Team Report: New Orleans Saints

Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks said late last week that he expects to be throwing a football in two weeks and is on schedule to be at full speed for the start of training camp in late July.

Brooks underwent arthroscopic surgery on Jan. 17 to re-attach the infraspinatus tendon in his throwing shoulder, which was injured late in the first half of a 23-20 victory over Tampa Bay on Dec. 1. The infraspinatus tendon is one of four muscles that make up the rotator cuff.

Speaking last week with reporters for the first time since the surgery, Brooks says he was trying to remain patient and stay on schedule for his return.

"I'm trying to stay on course and make sure that everything is going well," the five-year veteran said. "I am not trying to get back too early and have a continuous problem and become injury-prone. I want to make sure that I take care of my shoulder and my body."

Still, Brooks admitted he was unsuccessful in trying to get Saints head trainer Scottie Patton to let him remove the sling from his shoulder a little earlier than scheduled.

Patton said Brooks is doing "extremely well" with his rehab, for which he reports to the training room at 7 a.m. every Monday through Thursday. He goes through a series of exercises with dumbbells, rehabilitation balls and rubber bands to stabilize and strengthen the shoulder.

Despite the first significant injury of his career, Brooks continued to play. But he wasn't as productive as he was before the injury, and the Saints lost three of the next four games after beating the Bucs and missed the playoffs.

"I can't second-guess myself," Brooks said. "I played as hard as I could. If I had it to do it over again, I'd do the same thing. I felt good going into the games. It's just that at certain times certain throws weren't there. I don't think I did anything to jeopardize the team."

Brooks, however, was booed throughout the Saints' 10-6 season-ending setback to Carolina that kept New Orleans out of the playoffs. Since then, Brooks, who is frequently seen at New Orleans Hornets' games, said he's received mixed reaction -- especially when he went to a local restaurant.

"I walked in and some guy in the back shouted 'boo,'." he said. "I had one crazy guy call my phone. I don't know how he got my phone number, but he called up and said '(former backup QB) Jake (Delhomme) is the man.' "I get those phone calls all the time. It is very frustrating. I would get my number changed, but that is part of my job."

The Saints' first minicamp is set for May 2-4, but Patton said how much work Brooks gets will be determined by how he progresses in the coming weeks. Saints coach Jim Haslett said that recently-acquired backup Todd Bouman (trade with Minnesota) would get the bulk of the work anyway because he needs it.

Team Notes:
--Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn is one of only a few players under contract who is not participating in the team's offseason conditioning program and is forfeiting a $100,000 workout bonus. Horn, who skipped the team's first minicamp last spring, is unhappy with the slow pace of negotiations on a contract extension. Horn's agent, Ralph Vitolo, is believed to be seeking a contract similar to the seven-year, $40 million deal that Denver wide receiver Rod Smith got last year. That contract included an $11 million signing bonus. Horn has been one of the league's most productive receivers over the last three seasons. Since joining the Saints as a free agent in 2000, he's averaged 88 catches, 1,305 and eight touchdowns per season. Horn will likely skip the Saints' first minicamp, as he did last year, if a new deal isn't struck by then.

--Strong safety Sammy Knight, who won't be re-signed by the Saints after he voided the final year of his contract, visited with Miami and Pittsburgh last week after receiving little interest in the first month of free agency. With the departure of Knight, a total of eight starters from the defense that helped the Saints win the NFC West title just three seasons ago are no longer with the team. Knight follows DT La'Roi Glover, DE Joe Johnson, LB Keith Mitchell, LB Mark Fields, CB Kevin Mathis, CB Fred Weary and FS Darren Perry out of town. "My feelings are it's kind of a repetitive thing," Knight said. "They let Sam Mills go. They let Wesley Walls go. They let Willie Roaf go. They let Joe Johnson and La'Roi Glover go. And they let Sammy Knight go."

--The Saints had veteran tight end Ernie Conwell in for a visit last week and planned to bring in Walter Rasby for a visit. The Saints need more depth at the position after Lamont Hall, who was primarily a blocker, signed a one-year contract with Atlanta.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The trainers did a great job of preparing me during the week. I thought I did well throughout the week and I felt great going into the games. I didn't feel like I jeopardized the team. I played as hard as I could. We just didn't get the job done as a team." -- QB Aaron Brooks on playing despite a shoulder injury at the end of last season.

Team Skinny:

CB -- You can never have too many cornerbacks and the Saints don't have anywhere near enough help at this critical position. The Saints have Dale Carter, Fred Thomas and Ashley Ambrose, who was signed early in free agency, but they lost UFA Ken Irvin, whom they wanted back, to the Vikings last month and need more quality depth.

S -- The Saints are in the market for safeties that can cover a lot of ground. More speed on defense was a major need last season and Sammy Knight just didn't give it to them. Second-year pro Mel Mitchell will get a chance to be a starter, but they need an experienced veteran to go with him.

TE -- Free agent David Sloan was brought in last season, but was inconsistent as a pass catcher. In all fairness, however, he struggled during training camp and throughout the season with a sore knee. Still, upgrading this position is a priority.



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Bryan Cox (he's a good leader, but that's hard to do from sideline; likely to be gone); C Jerry Fontenot (Saints would like to see him come back and continue anchoring the offensive line and Fontenot is comfortable with the club); S Sammy Knight (time in New Orleans is done; Saints feel he lacks range to play in space); G/C Bubba Miller (spent year on and off roster as he rehabbed a foot injury; shouldn't draw a lot of interest and Saints are expected to bring him back); WR Jake Reed (slumped down stretch; Saints may take a chance with brother Dale Carter on his own); DE Willie Whitehead (will get most outside interest among Saints' free agents they want back; they see him as a reliable, if unspectacular, performer).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Michael Hawthorne (tendered at $605,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation; Saints will look at him as a safety, but there are doubts about whether he can make the transition); FB Terrelle Smith (tendered at $605,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation; could draw interest from other teams, he can be a devastating blocker but not much else).

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: S Steve Gleason (tendered at $450,000); LB Roger Knight (tendered at $300,000); KR/WR Michael Lewis (tendered at $375,000); TE Boo Williams (tendered at $375,000).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: PK John Carney (UFA; $4.42M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB/$50,00 RB; 2003 cap: $905,000); LB Curtis Holden (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); RB Curtis Keaton ($605,000/1 yr); RB Fred McAfee (UFA; terms unknown); OT Scott Sanderson (UFA; terms unknown).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Ashley Ambrose (FA Falcons; $7M/4 yrs, $1.5M SB; 2003 cap: $1.13M); RB Tavian Banks (FA; terms unknown); P Mitch Berger (UFA Rams; $4.205M/5 yrs, $450,000 SB/$50,000 RB; 2003 cap: $837,500); QB Todd Bouman (trade Vikings); OT Wayne Gandy (UFA Steelers; $25M/6 yrs, $5M SB; 2003 cap: $2.833M); LB Orlando Ruff (UFA Chargers; $3.17M/3 yrs, $375,000 SB; 2003 cap: $825,000).

PLAYERS LOST: LB Charlie Clemons (UFA Texans; $6.7M/4 yrs, $1.3M SB); QB Jake Delhomme (UFA Panthers; $4M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB/$400,000 report bonus); P Toby Gowin (UFA Cowboys; $3.889M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB); TE Lamont Hall (FA Falcons; 1 yr, terms unknown); CB Ken Irvin (UFA Vikings; $4.5M/3 yrs, $1.2M SB); OT Kyle Turley (traded Rams).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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