NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The monumental task of making over the Saints' roster continued at a frenetic pace last week, both before and after first-year coach Sean Payton put his team through its third and final mini-camp of the offseason. The team's ever-evolving roster was bolstered by the signing of veteran linebackers Jay Foreman and Tommy Polley and tight end Billy Miller as the three-day mini-camp began.
Then, the Saints acquired New England Patriots wide receiver/kick returner Bethel Johnson and Buffalo Bills tight end Tim Euhus to add depth and competition at those positions going into training camp next month. In obtaining Johnson and Euhus, the Saints unloaded a couple of underachieving players as defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan and middle linebacker Courtney Watson were sent to the Patriots and Bills, respectively. Both were high draft picks who never panned out with the Saints.
As a result of the moves, only 43 of the 92 players that are on the current roster were on the team or on injured reserve at the end of the 2005 season. Since then, the Saints have said goodbye to 18 veteran players while adding 18 veterans -- including 13 free agents and five via trade.
The moving of Sullivan and Watson is further proof that Payton, who has purged his roster of several key players and starters since taking the job on Jan. 18, is not afraid to get rid of underachievers -- regardless of name or what round they were drafted.The sixth player taken in the 2003 draft, Sullivan never lived up to expectations because of weight and attitude issues. He landed in former coach Jim Haslett's doghouse by the start of the 2004 season and never managed to extricate himself.
Even though he played a little better last year, he never was the player the Saints thought they were getting when they sent two first-round draft picks to the Arizona Cardinals to move up 11 spots. Sullivan's fate was probably sealed with sporadic participation in the team's off-season program this spring. He also had trouble with the heat during the mini-camp last week even tough he weighed about 25 pounds less than he did the previous two off-seasons.
Watson, a second-round draft pick in 2004, was plagued by knee problems during his two seasons with the Saints. He had arthroscopic surgery in 2004 and '05 and lost his starting job last year to Ronald McKinnon, who was not offered a contract by the Saints this spring.
--Quarterback Drew Brees was under the microscope when the Saints held their final three-day mini-camp last week. Brees, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in January, threw balls in public for the first time since signing with the Saints in mid-March. After resuming light throwing in April, Brees did not throw with full velocity and did not throw during full-speed team drills. But that was by design so he wouldn't become overzealous.
"That's when you stop thinking about everything else physical and you just go and play and react," he said. "I'm afraid that I would get out there and try to hose one in there when I'm not supposed to. It's not like it would hurt me, but it probably wouldn't be the smartest thing.
"I feel great. Obviously, I'm not throwing very hard. I'm just kind of flicking it, throwing it firm, but not overdoing it -- a lot of the short and intermediate routes, just to get a sense of the timing with those guys and anticipation."
--Also drawing lots of attention at the mini-camp were first-round draft choice Reggie Bush, who worked all weekend after missing parts of a rookie mini-camp in mid-May with a strained hamstring, and running back Deuce McAllister, who's returning from a torn ACL. Both worked with no problems. Bush, in fact, was back to full speed. The hamstring that was so tender it required Bush almost shutting down during the rookie camp no longer is a problem and he worked with the offense and on special teams.
"He's fine," said coach Sean Payton. "At the end of last week, he started going full speed."
--During the mini-camp, the Saints signed three NFL veterans in linebackers Jay Foreman and Tommy Polley and tight end Billy Miller to add depth and competition at those positions. Foreman, the son of former Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, is a seven-year veteran who has played with three teams. He played in one game with the New York Giants in 2005.
Polley, a second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2001, has played five seasons. He spent the 2005 season with the Baltimore Ravens, with whom he recorded four sacks. Miller is entering his seventh NFL season after playing for the Cleveland Browns last year, the Houston Texans (2002-04) and the Denver Broncos (1999-2000). He has started 22 of 73 career games and has 114 catches for 1,212 yards and seven touchdowns.
--Wide receiver Donte Stallworth, who was held out of mini-camp practices on June 3 because he was late for work, was sidelined for parts of the last of five practices. Stallworth, who had minor off-season shoulder surgery, at times stood around flexing his left shoulder. But coach Sean Payton wouldn't say if Stallworth, the subject of trade talks this spring, was being singled out. "There are certain things that we expect," Payton said.
"He (Payton) made his message clear when he first got here," Stallworth said, "and he doesn't want things like that to occur."
--Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, a four-year veteran, is still recovering from the ruptured right patellar tendon that ended his season last year early in training camp. Stinchcomb, who's alternating with Jamar Nesbit on the first team, appeared to be favoring the knee when he's running. But he was happy to take part in the mini-camp workouts. "It's been a long time since I've played some football," said Stinchcomb, a second-round draft pick in 2003. "I'm just trying to knock some rust off. It's good to be back out there. But I still have a ways to go. Just to be playing football, it's quite a blessing."
--With their mini-camps behind them, the Saints have only four more days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) scheduled for this week before they take a six-week break prior to the start of training camp in late July.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are no fixtures position-wise on this team. There are no staples, especially on a team that was 3-13. ... Upsetting the apple cart when you're 13-3 is one thing, but upsetting it when you're 3-13 is another, so I think it's easier to do with the latter." -- Saints coach Sean Payton after the team's final mini-camp.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): WR Az-Zahir Hakim; TE Lamont Hall; LB Ronald McKinnon.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: LB James Allen; TE Zach Hilton; OG Montrae Holland; WR/KR Michael Lewis; RB Fred McAfee; LB Terrence Melton; DT Willie Whitehead; DT Cedric Woodard.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: RB Michael Bennett; QB Drew Brees; TE Mark Campbell; TE Tim Euhus; C Jeff Faine; LB Jay Foreman; LB Scott Fujita; OG Jonathan Goodwin; WR Chris Horn; WR Bethel Johnson; C Dwayne Ledford; QB Jamie Martin; TE Billy Miller; LB Tommy Polley; S Bryan Scott; LB Anthony Simmons; S Omar Stoutmire; DT Hollis Thomas; WR Derrius Thompson.
PLAYERS LOST: C LeCharles Bentley; QB Aaron Brooks; CB Fakhir Brown; OT Wayne Gandy; LB Sedrick Hodge; DE Darren Howard; OG Kendyl Jacox; TE Shad Meier; S Mel Mitchell; LB T.J. Slaughter; RB Antowain Smith; DT Johnathan Sullivan; RB Anthony Thomas; LB Courtney Watson; TE Boo Williams.