing of Antawoin Smith is going to be huge. He is a powerful straight-ahead style runner that I was initially skeptical about, but showed me in preseason he has a lot more in the tank than I, and probably many others, thought.

Unlike in years past where there was lip service to getting McAllister a rest during the game I think that will become a reality this season. Smith is good for 3-4 series a game and that will help keep McAllister fresh in the fourth quarter.

Also McAllister showed up in tremendous shape and that's going to pay dividends all year long. He looks explosive again and he's going to rip off some very long runs this season.

Stecker has settled into the third down back role and gives the Saints a dynamic option as a pass receiver. He's stronger than most third down backs but still has the speed to be a nice change of pace back that will allow the Saints running game some real depth for the first time in a long time.

PantherInsider: Johnathan Sullivan has largely been a disappointment for you, is he looking better this year?

David:
At the start of camp it seemed as though it was going to be lather, rinse, repeat. But Sullivan seemed to have take the criticism to heart because he is in great shape for the first time in his career, and is hustling and making plays. He may not be everything the Saints were expecting when they drafted him, but he is coming on strong and playing with fire.

Teams that think the middle will be wide open to run on might be surprised when running on the Saints is not as easy as advertised.

PantherInsider: What is the status of linebacker James Allen?

David:
He has sat out all of camp with a knee injury. Right now I think the Saints are set to move on without him at this point, or at least until he is ready to play.

Right now the starters will be Watson, Bockwoldt, and Hodge. Hodge is a complete waste of space in my opinion and shouldn't be on the team much less starting.

The best Saints linebacker in the preseason was Ronald McKinnon but in typical Haslett fashion he won't see the field probably until week 12.

PantherInsider: What is the status of Az-zahir Hakim?

David:
Sidelined with a hamstring all of camp. Again, I don't think he's in the game plan at all. The Saints are prepared to go forward with Horn, Stallworth, and Henderson.

If Henderson plays well, Hakim might not see the field much this season at all. I think Hakim is basically insurance at this point in case Henderson starts dropping the ball too much.

PantherInsider: What do you think the strong point will be for your team, offensively and defensively?

David:
On offense, the ability to cram the football down the opponents throat. Jammal Brown is a monster. He plays like a seasoned veteran and can completely destroy anyone he blocks. Anyone. Whoever follows Brown on a running play should at worst pick up 3 yards every time. He's that good.

For once, the Saints made the right draft decision for this trade up.

The ability to run the football at will will allow the Saints' play-action game to open up, and the Saints offense should finally live up to its potential.

On defense, it is two-fold. First the defensive backfield is tremendously improved by the return of Mike McKenzie, who gets his first full year in camp. He's instinctive and has a knack for jumping routes and making plays. The addition of Dwight Smith will give the safety position a huge upgrade as well because in him you have a safety with corner cover ability. He's smart, and can anticipate plays as well. Finally, the subtraction of Tebucky Jones is enormous. That single move alone would improve the defensive backfield by leaps and bounds.

The second part is that the defensive line could very well be one of the best in football, if not the best. Charles Grant, Darren Howard, and Will Smith will provide a pass rush threat, that when combined with the newfound improved downfield coverage, will result in many more turnovers - either by interception or by forced fumbles.

This defense will create turnovers on a regular basis and that will keep the Saints in every football game this season.

PantherInsider: Is this the make or break year for Brooks?

David:
Absolutely. The offense has been simplified and Brooks has been provided with an armband for play selection. There is a commitment to the run, and things couldn't be set up better for him. If he continues to make critical errors, his time is most likely up.

To his credit Brooks looks improved in the preseason and appears to be much more poised and calm. The biggest improvement he has made is stepping up into the pocket instead of spinning out of it (and usually being tackled for a big loss).

Also a factor in his improvement is that Stallworth looks very much improved. His time with the lobster claw last season (he had a broken finger for most of the season and he played through the pain) seems to have improved his ability to catch. Having reliable targets in Horn and Stallworth is important because far too often Brooks had very catchable passes dropped on him. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the quarterback bears the brunt of the criticism.

The stage is set for his success. All he has to do is show up and perform.

PantherInsider: Are there any match ups that scare you concerning the Panthers and Saints?

David:
The only thing I am really concerned with is the running game of the Panthers. I think that will be a true test because if there is one glaring weakness of the Saints it will be at defensive tackle and linebacker.

Two things that are of concern: how Sullivan holds up over the length of the game, and secondly, if Watson can actually shed a block and make a play. The biggest runs in preseason were when DT Howard Green (who has since been cut) was essentially swept aside and MLB Courtney Watson was completely blocked out of the play.

I think the Saints can apply a lot of pressure defensively. When that happens, Delhomme tends to force the ball, which plays into the Saints' strength of the defensive backfield.

The biggest concern isn't the Panthers really, but whether the Saints are ready to play after essentially having their home city destroyed. Focus is huge and so with that said, either the Saints will come out completely fired up to play, or flat as a pancake. There is no in between with this team.

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