It was the draft class that laid the foundation for the Saints to become NFC West Champions... the class that took the Saints from pretenders to contenders. And most importantly, the class that began to help form the famed "Dome Patrol."
Bobby and I talked to Rickey Jackson today and he had this to say: "We had a lot of draft picks that year, and that was key. Bum did a great job drafting players. And we had a lot of players that were not really that known that came in and made our team better."
Five players from the class of '81 (RB George Rogers, LB Rickey Jackson, DE Frank Warren, TE Hoby Brenner & DL Jim Wilks) are in the Saints Hall of Fame, four of them played for 13 seasons in Black and Gold, and Rickey Jackson is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
18 players were taken in the 1981 NFL Draft by the Saints. Other players of note included CB Johnnie Poe, RB Toussaint Tyler, OG Louis Oubre and successful back up QB Dave Wilson. "I think Bum Phillips did a great job with that draft class," said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
When it comes to all time fan favorites, our own Hokie Gajan is high on that list. Gajan finished second in Saints History an average of 5.4 yards per rushing attempt, and in 1984 Gajan led the league averaging 6 yards per carry with a minimum of 75 attempts. Hokie's tenure with the New Orleans Saints organization is most unique. Since leaving LSU in 1981, Hokie has been with the Saints in one way or another for over 33 years. Hokie has been a player for the Saints, a team scout, and since the 2000 season, Gajan has served as the Saints Radio Network Color Analyst.
The Saints built their famed "Dome Patrol" defense around the 1981 NFL Draft. The Saints landed LB Rickey Jackson with a 2nd round pick, DE Frank Warren from Auburn was taken in the third round while the steal of the draft came way down in the 12th round when New Orleans selected San Diego State's Jim Wilks.
"They had to take on people and keep us free. Frank Warren and Jim Wilks were two of the best. They would both occupy blockers and allow us to make plays. I can remember Sam (Mills) saying how important it was for us to have Jim (Wilks) and Frank (Warren) in front of us," said Jackson.
All three (Jackson, Warren and Wilks) played for 13 years for the Saints defense.
The LSU Tigers won three of four games last week, including an SEC road series win over the Ole Miss Rebels. "The week got off to a good start for us with a win over Southern Mississippi. Then we were able to end the week on a high note with two wins over Ole Miss," said LSU Coach Paul Mainieri.
After the Tigers 13-5 win over USM in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic, LSU traveled through the night to Memphis. From there, the team spent some time at St. Jude Hospital. "It was a great visit. I think our team got a lot out of seeing so many kids at St. Jude."
The Tigers then took on Ole Miss in a three game series with LSU taking the first game 3-2 in 13 innings. "It was a tremendous win for us. And then, to shut out Ole Miss in the third game of the series really capped off a good week for the Tigers."
LSU became the first team to shut out the Rebels as the Tigers blanked the Rebels 2-0 on Saturday. Now, the Tigers have four more games on tap this week beginning Tuesday night with a rival game against the Tulane Green Wave.
The Tigers will be at home all week long as LSU welcomes in Tennessee this weekend for their SEC series of the week.
As the Saints prepare for the 2014 NFL Draft, over the next several days we'll look back at some of the great moments in Saints Draft history. This May the Saints will participate in the Draft for the 48th time.
Let's look at the picks of the Black & Gold. Previously the Saints selected 523 players in 47 college drafts. In addition, the Saints were allowed to pick from a select group of players in the 167 Expansion Draft. And, New Orleans landed three players including a member of the "Dome Patrol," LB Vaughn Johnson, in the 1984 USFL Supplemental Draft.
A few more interesting notes: the Black & Gold drafted more running backs (69) than any other position. Next in line, wide receivers--a total of 66. And, the third most drafted position-- 63 linebackers.
So, where do the Saints players come from? The Saints have taken more players from the University of Southern California (17) than of any other school. (16) Nebraska Corn Huskers have been drafted by the Saints, (12) Ohio State Buckeyes, (11) Notre Dame players and (10) from the Boomer Sooners.
And, what about the Saints first NFL Draft pick? On March 14, 1967 the Saints picked Alabama full back Leslie Kelly with the 26th pick in the first round. In that first ever Black & Gold draft, the expansion Saints were given the first and last choices of each round (17 rounds). And the Saints also got an additional choice at the end of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds of the Draft.
Later this week we will take a look at some of the early successes the Saints had with draft picks in their first few drafts.
Love them or hate them, the Miami Heat are still the team to beat! Miami is seeking to become the sixth team to win three straight titles. Consider the 52-54 Minneapolis Lakers, 59-66 (eight straight titles!) Boston Celtics, 91-93 Michael Jordan-led Bulls (did it again from 96-98), and the last team to win three straight was the 00-02 L.A. Lakers.
Miami is 16 wins away from making history. But who's the team most likely to derail the Heat from a three-peat? Is it the Spurs, Pacers, OKC, Clippers, or how about the up and coming Rockets or Golden State Warriors? I think the Western Conference playoffs are going to be some of the best by a division we've seen. The Eastern Conference is muddled with six teams whose record is in the 500 range, while over on the much stronger West, every team in the post season has won 60 percent of their games or more (the Mavericks are 49-33 - .598).
I picked the Spurs to take the title last season. Miami edged San Antonio 4-3 in seven games. San Antonio has rested their players and gained home court throughout the post season. Will the Spurs get one more shot to get it right?
Could you be thinking the Thunder from OKC? How about the CP3-led Clippers from L.A.? Golden State Warriors, or what looks to be the Heat's biggest obstacle in the East the Indiana Pacers. These playoffs look like they are going to be two months of great action.
I get one of those "man, I got to watch that" feelings when I think about the first round match-up between the Warriors and Clippers in the West post season bracket. Golden State and L.A. split the season series winning two games each. Both teams won their games at home. Could home court really play out here with the Clippers winning a game 7 in Staples? Or will Steph, Klay and the Warriors breakthrough and win a game in L.A.?
I'll give my take, my way. I think the Spurs will battle the Heat again and I again think San Antonio will win. But here are some other things I think about the NBA Playoffs. I think that the 2014 version of the Indiana Pacers is not as good as the team that took the Heat to seven games in 2013.
I think if there is one team in the Eastern Conference that might give the Heat a run for their money, it is the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn swept the regular season series, and the Nets roster features some big time firepower.
Chicago is a Rose (Derrick) away from making the Eastern Conference Playoffs tougher. Chicago is a dangerous #4 seed in the East and if they win their series with Washington they could be staring at Indiana, the team they love to hate.
So first round I say Spurs over Mavs in five, Houston takes out Portland in seven, OKC beats Memphis 4-2 and the Clippers prove that having a Doctor in the house makes a difference. Over in the East I'll take the Nets in six over the Raptors, Heat sweep Charlotte, Indiana clips the Hawks in five and the Bulls beat the Magicians 4-2.
In the Western Conference Finals, I say we will see the Spurs and Thunder and in the East and I'll go with the Pacers versus the Heat. Spurs and Heat make it to the Finals, and I as stated earlier, I'll again pick the Spurs to win it all.
I was a taped-off court and chilled champagne away from coming through on that prediction last time. That was about as close as you can come to winning without winning. But the Heat prevailed. If they do so again this year, they would only add more truth that LeBron James clearly is one of the greatest of all time!
Just two weeks ago LSU's baseball team was coming off a week of action in which they did not win a single game. Since then the Tigers won seven of their last eight games.
"We did not play our best, but we did what we needed to do to win the series. Anytime you can win a series in this league you feel good about yourselves," said LSU Coach Paul Mainieri.
The Tigers highest ranking is 7th in the USA Today coaches poll. LSU beat Lamar last week 5-0 followed by back to back wins over Arkansas defeating the Hogs 5-3 and 5-4. But the Hogs were able to win the series finale 10-4 over LSU. The Tigers have owned the Hogs in league play winning nine of the last ten series.
"Our players understand how hard it is to sweep an opponent in league play. We had a chance up 2-0, but we got off to a bad start in the last game. Things did not work out for us in that game because we got off to such a bad start."
The Tigers have four big games on the schedule this week beginning with the annual Wally Pontiff Classic at Zephyr Field Tuesday night against the USM Golden Eagles.
"Wally Pontiff Jr. was an outstanding young man who played at LSU. We keep his memory alive with this classic every year. Wally was a great person on and off the field."
LSU then heads to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels are currently in second place in the SEC Western Division with a 9-5 conference mark. Game one of the three game series is Thursday night…pre-game 6pm; 1st pitch 6:30 here on WWL - Tiger Radio.
Some of his passes were overthrown; others too short and he was only 11-of-28 in pass attempts, BUT after watching freshman QB Brandon Harris at the LSU spring football game, I came away impressed.
Certainly you have to realize Harris was in a controlled scrimmage and the team he faced was his own. However, the young man just got on campus in January…and a handful of months ago he was on the football field competing against high school talent.
I'd say inconsistent, erratic, rushed, nervous and confused are some descriptions of Harris' performance Saturday. On the flip side, what should get Tiger fans really optimistic about the future—Brandon Harris' ability to extend plays with his feet, his running style and the strength of his arm.
Now I'm certainly not saying it's a far gone conclusion that young Brandon Harris is going to be the starting QB for the Tigers, when they open the season in August against Wisconsin.
I am saying Harris has shown in a short amount of time that he has the potential to be a very good player. Who knows, maybe even a great player. 270 yards and four touchdowns are nice numbers in your first college football outing.
Coach Les Miles assessment is pretty much the same. "I think that things that you do in a game certainly are things you must recognize. He made some really big plays and nice passes, but he also made some mistakes. It was certainly reviewed very positively by us. We're a ways away, but there needs to be improvement in both spots. I really think he made four to five major errors in the scrimmage, but he improved through the adversity. If we can eliminate the mistakes and play to the advantages, that's what he's looking to do," said Coach Miles.
Coach Miles told me last week he liked the progress both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris made during spring drills. And with the instruction of a coach like Tigers Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU could be in better shape at the QB spot than originally thought.
Sure, there will be growing pains. There will be times when we all scratch our heads and say…WHY did Brandon do that? I also think that over the course of the next few seasons we will all scratch our heads and say HOW did Harris do that?
After seeing the young man play twice at Parkway High School, I thought quarterback Brandon Harris could come in and compete for playing time. But caution is much better served when creating expectations for players, who excel at the high school level. It oftentimes is not a predictor about performance on the college level.
With the nation's #1 player coming on campus very soon (RB Leonard Fournette); the nation's top rated Wide Receiver (Malachi Dupre) and record setting play of WR Trey Quinn, LSU could have the best young set of offensive weapons in the nation.
Experience seems to be all these young men need. And when they get those reps, that should net positive results for the LSU Tigers. It's only one game…a spring game at that, but I think Brandon Harris is a star quarterback in the making.
Big Chief's other notes:
Several things stood out in the Tigers L-Club Spring Game. The play of rising DE Danielle Hunter was impressive. Hunter recorded two sacks along with several pressures. Hunter gained attention last season with his quickness on the edge as a solid pass rusher and looks poised to have a breakout season.
LB Ronnie Feist was a tackling machine recording 14 tackles--all in the first half. The former West St. John Rams star has been out of site/out of mind his first two seasons in Baton Rouge. Could this be the year he stands out? He's got a lot of momentum going into the off season for sure!
Fellow linebackers Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander both had pick sixes for the Tigers D. And, WR Travin Dural could very well be the top veteran player at the position. With Dupre and Quinn coming this summer, Dural needed a nice showing before the nation's top freshmen come on campus. Five grabs, 130 yards and two TD's is a nice start.
Another true freshman stood out--Ed Paris. One of the nation's top high school defensive backs will play CB for the Tigers. Paris looked good in the Tigers secondary. He made a real nice play on the ball breaking up a pass early in the game. Paris should be another young impact player for LSU this season.
Miles said he's pleased with the progression of his QB's, Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris. "They are both competing at a high level. Anthony has done a good job of throwing the football. And Brandon Harris is a talented player. We are excited about their play."
The Tigers' spring game is this Saturday at 1pm. Our pre-game coverage (with myself and T-Bob Hebert) begins at 10am. Listen to my entire interview between with Les Miles by clicking below.
In his days of coaching the game, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has not often had weeks in which his team did not win a single game. "Wasn't much fun, I can tell you that. Let's hope we don't experience that again." Mainieri was talking about the Tigers 0-4 week in which LSU lost to Tulane 3-2, and then got swept on the road by the Florida Gators. LSU is now 20-8 overall on the season and 3-5-1 in SEC play.
Coach told me that one reason why his team is losing is due to lack of offensive production. "When your best hitter is not hitting well, you will struggle," Mainieri said, referring to Alex Bregman. Bregman, one of the nation's best players, is just 3-of-35 at the plate in SEC Games this season for the Tigers.
Mainieri said in no way is he laying the blame on Bregman or any one player. "We've had a couple bad days of pitching too. But let's give some credit to the teams we played last week: Tulane was able to get a big win against us and Florida is one of the most talented teams in the country."
The Tigers fell from the #4 spot in the Baseball America Top 25 to #18 in this week's poll. The Tigers have four more games this week. Wednesday, LSU plays host to McNeese State followed by a three game SEC Series against #9 Mississippi State.
"We have another tough week this week against McNeese and Mississippi State. I can tell you we are going to regroup and get ready for four games. We are glad to be home this week."
To Saints fans, there is no better way to start off than by saying “Who Dat!” Well, new Saints fullback Erik Lorig sounded off with a big “Who Dat” as he spoke with me and Bobby for the first time on Wednesday’s Sports Talk.
“I’m very excited to be a member of the New Orleans Saints. I am really looking forward to being a part of this franchise,” Lorig said. He signed a four-year deal with the Saints earlier this week after spending his first four seasons with Tampa Bay.
The former Stanford Cardinal told us that he’s not surprised that he is still in the NFL. “Yes, I thought I would last this long,” said the seventh round pick (253rd overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Lorig told me and Bobby how he was able to make the transition from defense to offense. Lorig played on defense in college and was moved to fullback when he joined Tampa Bay. Erik said that two of his nicknames include "E-Low" and the "Hebrew Hammer."
For more, watch me and Bobby talk about Lorig’s impact with the Saints in our video below.
How many times have we heard it said that "offense wins games, but defense wins Championships?" I'd say we've heard it a lot! When you look at the NFL, it could not be more evident than it is now. And when you dig deeper into NFC numbers, it's easy to see that if you don't have a legit defense, then your chances of getting to the Super Bowl are not good.
Sean Payton has clearly established himself as one of the best offensive minds in the game. We all have come to expect that the Saints offense will consistently rank among the league's best.
With that said, Coach Payton full well knows that having a solid defense gives his team a much better shot a winning another title. At the end of the 2013 NFL Regular Season, the top five defenses were all in the playoffs.
Defense is even tougher in the NFC; four of the top five defensive teams in the NFL are from the National Football Conference. New Orleans had an incredible turnaround, going from 32nd to 4th in just one season. If the Saints are going to get back to the Super Bowl, they will need to play even better on defense in 2014.
In the NFC Divisional Round, the Seahawks #1 defense faced a Saints team that had the league's 4th best defensive unit. And in the other conference semi-final game, the league's 2nd best defensive unit in Carolina squared off against the 49ers, who had the 5th best D in the NFL.
That brings me to the point of the Safety position. The Saints obviously felt like that was a position of need that had to be upgraded, as New Orleans addressed the position on the first day of free agency by signing Jairus Byrd.
The Seahawks and Saints had two of the best four overall defensive units in the NFL year ago, and both ranked #1 and #2 in pass defense as well. Seattle allowed on average 172 yards passing per game, while the Saints allowed 194.1.
By signing Byrd, New Orleans has upgraded a spot that saw a lot of improvement a year ago. Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd give New Orleans a physical presence in the secondary that is needed.
Let's be real, the Seahawks were a great defensive team in 2013, and at times they were down right nasty! And I mean nasty in a complementary way!
In his rookie Season, Vaccaro established himself as a high energy guy that likes contact. And now with the addition of Byrd, the Saints bring a player that is a ball hawking defender that excels in taking the ball away from opponents. Just last week, Herman Edwards, former Jets and Chiefs coach turned NFL Analyst for ESPN, predicted that Byrd would lead the NFL in interceptions in 2014!
Rob Ryan raised the bar, and now with the addition of Jairus Byrd playing alongside Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints will be expected to have one of the best defensive secondaries.
When you look back at what happened in 2012, what improvements were made in 2013, and what moves have already been made in the early stages of free agency... it's amazing!
The Saints defense, which was once a major concern for people when breaking down the Black and Gold, has become a key strength in less than a year's time. Will the Saints have another top four defensive unit this season? Only time will tell, but I know that before one ball has been snapped, one play has run, or one whistle has been blown, the Saints defense has gotten better.
And folks, it has been a long time since that was the case!