Scout.com's Caplan analyzes the Saints

Recently, Scout.com's senior NFL reporter Adam Caplan responded to several questions about the New Orleans Saints, ranging from offseason moves to a season prediction. What did Caplan think of New Orleans' defensive moves, among others. Find out in this exclusive Q&A, with additional commentary from Saintsinsider.com's Matthew Postins.

1. The Saints had to make obvious changes on defense. Almost all of the notable additions came on that side of the football. Did the Saints do enough in your opinion and what was their most notable move?

ADAM CAPLAN: Including re-signing their own players, the Saints have beefed up their defense this year. Starting up front, re-signing Brian Young was key because of his leadership and versatility. Veterans Hollis Thomas, Young, Antwan Lake, and Kendrick Clancy along with first-round pick Sedrick Ellis should form a nice rotation.

The signing of DE Bobby McCray could help since they really didn't have anyone who could come in off the bench to provide a decent pass rush. McCray is a decent edge rusher who can provide pass rushing help in a situational role.

If Jonathan Vilma's surgically repaired knee holds up he'll be an immediate upgrade for their defense against the run. He was out of place in the Jets' 3-4 defensive scheme.

In the secondary, the addition of Randall Gay should really help at cornerback. He's capable of playing outside or in the slot and his versatility will be welcomed. The team is really deep at the position now with the additions of Gay and second-round pick Tracy Porter.

MATTHEW POSTINS: I think Vilma was the biggest upgrade. Remember what he did when the Jets played a 4-3 defense? He had 107 tackles his rookie season in 2004 and 169 in 2005. Then Eric Mangini's 3-4 came along and ruined it. If Vilma doesn't record 150 tackles in 2008 — granted he remains healthy — I'll be stunned.

2. Both Marques Colston and Jahri Evans enter 2008 with no contract beyond this season. Assess their importance to the Saints and can we expect the Saints to make a move to re-sign both before next offseason?

ADAM CAPLAN: The feeling is that both will be signed to extensions either during the season or before free agency starts in February of 2009. Both are very important to the development of the New Orleans offense.

Colston is really the only reliable receiver that they have on the roster and he's been great in his two seasons of play. Evans is one of the most dependable offensive lineman they have and like Colston, was a big surprise for the team coming out of the 2006 draft when you considered where he played in college.

MATTHEW POSTINS: I doubt Colston will want to leave now that Jeremy Shockey is a Saint. The former Pro Bowl tight end is going to do nothing but help the Saints offense and open up more chances for Colston to add to his gaudy numbers. The Saints would more likely to let Evans bolt. Rookie Carl Nicks will be his backup at right guard and will be locked up at a reasonable cost for the next four years once he signs his rookie contract.

3. Do you believe Deuce McAllister can approach his 2006 production, given his injury woes?

ADAM CAPLAN: They must get some power running out of him as well as some production in short-yardage situations. Reggie Bush has already proven he can't handle a lot of carries and still be productive. Being that McAllister had surgery on both of his knees earlier this year, he can't be counted on which is why second-year back Pierre Thomas could see more playing time than expected this season. He's the type of back that plays bigger than his listed size.

MATTHEW POSTINS: I love McAllister, but I would have to agree. The Saints should put their faith in Thomas until McAllister shows there's a reason to believe his knees are ready to play. A healthy McAllister could make the Saints a monster offense in 2008. But he's had too many injuries to count on him.

4. The Saints lost an important cog in center Jeff Faine. Jonathan Goodwin gets first crack at replacing him. How big a problem will that pose to the Saints if Goodwin doesn't produce?

ADAM CAPLAN: The only other alternative is Matt Lehr, who has started 48 games in his career. He has also seen time at center, but has mostly played guard. Also keep an eye on the left guard battle between the incumbent starter Jamar Nesbit and third-year pro Andy Alleman, who is on the final year of his rookie contract.

MATTHEW POSTINS: If Goodwin doesn't come through it will hurt the Saints' running game. Goodwin is 318 pounds, while Lehr is barely 300 pounds. A productive Goodwin inside gives the Saints a better push inside on running downs. They'll need that to make Reggie Bush productive. If the Saints must use Lehr, their rushing stats will likely take a dip.

5. Will the stability brought by the long-term contracts of Charles Grant and Will Smith have a stabilizing affect on the defense as a whole?

ADAM CAPLAN: It's good to have your two starting ends tied up long-term considering both provide good leadership. The one thing you would like is to see more consistency from the pass rushing duo.

MATTHEW POSTINS: I guess what we're asking is will the money go to their heads. Well, let's see. The Saints paid Grant a year ago and he missed half the season with an ankle injury. Before that, he managed only 2.5 sacks. Smith got his money this year. He led the Saints with seven sacks a year ago. The jury is definitely out. There's something to be said for motivation, though, and money has a tendency to stamp it out of players. If they play at a high level, it will permeate throughout the defense. But I'd like to see it on the field first.

6. Is this the breakout year for Reggie Bush?

ADAM CAPLAN: He seemed to regress as a runner, and a player who we talked to recently said he has problems hitting the holes that are opened for him. He keeps trying to break his runs outside, which was a problem for him at times in his rookie seasons. He really needs to be part of a two or three back rotation and showed last year that he's not capable of starting or handling a lot of carries.

MATTHEW POSTINS: He really missed McAllister last year, and his stats won't make a noticeable jump until McAllister, or a back like him, is in the lineup full-time. He needs that counterpoint. Now, what Bush has one isn't bad. He's averaged about 1,300 offensive yards per season. But he'll never be an outside runner, and if he's having the problems hitting the hole that Adam related, that could hold back his development. Even smaller backs have to be tough enough to hit the hole. I'd say his breakout is contingent on what's around him.

7. Of these three players acquired during the offseason, who will have the most significant impact — DE Bobby McCray, CB Randall Gay or CB Aaron Glenn?

ADAM CAPLAN: Probably Gay considering the problems they had at the cornerback position last season. McCray will also help in a situational pass rushing role and they didn't have any noticeable depth at the position before his signing.

MATTHEW POSTINS: I'm going to say on McCray because I think you might see the Saints use some three-end pass rushing sets this season, like the New York Giants, and McCray could be an adept inside or nickel rusher.

8. Can Pierre Thomas pick up McAllister's role if Deuce is unable to perform at his previous level?

ADAM CAPLAN: I have a feeling we may find that out sooner rather than later. In limited time last season, Thomas performed quite well and the fact that he beat out former fourth-round pick Antonio Pittman tells you how much they like him.

MATTHEW POSTINS: He's still not a big back, though, at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds. If McAllister doesn't make it back, I see the Saints going after a bruiser in free agency or the draft, no matter what Thomas does. There will be some big backs available, including the Giants' Brandon Jacobs.

9. What is the best-case scenario for the Saints this season?

ADAM CAPLAN: If the defense really picks it up and plays better than average, they can win the NFC South. Offensively, they need to find a second pass option besides Marques Colston and they have to run the ball much more consistently.

MATTHEW POSTINS: Adam wrote that before he learned of the Shockey trade. Now the Saints have that No. 2 option on offense and a revamped defense that's more athletic up front and on the back line. I see the Saints winning the division rather handily. If the defense improves the way the Saints hope, I can see them as a potential Super Bowl contender, even though the NFC is remarkably tough this year.


Adam Caplan is the senior NFL reporter for Scout.com. Matthew Postins is the publisher of saintsinsider.com.


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