Once again, I went one-on-one with our WWL resident pros Bobby Hebert & Hokie Gajan about STC Day 6: From the mouth of our QB #3:
Hebert on the Saints offense: “I thought this was QB Ryan Griffin’s best practice in a Saints uniform,” said the Cajun Cannon. “Back-up QB Seneca Wallace was out, so Griffin took advantage of the opportunity. Ryan Griffin made a number of plays. He looks real poised out there.”
Bobby Hebert said the Saints indoor practice tomorrow is something he’s sure players are looking forward to. “It was not as hot out there today, but it’s still outside. When practice takes place indoors it makes your body feel and perform better,” said our QB#3.
Bobby thought running back Pierre Thomas had the catch of camp so far. “Drew kind of under threw Pierre and he made an adjustment and came up with a one handed grab. I don’t know how he caught it, but he did,” said an enthusiastic Hebert.
Bobby on the Saints defense: Coach Rob Ryan was more vocal at practice this morning during drills. The defensive backs were going through a drill and Coach Rob Ryan was after his guys. “Coach Ryan was trying to get the best out of his players,” said Hebert. “The focus was on taking the ball away. Safety #41 Roman Harper had a shot at an interception, but dropped the ball…leading Coach Ryan to say ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’.”
Bobby’s question to Coach Payton: “Coach what is your take on the spread option?” The Saints head coach’s reply, “It’s here, especially in the NFC when you look at Carolina, San Francisco and Washington. During this past off season, even when we went through the coordinator search, we spent time with a handful of coaches on getting their thoughts and what they’re doing to defense against it (spread option). One of the key things that we do in our league each year is that there is some type of action and then a reaction in getting familiar with an offense or a defense. But I think that’s (spread option) one element that everyone is studying a little bit closer.”
Hokie’s Call - Hokie Gajan said after a lackluster start to this morning’s practice things heated up. “The nickel package with the four safeties showed some blitzes out there, said WWL’s Saints color analyst. “They were trying to get some pressure on the QB. I think that put some confusion in the mind of the quarterbacks this morning,” concluded Gajan.
Hokie said the confusion the defense is trying to create for the offense can also be confusing to the defense at times. “A couple of busted coverages out there showed that ole analogy that you live by the blitz and die by the blitz,” said Hokie. “It can be confusing on both sides of the ball. The offense burnt the defense a few times.”
Hokie’s been watching wide receiver Saalim Hakim….and after a hot start to training camp, #18 is coming off a few not so glamorous days of work. “He’s coming back to the pack so to speak. He’s cramped up at practice and he had a couple of drops. Peaks and valleys usually happen with younger players. We will see how he responds,” said the former Saints scout.
Hokie Gajan also likes the progress the Saints offense is making rushing the football. “One side does not want to be shown up by the other. I like the way the O-line is doing during run drills and I like the way we are running the ball. I think the offense is making strides,” said a not-so-easily impressed Gajan.
“The Big Chief” Deke Bellavia’s final word: Well, our daily conversation today was with wide receier Nick Toon. Toon certainly looks the part…a tall, slender player with enough bulk to get out of a jam on the line of scrimmage.
“I’m healthy,” Toon told the Cajun Cannon and me. “I’m more comfortable out there in the offense and I really feel confident right now.” Toon is entering his second season in the NFL. But, after an injury that sidelined him for most of the 2012 season, it’s almost as if the youngster from Wisconsin is a rookie again.
“Yes, it’s kind of like I had a redshirt season a year ago,” agreed Toon. “I was able to watch the game from a different angle. It was hard not to be out there with my teammates, but I do feel like I was able to learn a lot about the game even though I was not playing.” Check out our entire conversation with Saints WR Nick Toon on Sports Talk today 4 to 8pm on WWL (870am; 105.3fm; WWL.com, or of course, on your smart phone.
Who’s that? Okay, the Who Dat Nation is as educated about their team as any fan base on the globe. But, even the most diehard Saints fan might not know of the following players. A couple of guys who stood out at times during training camp have been #98 offensive linebacker Baraka Atkins and defensive ends #97 Jay Richardson and #74 Glenn Foster.
All three of these defenders are trying to make a name for themselves in hopes of landing a spot on the Saints roster. Atkins has been all over the field; he looks like a speedy ball hawking defender. Atkins played football at the University of Miami and he spent time on the active roster with the Seahawks and 49ers, before being on the practice squad with the Steelers and Cowboys. Keep an eye on Atkins; he could see a lot of playing time early on this preseason.
Jay Richardson has been in the league five seasons, after a nice career at Ohio State. Richardson has been impressive--beating the man in front of him in one-on-one drills more times than not. Richardson spent time with the Raiders and Seahawks active roster.
And Glenn Foster is another player to keep an eye on. Now I know it might be with the second and third team units, but when Foster is on the field, he’s making plays. The 6-4 285 pound defensive end from Illinois made plays in the backfield on running backs and he has a good first step when pass rushing.
Now I’m not saying that these guys are bound for the active roster. But, I think they may hang around a while during training camp.
He’s humble, thankful and grateful for his opportunity to continue to play in the National Football League. Saints defensive lineman Tom Johnson has traveled a long road to land with the New Orleans Saints.
“I’ve been in a lot of places. I just go out each day and put in hard work and let the chips fall where they may,” Johnson told me. From the Colts, to the Soul of the AFL, he has played in the Canadian Football League and is now back in the NFL.
It’s easy to see why a guy like Tom Johnson has been able to last as long as he has in playing professional football. Johnson was just as nice as he could be during our 10 minute conversation. We usually get some fun, entertaining questions when talking to players each day. Bobby and I like to see what the players like to do away from the game, like what is a players favorite food. And of course, we like to find out if a player has any nicknames. Tom Johnson has a couple of good ones. “When I was in college (USM) they called me ‘Big Smooth.’ They said I was a cool, mellow guy. And here in New Orleans they call me the natural. When I first got here, I caught on quick and they said I was the natural.
Tom Johnson has been all over the world in his path to playing defensive end for the New Orleans Saints. As a rookie in 2006, Johnson spent time on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. Then he dipped into the AFL to keep his professional career alive.
“I just kept working hard. I knew as long as I was playing I would have a chance to play for somebody,” said Johnson. He played one season in the AFL with the Philadelphia Soul, then traveled a long way from Hattiesburg to play in the Canadian Football League.
After one season with the Soul in the AFL, Tom Johnson traveled north of the border as he signed to play with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL. After his stint in the CFL, Johnson inked a three year deal with the Saints back in January 2011. In his first two seasons with the Black and Gold, Johnson has totaled 43 stops with three sacks. In 2012 Johnson played in 15 games recording 28 tackles and two sacks.
“Right now I’m getting more familiar with the play book and knocking off the rust. Everything is starting to smooth out and the defense is getting more aggressive.”
Johnson in entering his eighth season in professional football and he thinks he’s having a good camp right now.
“I think I’m doing all right. But I’ve got a lot of room for improvement. I’m working on getting the kinks out, getting my pad level right and exploding off the football. Pass rushing is a repetitive thing and getting your moves down is key.”
“Tom is a hard worker and he does everything we ask him to do,” said Saints defensive line Coach Tom Johnson. Tom Johnson is currently one of seven defensive ends on the Saints roster trying to make the team.
Johnson was injured at practice earlier this week, but the veteran DE is expected back on the field sooner than later according to Saints Coach Sean Payton. When it comes to the Saints defense this season, Johnson thinks the Black and Gold have everything they want to accomplish right in front of them.
“The sky is the limit. Right now we’re at the bottom. Right now we are in a good place, mentally and physically. Everybody is enthused about what we can do.”
And naturally, Big Smooth will be a part of the Saints defensive turnaround this season!
Once again “the Big Chief” Deke Bellavia went one-on-one with our WWL resident pros Bobby Hebert & Hokie Gajan about STC Day 5:
Bobby on the Saints offense: The Cajun Cannon says wide receivers Joe Morgan and Nick Toon were the standouts, “I thought this was Joe Morgan’s best practice. He had at least four good catches. Nick Toon also had a very good day. Toon caught the ball in team drills and he had some nice grabs in one on one drills.”
Speaking of one on one drills, Hebert says Jahri Evans is like a fine wine that only gets better with age. “You can see why he’s a pro-bowl type player,” said the Cannon. “Evans was dominant in pass protection drills.” Evans handled everyone he faced including defensive end Cam Jordan.
Who else impressed the former Saints quarterback? Bobby was excited about the Saints rushing attack. In the earlier nine on seven rushing drill, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles reeled off nice runs.
Hebert’s notes on defense:
Bobby thought defensive end Cam Jordan performed well in one-on-one drills later in practice. “I think Cam Jordan can have a double digit sack year,” beamed Hebert. “You can see he’s gotten better each season and he’s off to a good start this training camp.” Jordan’s biggest challenge according to Hebert? Facing guard, Jahri Evans.
Also impressive: DB Kenny Vaccaro. The Cajun Cannon loves his passion. The defensive back has shown he does not like to lose any battles. Vaccaro has been more physical than not at times and according to Bobby Hebert the Saints rookie top draft pick “has some swagger.” “He plays with a chip on his shoulder which is good,” Hebert said. Bobby thinks Vaccaro is going to be a legit defender in the NFL. “Ultimately time will tell, but right now he’s playing with confidence out there and not shying away from contact,” said the Cannon.
Listen for Bobby Hebert’s full take on STC (Saints Training Camp) so far today at 4pm.
Now, it’s time to get Hokie Gajan’s perspective on STC Day 5. As a former Saints running back and scout…and Saints color analyst Hokie’s got a special way of sizing up the team. Here’s his conversation with Deke: Hokie’s call – “It was brutal out there this morning; it felt like the hottest day of camp so far,” said Gajan. Hokie told me the Saints offense, which started camp a little rusty, is starting to come around.
“Watching the nine on seven (running drill) I saw a lot more out of the run game this morning,” said Gajan. “Running backs Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas all had nice runs. Without question a good outing for the offense in that drill. And, I thought the Saints O-line got the best of the D-line. The Defense had their moments, but I’ll give the nod to the offense in that drill.”
Hokie has been impressed by the play of Saints defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker. “He made his presence known in some games last year and to me it kind of looks like he’s ready to step up and get more playing time. He’s having an all around good camp,” observed Gajan.
Hokie also pointed out that WR Chris Givens had a nice day in one-on-one and seven-on-seven. And, punter/kicker Thomas Morstead was booming kicks this morning on special teams play. Hokie said the Saints ended today’s practice working on 3rd down situations. “Those are game like situations and at practice today in that period…the offense worked on screen plays and hook routes. “ Don’t miss Hokie’s complete breakdown today 4 to 8pm on Sports Talk live from Saints Training Camp here on WWL Radio.
The Big Chief Deke Bellavia’s Final Word:
Today we spoke to Kenyon Coleman. Coleman is entering his 12th season in the NFL this fall. Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan says Coleman is the best defensive end against the run in a 3-4 scheme.
“I’ve been with Rob a while now and I really enjoying playing for him,” said Coleman. Kenyon has high hopes for the 2013 Saints defense. “The ceiling is so high for us. We’ve got a lot of players with so much potential and if we all come together we can be a very good defense this season.”
Can I get a WHO DAT!?!
OK Who Dats, as we move through the fourth day of Saints training camp, our pros are keeping a sharp eye on the developments of what goes on each day out at practice. So here we go with Monday’s report.
The Cajun Cannon’s take:
Bobby saw another WR step up today in veteran WR Preston Parker. “Parker looked like the top WR today in one-on-one drills,” Hebert said. Parker hauled in a back-shoulder throw from QB Drew Brees. WR Nick Toon was not as fortunate on the same type of back shoulder play as Toon was not on the same page as Drew on that attempt.
CB Keenan Lewis stood out on one play. Lewis jammed up WR Joe Morgan, not allowing him to get open. “That was a great jam on the line by Lewis. I think he (Lewis) is having a good camp right now.”
DB Malcolm Jenkins was solid at practice today. Jenkins had good coverage on WR Courtney Roby and Jenkins also did well in coverage on WR Brent Leonard. Jenkins would later come up with an interception on QB Drew Brees.
LB Jonathan Vilma was beat in pass coverage. TE Michael Higgins went down the seam of the field on Vilma and hauled a 25 yard reception from QB Drew Brees. Other defensive notes from the Cannon include some love to Cam Jordan.
“Cam Jordan is really standing out. It seems like Cam wins all the time in pass rushing drills,” Bobby said. Jordan beat OG Jahri Evans on one exchange and did well again today overall at practice snuffing out a screen play later in the session. Will Smith beat OT Jason Smith in one on one drills and rookie OT Terron Armstead had a nice day.
“Armstead looked better today in pass protection.” Terron Armstead did a nice job in pass protecting as he got the best of LB Chase Thomas. DL Akiem Hick beat back-up Center Eric Olsen.
The Saints offense ran a reverse for the first time this training camp. Drew Brees handed off to WR Joe Morgan on the reverse for about 10-12 yard gain on the play. OLB Junior Gallette did a nice job of trailing the play downfield for the Saints Defense.
The Cajun Cannon also said that QB Drew Brees has been very accurate in full pads compared to the first two days when the Saints were in shorts and helmets. Brees hit TE Jimmy Graham for a 20-yard gain as Graham beat Martez Wilson on the play. Drew also hit TE Ben Watson for a 14 yard gain. And, QB Drew Brees threw a long ball to WR Joe Morgan for a 30-yard gain.
Day four of Saints Training Camp was not an eventful one, according to Saints color Analyst Hokie Gajan. “Nothing really stood out today to me. I’m not saying that practice was bad. It was just an uneventful day.”
Hokie was impressed with rookie OT Terron Armstead. During one-on-one drills, Armstead did a nice job of pass-protecting. “He (Armstead) got his feet set and did a good a real job one exchange. In that situation Armstead did about as well as anyone could do,” Gajan said.
Hokie said that DB Malcolm Jenkins had his best practice of camp thus far. Jenkins was solid in coverage this morning, and he picked off Drew Brees in the last portion of team drills. And, in what has now become a daily mention, WR Andy Tanner once again was his consistent self.
“He’s (Tanner) having about as good of a camp as you could ask for. It does not matter which QB is back there, Tanner comes up with the ball,” Hokie said. “It seems like every day we see Andy Tanner make plays.” Tanner hauled in a nice grab from QB Drew Brees and had more reps with the first team offense at today’s practice.
“Tanner might get some game snaps with the first team offense against the Chiefs. The Saints already know what Coltson (Marques) and Lance Moore can do, so this might be another great opportunity for WR Andy Tanner.”
And what has also become a daily mention is the play of OT Jason Smith. “I just don’t see any fire in him. He got beat a few times again today. For someone to be in a battle for a starting job, he just does not look real good right now.”
Coming up at 4:00 p.m. today, and all week, you can listen to Hokie and Bobby break down today’s practice here on WWL Saints Radio.
Day 3 recap - The Cajun Cannon says: "Overall, I thought it was back to business as usual for the Saints offense. The offense was more in rhythm and the defense did not stand out as much as they did on the first two days."
Who looked good: "Drew Brees was more like Drew Brees. Drew was more accurate today and he made several nice throws." Hebert said that the Saints offense came up big in the first three plays.
"The offense would have picked up about 50 yards on three plays. Drew hit TE Jimmy Graham and WR Lance More for some nice yardage." Bobby also praised the practice that back-up QB Luke McCown had. "Luke has had two good days in a row. I thought he threw the deep ball well and he has looked the best of the back-up quarterbacks the last two days at practice."
The Saints again ran the screen well, as RB Pierre Thomas picked up good yards on a screen play. Bobby also said that DB Malcolm Jenkins had good coverage on WR Courtney Roby.
Hebert also gave a big thumbs-up to WR's Andy Tanner and Nick Toon. "Tanner always makes plays. I have high expectations for Nick Toon and he did pretty good today."
WR Preston Parker hauled in a nice pass from QB Seneca Wallace, while DE Tyrunn Walker batted down a pass in team action. Saints Safety Roman Harper had a sack on back-up QB Ryan Griffin.
Bobby said that right now, one of his dark horse players to make the team is LB Eric Martin. "He could be the next Jonathan Casillas or Jo Lonn Dunbar. Martin is doing a good job against the run and he has rushed the passer well at practice."
From the mouth of the scout: Hokie Gajan watches practice in a way than no one else attending practice does. After all, Gajan has been around for over 30 years as a player, scout and analyst.
Hokie's priority on the first day of full gear was to check out the battle at left tackle on the Saints offense. The former #2 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft is off to a shaky start.
"Jason Smith has not impressed me at all. I just don't see that fire and I don't see a mean streak in him," Hokie said. Smith was a former first round pick by the St. Louis Rams that many consider a disappointment in the NFL thus far.
Hokie kept a close eye on the battle at left tackle on the Saints offense this morning. "Terron Armstead is looking like a rookie. He's indecisive at times and he's trying to pick things up like a rookie would." He also said that no one in the battle for the LT starting job stood out and Charles Brown also had an average day at the position this morning.
Hokie's highlights: Gajan said that WR's Nick Toon and Andy Tanner both did well at practice today. "Nick Toon has been working with all the QB's and that leads me to believe that he is developing a good working relationship. The QB's are starting to trust Toon more. And Andy Tanner just keeps on catching the football."
Gajan also praised the play of RB Mark Ingram. "He ran the ball well. Mark hit the hole with explosiveness and you could tell he made some nice cuts during inside drills."
Hokie also gave kudos to RB #29 Khiry Robinson, saying that Robinson continues to run the ball well and that #29 does a god job of blocking in pass protection on the Saints offense.
In the teepee with Big Chief: Well folks, I went to the other side of the field to check out the run offense versus run defense drills. And, I was able to check out every snap during the one-on-one drills between the Saints offensive and defensive linemen.
In run drills, LB David Hawthorne blew up two plays back to back. Hawthorne took on the led blocker on his first play that stood out forcing RB Darren Sproles to go outside.
Then on the very next play, Hawthorne shot in the backfield and would have had a tackle for about a two yard loss. #95 Martez Wilson blew by OT #78 Jason Smith, so did DE Tom Johnson. Smith did not fare so well in pass protection one on one drills, and that's putting it mildly.
#74 DE Glenn Foster came up with two nice plays in team drills. And LB #55 Eric Martin did well in pass rushing drills and was solid again in team action on day three.
Hall of fame sightings: Former Colts and Rams RB Marshall Faulk was covering camp this morning for NFL Network. Faulk got more jeers than cheers as autograph seekers let Faulk have it when he turned down signing items. Faulk was working. But fans thought he could have signed a few things. Hey, it was what it was!
Former Saint sighting: Former Saints DB Ashley Ambrose was at practice this morning. Ambrose played for the Saints in 1999 and again during the 2003 and 2004 NFL seasons. The former Mississippi Valley Delta Devil is now coaching DB's at Cal.
Up next: The Saints get back to work Monday at 8:50AM
He was given the name “heater” by his former teammates in Seattle. Why? Because of the heat David Hawthorne puts on opposing offensive units. Now, the talented linebacker brings his smokin’ hot defensive moves to New Orleans with hopes of helping the Saints defense turn the corner.
Last season the Saints “D” made headlines for all the wrong reasons. This season there’s optimism among the Who Dat Nation that their Black & Gold defense will return to post-season competitive form. David Hawthorne may be a key.
A year ago the Saints landed two linebackers, who were considered tackling machines. Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne were both coming off great seasons with their previous teams… Lofton a Falcon; Hawthorne a Seahawk. But Hawthorne did not live up to expectations. Statically, David Hawthorne had his second worst season as a pro, finishing with only 38 tackles. I got a chance to sit down and chat with Hawthorne. He believes this year in a Black & Gold uniform will be much different.
David’s excited about what he can contribute in the new 3-4 scheme and about the potential of the defensive unit. “I think the sky is the limit for us. We’re buying into what Coach Rob Ryan wants us to do.”
So, who is this guy who packs so much heat? After a solid career in college football with the TCU Horned Frogs, Hawthorne was picked up by Seattle. The undrafted rookie free agent earned a roster spot with the Seahawks in 2008. In his first NFL season Hawthorne played in 14 games with 12 tackles. Then in 2009, Hawthorne became a monster on the field.
David received his first start ever in week 3 (2009) replacing the injured Lofa Tatupu. Hawthorne recorded a combined 16 tackles and 1 interception. To say Hawthorne had a breakout season would be a gross understatement. The former TCU star raised his game from 12 tackles in ‘08 to a whopping 117 tackles in his second season in the NFL. Hawthorne developed into Seattle’s leading tackler. David was a tackling machine and he felt the magic as much as Seahawks fans did, “That game I was feeling it. I just felt comfortable out there and I really played well,” recalled Hawthorne. From ‘09 through ‘11, David Hawthorne averaged 113 tackles per season…117 tackles in 2009; 106 tackles in 2010; 115 stops in 2011. See what I mean…a machine!
Head Coach Sean Payton likes the versatility Hawthorne brings to the Saints defense. “We are going to start with David Hawthorne on the inside, but we will be smart enough to look closely about who is getting the snaps right now at the outside position. If we are a little deep inside, we may ask a player, such as Hawthorne to take reps outside. But, I think to begin with, him coming back off an injury and now he is healthy, I am anxious to see him inside and sink his teeth into this defense a little bit.”
Does David Hawthorne have a preference? “Right now I’m focused on playing inside. I will do what is ever asked of me. But right now my focus is playing on the inside. My goal is to help the team and compete every day.”
Hawthorne comes across as a congenial, respectable, confident guy…the kind of player fans and anybody who loves the game of football pulls for. That’s a good thing, because this humble man will wear Black & Gold jersey #57, and he is fully aware of the emotions attached. "It's some very big shoes to try and fill,” acknowledged Hawthorne. “I know how great a player he (Rickey Jackson) was and I just want to help do my part in making our defense the best it can be."
We always say…love New Orleans and New Orleans will love you back. Well, our new #57 is starting off right, “Man, I love it here. The people are friendly and the fans are incredible. I’m close to home and I really love being in New Orleans," beamed Hawthorne.
If the Saints defense turns things around and Hawthorne’s performance as a Saint matches his body of work as a Seahawk, the Who Dat Nation will definitely love him back!
email@example.com - Okay, the first two days of just shorts and helmets are over for the New Orleans Saints. Tomorrow the Black & Gold don full gear. But, before we get to full contact, let’s see what progress our WWL resident pros saw from Day 1 to Day 2 of camp.
Bobby Hebert’s P.O.V.
Hebert - what looked good: The Cajun Cannon thought the Saints offense bounced back nicely, after not looking so good the first day of camp. “I thought it was a productive day overall with the offense looking much better,” said Hebert. “I thought QB Luke McCown had his best day. He threw a number of balls that were on the money and he completed a nice long pass for about 50 yards to Lance Moore. Luke had a good day.”
Hebert - Which Saints players stood out: “Will Smith would have had a sack in the first team period and Martez Wilson had a sack in the last team portion of practice.” Bobby was also impressed by the play of wide receiver Saalim Hakim. Hakim hauled in a pass on a slant route and then outran the Saints secondary. “I thought linebacker Jonathan Vilma did an outstanding job in coverage. Jonathan was in the right position and he made a nice play. LB Roman Humber had another solid day. Humber caused a fumble and he did a good job in pass coverage.”
Hebert – What needs work? “I really think overall it was a good practice. It was not sloppy like yesterday. I think the offensive coaches as well as the defensive coaches have to be pleased with the production obtained on day two of training camp.”
Hebert’s BIG Saints question of the day: In his unique way, the Cajun Cannon asked Saints LB Curtis Lofton about his role as a leader on the Saints defense…and which player is responsible for calling the defensive plays in the huddle. Curtis said, “I think the situation with the defense is that you have two great guys capable of leading this defense. JV (Vilma) is going to take the helmet communicator. He (Vilma) will handle the secondary and I’ll handle the front. He doesn’t have an ego and I don’t have an ego. Our main focus and goal is to put this team in the best situation to win. And it’s been great working with him (Vilma).”
Hebert - Bring on the pads! Bobby says some things are hard to judge when players are not in full gear. Assessments will get clearer tomorrow. “When you don’t have on pads, it’s hard to tell how the linemen do against each other. And, it’s hard to see who gets to the quarterback fastest. When the team puts on pads tomorrow…the one-on-one drills among the linemen will be one of the things that I’m looking forward to seeing.”
Hokie Gajan’s P.O.V.
Hokie’s take on STC Day 2: “I saw a much better practice this morning,” said Gajan. “Things were crisp and a lot of the sloppy things that took place yesterday did not happen again today. “ The Saints Radio color analyst was happy to see a Saints offense with far fewer turnovers.
Hokie - Hard to evaluate: A former Saints player and scout for many years, Hokie prefers to see the team in full gear versus watching them in shorts and helmets. “I think it makes things more legitimate when they are in pads. It’s hard to tell if a player is making a sack or if he really got back in the offensive backfield that fast. When they have pads on it’s easier to evaluate.”
Hokie’s next looksee: One on one drills between offensive and defensive linemen is something Gajan is looking forward to along with the contact drills. “When the team works off rush offense against rush defense, the contact in those drills will give a much better indication of who’s getting the best of who.”
“The Big Chief” Deke Bellavia’s final analysis
Today I sat down with Saints LB David Hawthorne. Hawthorne came to the Saints last season, after three straight seasons with the Seattle Seahawks in which he recorded 100 or more tackles.
“I’m healthy and I feel like I’m in great shape. I just want to do what is asked of me and help our defense improve,” Hawthorne told me. David Hawthorne is a humble player that I hope works out here in New Orleans.
David was an undrafted rookie out of TCU, who became arguably the Seahawks’ best linebacker once he landed a starting role midway through the 2009 season. When I asked David how much better the Saints defense can be this season he smiled and said, “I think the sky is the limit for us.”
Hawthorne went on to explain why he thinks the Saints defense will be much improved, “We are all buying in. and Coach Rob Ryan has the players in the right place.” David also expressed how humble and grateful he is to be wearing jersey #57, which was worn by former Saints great and hall of famer Rickey Jackson.
Coaches say when it comes to grading players, it takes about three years to get a good gauge on their development in the NFL. 2013 marks the third season for Saints RB Mark Ingram.
“I’m in great shape and I’m healthy,” Ingram told me after the first day of practice at Saints Training Camp. Ingram enters year three as a Saints, after having two lackluster seasons in 2011 and 2012.
In two seasons Ingram has 278 carries for 1076 yards with 10 touchdowns, and he averaged 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. Former NFL Running Back great LaDainian Tomlinson says averaging more yards per attempt is something Ingram has to do.
“I think Mark is going to have to take a big step in being able to improve his yards per carry. When you look at Mark he’s only averaging 3.9 yards per carry. I would like to see him become more explosive and create bigger runs for that Saints offense. If he can do that, he will become a thousand yard rusher,” said Tomlinson.
Ingram told me he’s feeling as good about the start of this season as he has since he has been in the league. “I’m more confident in what I’m doing. I was thinking too much. I feel more comfortable in the offense now as well,” said #22.
Ingram had some of his better games in a Black & Gold uniform last season. Mark Ingram finished with 602 yards; 156 carries for an average of 3.9 yards per rush. But, if you add up a handful of games, Ingram put up some decent numbers.
I looked at Ingram’s five best games last season. Against Philadelphia Mark rushed with 44 yards in seven carries. Ingram had 67 yards against Atlanta and Oakland. He added 68 yards and 90 yards against the Giants and Bucs.
Now, in not one of those games did Mark Ingram rush for 100 yards. But, let’s look at his average yards per carry. In his five best games, Ingram carried the ball a total of 62 times. Mark had 336 yards in those five games. Now here are the impressive numbers. Mark averaged 5.42 yards per game in his five best performances last season. LaDainian Tomlinson thinks the Saints can be a good rushing team again with the bevy of running backs on the rostert.
“For the Saints, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing if Mark Ingram becomes a one thousand yard rusher,” said Tomlinson. “I still think you have to use Pierre Thomas, because he adds a dimension to your team and certainly you have to use Darren Sproles. I’m not too worried about Mark Ingram becoming a one thousand yard rusher.”
Sean Payton thinks this season is very important for his third year RB out of Alabama. “I know we have high expectations for Mark and he has high expectations for himself,” said the Saints Head Coach. “He is in great shape right now. I know he is anxious…being healthy, and probably I would say going into his third year as healthy and as good of shape as he has been (since being here). I expect him to be a big part of what we do running the football. We have veterans like Pierre (Thomas) and Darren Sproles. We have a young player like (Travaris) Cadet, but I think Mark (Ingram) is looking forward to this season. I think it will be an important year for him.”
Tomlinson told me that when it comes to running backs in the NFL, total yards rushing is nice. But the thing that matters most is average yards per rush. “That stat determines what type of back you are in this league. If you’re a below four yards per carry type of running back, I’m sorry, you’re not going to stick around very long, because the team is going to look for more explosive backs,” concluded the former pro who played 11 years in the NFL.
Obviously, the Saints must improve their rushing game. New Orleans averaged less than 100 yards last season. Ingram had more carries than any other back. And, the former star from Alabama was a first round pick by the Saints two years ago.
“He’s (Mark Ingram) going to be given the opportunity to be the guy in the backfield,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. “The Saints want Ingram to work out and do well. We need him to do well.”
So is this the year Mark Ingram breaks out? If it is, the Saints offense would have more balance. And when that happens, the Saints are awfully hard to defend and even harder to beat.
firstname.lastname@example.org - Our Resident Pros' Point of View!
Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. They say in life it ain’t braggin’, if you got it. Well, WWL radio, the flagship station of your New Orleans Saints, has something others just don’t have—a staff of former professional football players to break down the Saints performance all season long. Our resident pros--Bobby Hebert, Hokie Gajan and Steve Korte have a perspective others, who analyze this team, just don’t have. They’ve been there…done that…not only as NFL pros, but Saints players for a total of 27 years! Bobby led the Saints to their first playoff. Hokie Gajan was a beloved Saints fullback and scout. Steve Korte was a powerful Saints offensive lineman. So, they KNOW what they KNOW about NFL football, and they’ve walked a mile in the “cleats” of players like Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas and Zach Strief. They’re perspective is a truly all pro look at the Saints. And, I’ll throw in my take on the Black & Gold too.
Training Camp Day 1—Deke’s one-on-one with Bobby Hebert:
Bobby Hebert on practice: “The defense easily won the day. I thought the offense was sloppy.”
Why was the offense sloppy? “There was poor execution at times. QB Drew Brees and RB Mark Ingram mishandled an exchange on a handoff, and DE Cam Jordan scooped it up. Drew had a couple of interceptions today and he was high on some of his throws. You could see Drew was frustrated. Drew Brees was not as accurate as he normally is.”
How did the Saints defense easily win the day? “On the very first play of team drills, QB Drew Brees did an outstanding job making the defense jump off sides. But, Drew threw a deep pass for WR Joe Morgan only to see CB #28 Keenan Lewis pick off the pass.”
Note: Brees was later picked off by CB Jabari Greer. Greer made a diving interception as he was covering TE Michael Higgins. #20 CB A.J. Davis also came up with an interception, picking off back-up QB Luke McCown.
Hebert, “I believe the coaches really like A.J. Davis. He was in camp last year and he makes plays when he’s given an opportunity.”
The Cajun Cannon praises the Saints D: “Overall, the Saints Secondary had good coverage throughout practice, especially on deep balls.”
Note: LB #55 Eric Martin, who is a rookie out of Nebraska had a sack on QB Seneca Wallace on a bootleg play.
Hebert: “Martin got back there fast. He was up on Wallace before he could get his head around.”
What disappointed the Cajun Cannon: “When you have a chance to make a pick, you have to catch the football. If the ball hits your hands you have to make the play.” Hebert was referring to Saints DB Malcolm Jenkins who dropped a ball this morning.”
Note: In special teams work, Punter Thomas Morstead got off some real nice punts. The Cannon was impressed, “His punts were so high it caused WR Lance Moore trouble fielding the football.” Moore misjudged three of Morstead’s punts dropping one in special teams work.
What impressed Hebert: “WR’s #88 Nick Toon, #17 Chris Givens and #14 Andy Tanner did a very good job catching the football. It seems like you can talk about how good Andy Tanner catches the football every day.”
The Cajun Cannon praised the play of DB A.J. Davis and was pleased overall with the play of the defense on the first day of camp.
Bobby Hebert’s question to Coach Sean Payton: “Coach would you elaborate on the flexibility of players at the OLB position. Is LB David Hawthorne a guy who can play inside and outside?”
Coach Payton: “We’re going to start with him (David Hawthorne) on the inside, Bobby. But we will be smart to look at it closely to see who’s getting the snaps at the outside position and if we are a little deep inside, we may ask a player such as Hawthorne to take some reps out the outside position. But, I think to begin with him (Hawthorne) coming back off an injury…and now he’s healthy…I’m anxious to see him inside and sink his teeth into this defense a little bit.”
Training Camp Day 1—Deke’s one-on-one with Hokie Gajan:
Hokie’s Call on practice: “That first team session was a mistake filled session. There was a lot of sloppy play. It did not look like the Saints offense out there. The mistakes made by the offense really jumped out at me.”
Note: Hokie was surprised to see the Black & Gold offense make unforced errors…“I give the defense credit on the interceptions. But the mishandled snaps and the fumble on the handoff from Brees to Thomas are things that we are not used to seeing the Saints offense do.”
Bring on the pads: If you listen to the former Saints FB, who to his credit has 31 years tied to the Saints in some capacity, you know Hokie’s all business. Hokie says the first couple of practices are important, when the Saints get into full gear Sunday, the real action begins.
Gajan: “You hope getting the pads on will get the guys geared up. I would really gauge the opening of training camp when they (Saints) get into full gear. Coaches want players to put in good work all the time. But, when you’re not in pads, it has a different feeling to players in my opinion.”
Hokie was impressed by the consistent play of WR Andy Tanner too. #14 might not be the biggest or even considered one of the best, but over the course of the last few training camps Tanner has earned a lot of respect from people who’ve seen him play. “I can’t remember Tanner dropping the football,” said Hokie. He’s a guy, who just works hard and when his number is called he makes the play.” Andy Tanner made two nice catches for the Saints offense during team drills.
“The Big Chief” Deke Bellavia’s POV:
Well, Who Dat Nation, the first day was kind of typical. Fans settled back in to check out their Black & Gold for the first time…and it was a hot, hot, hot July morning. Bobby and I bumped into a fan, who made a long trip to see the Saints practice. As we finished shooting our post practice video for wwl.com, a gentleman approached Bobby and asked for an autograph. The guy said, “Man, I’m a Who Dat from Michigan.” He drove 14 hours overnight to see the Sains practice. Now that is a dedicated fan!
I spoke with RB Mark Ingram and I just get the feeling this guy will make a good bit of improvement. This is what he told me after practice, “I’m healthy and I’ve worked as hard as I can possibly work this off season.”
You know, in this game you either got it or you don’t. I think Ingram has always had it. Coaches say they usually don’t get a full indication about how a player will transition into the NFL, until he’s played three years. I thought Mark Ingram was a special player, when he was at Alabama…and now is his time in the NFL. I’ve been wrong before and will admit if I’m wrong again. But, I believe Ingram will do well. He’s healthy, in great shape and Sean Payton has a lot of confidence in #22. That leads me to believe Ingram will do better. Perhaps much better!
Until next time – Who Dat!
He is the father of the Who Dat Nation and the first QB to lead the New Orleans Saints to the playoffs. Yes, the 'Cajun Cannon' Bobby Hebert always has a lot to say, and he is strong in his opinions across the board. But like it or not, the fans, the players, coaches and yes the media too, all treat the CC like E.F. Hutton: When Bobby speaks, they listen!
So as we came back from a bit of a break, yesterday I talked to Bobby about what concerns him most as the Black and Gold begin training camp.
1. The defense has to improve: “They have to improve! You can’t be dead last. They won’t be dead last.” The Cajun Cannon says that the Saints have to improving in scoring defense. And the Black and Gold D has to force more field goals instead of giving up touchdowns.
2. You gotta protect Drew Brees: The left tackle position on offense is what the CC is speaking about as his #2 concern. For the first time since the 2009 season, the Saints will be looking for a new starting LT on offense. “I’m confident in all the other linemen and their experience. I think Zach Strief will bounce back and the middle of the line, Ben Grubbs will improve to.”
Bobby thinks training camp will produce the next starting LT. “Whoever it is, Charles Brown, Terron Armstead, they should welcome this challenge. And the reason why I say that is because Drew Brees will make those players better than they actually are.”
3. Who takes Victor Butler’s spot? Victor Butler was one of the more notable players the Saints acquired this off season. Butler was looking to have a breakout season, but the veteran pass rusher was injured during OTA’s and is out for the season. “They (Saints) were counting on Victor Butler. It’s a shame. But you have to have luck with injuries.” The Cannon sees another golden opportunity for someone to step up and make plays.
“You have to look at the glass half full. It’s a great opportunity for the likes of Junior Galette and Martez Wilson. Those guys were going to be in the rotation and now it’s about who’s going to step up.”
4. What will RB Mark Ingram do? “When you question, ‘who’s going to be the back…Who’s going to have that opportunity to get the bulk of the carries?’ I would be SHOCKED if that’s Pierre Thomas…Not that Pierre Thomas can’t do it, but I think they’re going to give Mark Ingram every opportunity to succeed. Now will he do it? I hope he does. We need to get our rushing attack back in the top ten. The year we won the Super Bowl, the year we won 13 games, we had the 6th best rushing attack.
5. Injuries and the Saints Secondary: With veteran S Roman Harper and CB Patrick “P-Rob” Robinson beginning the season on the PUP List, the Cajun One says that others have to come up big. “They know what they (Harper and P-Rob) can do. But you’ve got Kenny Vaccaro back there at safety along with Malcolm Jenkins. I think there is room for all three at safety.” The Cannon believes that the absence of Harper and Robinson to start the season makes the competition among the available players even more interesting as cam begins.
So there are five things to keep an eye on as the Saints being Training Camp. You can listen to the Cajun Cannon and Hokie Gajan give their professional take every day during Saints Training Camp right here on the home of the Black and Gold, WWL Radio.
Today on Sports Talk, live from Saints Training Camp: A live press conference starting at 5:30 with Saints Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, QB Drew Brees, and S Malcolm Jenkins.
Mark Schlereth, current NFL analyst for ESPN and former NFL offensive guard, visited with Bobby and me earlier this summer. The three-time Super Bowl Champion was talking to us about whether or not he thought NFL players deserved workers compensation if they were injured while playing in a game in a certain state.
While we had Mark on, we obviously asked him his thoughts on the Saints' 2013 season. Schlereth started off by talking about the impact that Saints Coach Sean Payton being back makes for the Black and Gold.
“I’m so excited for their opportunities," Schlereth said. "Obviously getting Sean Payton back is such a huge deal for the New Orleans Saints.”
Schlereth explained that having Coach Payton makes a big difference at every practice, and the Saints not having Coach Payton last season made a huge difference.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Saints had won a league best 41 games during a three-year span that included two NFC South Division Titles, four post-season wins and a Super Bowl victory.
Schlereth thinks that the Saints offense will only be better with Coach Payton back at the helm.
“Offensively the Saints have to be looked at as one of the top teams in the National Football League from an offensive standpoint,” he told us.
Schlereth pointed out that even without Coach Payton being with the team last year, the Saints still maintained one of the best offensive units in the league during the 2012 season.
Schlereth broke down the New Orleans Saints rushing the football. Schlereth, who was a part of three great rushing attacks while winning three world titles with Washington and Denver, full well knows the importance of being able to run the football on a consistent basis.
“They dropped down to 25th in the NFL last season rushing the football. And the one thing about the Saints under Sean Payton is that they have always run the ball well. When you look back to the Super Bowl season the Saints were sixth in rushing. And they have always been a solid running team under Coach Payton.”
Schlereth likes the way the Saints distribute the ball among their core group of running backs.
“I think a reason why they rush the ball so well is that they spread the ball through three or four backs and a lot of guys get to touch the football. But they still run the ball efficiently. The Saints are going to have to get back to doing that,” he said.
Schlereth then pointed out his concerns about the Saints going into the 2013 season. No matter who we interview or talk to, everyone has the same major concern about the Saints this season, and that is their defense!
“The problems that obviously we know, 31st in scoring defense, 32nd in total defense, and the Saints were last against the rush in the league, and they were second to last against the pass. And that is going to be the big question mark about this team. Can they rectify that (the defense).”
The former Redskin and Broncos Champion pointed out that the Saints getting back to rushing the football will help the defense in more ways than one. “Just running the football under Sean Payton will help the Saints defense. You spend more time in possession of the football and you can give you defense better rest.”
Even had Bobby and not asked about the Sean Payton factor, every former player, coach or analyst we talked to pointed out that the return of Sean Payton alone makes the Saints a dangerous team in 2013 in the NFL.
2012 was not a good season for the New Orleans Saints in several areas. Rushing the football at a high level was not an achievement made by the Black and Gold last season. The Saints ranked 25th in rushing yards per game in 2012 with a meager 98.6 yards per game.
The Saints commitment to rushing the football lacked a lot as only three teams in the NFL, none with winning records (Dallas, Jacksonville and Arizona) rushed the ball fewer times than New Orleans did in 2012. The Saints rushed the ball 370 times for an average of 23.1 attempts per game.
This off season our sports staff here at WWL Radio was able to talk to some of the most notable names when it comes to covering the National Football League. I went back and listened to our interviews and took out some of the more interesting comments made from the movers and shakers in the NFL Media.
In our conversation with Former NFL RB great LaDainian Tomlinson, I asked him to give us his take on the Saints Running Backs. Ingram talked about Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. Now we all have opinions, but I think it’s safe to say when you look at the resume of Tomlinson, his opinion carries a little more weight than others.
At the time of his retirement, Tomlinson ranked fifth in career rushing yards with 13,684, he was seventh in all-purpose yards with a total of 18,456, second in career rushing touchdowns 145 and third in total touchdowns with 162.
Tomlinson spent 11 years in the NFL and now he serves as an analyst on NFL Network. Here is what Tomlinson had to say about Ingram, Thomas and Sproles:
Mark Ingram: “I think Mark is going to have take a big step in being able to improve his yards per carry. When you look at Mark he’s only averaging 3.9 yards per carry. I would like to see him (Ingram) become more explosive and create bigger runs for that Saints Offense. If he can do that, he will become a thousand yard rusher.”
PT & Sproles: “But at the same time you can argue that he’s (Ingram) been held back a little bit because it’s a crowded backfield. Sproles (Darren) is going to get touches as well as Pierre Thomas. They are all going to get touches.”
On Ingram and spreading the ball around: “For the Saints, I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing if Mark Ingram becomes a one thousand yard rusher. I still think you have to use Pierre Thomas because he adds a dimension to your team and certainly you have to use Darren Sproles. I’m not too worried about Mark Ingram becoming a one thousand yard rusher…But he has to improve his average yards per carry. That stat determines what type of back you are in this league. If you’re a below four yards per carry type of running back, I’m sorry, you’re not going to stick around very long because the team is going to look for more explosive backs.”
The Saints will look to get back to rushing the football at a high level this season much like they did back during the 2011 season, when the club averaged 132.9 yards rushing per game, ranking New Orleans 6th in the NFL in rushing.
Rushing the football on a consistent basis will not only benefit the offense, but will help aid a defense that needs all the help it can get. And when you look back at the seasons when the Saints ran the ball effectively, Sean Payton became even more dangerous when it came to calling plays.
Let’s face it, when the Saints run the ball well, it is nearly impossible to slow down their offense. I expect a strong emphasis on getting back to rushing the football with more consistency to be something to keep an eye on during training camp.
OK, the final phase of my 2013 SEC Preview ends with the two teams that played for the SEC Title last December in Atlanta. The UGA Bulldogs and the reigning SEC Champions Alabama Crimson Tide are still the teams to beat going into this season.
Georgia outplayed LSU in the first half of the 2011 SEC Title Game and then got blown away in the second half. The Bulldogs then played ok in the first half against Alabama last December before coming from behind to give the Tide all they could handle. Could 2013 be the year the Dogs get it done?
You know when it comes to Alabama I could sit here and tell you all the things about the champions that everyone else has said the last several seasons. But I’ll take a line from Rocky II. When the second fight between Apollo Creed and Balboa was scheduled, Rocky was asked if he had anything derogatory to say about Apollo. Balboa simply replied oh yea he’s great!
Georgia Bulldogs (12-2) – Going into the 2011 season Mark Richt was squarely on the hot seat as his Bulldogs program was sort of at a crossroads. Then after a 0-2 start things got even more iffy and shaky in Athens.
Since that 0-2 start in 2011 UGA has won 21 of their 22 last regular season games. And Georgia has been in the last two SEC Title Games. Maybe the third time will be the charm for these Bulldogs. UGA has the best returning QB in the conference, a solid group of talented skilled players to support their QB. And most importantly the Dogs return all five of their interior Offensive Linemen.
Georgia did lose eight quality players including some of the conference’s best defenders a year ago. But many would argue that those players did not reach their full potential. However, even with only three returning starters on defense back, I think the Dogs have plenty enough on offense to take up the slack.
Georgia averaged 38 points per game in 2012 and I don’t see why those numbers at the very least, can’t be equaled this season. As far as the scheduled is concerned, the Dogs have two toughies to open the season with dates against two of their four rivals.
In fact no team in the SEC or the nation has more rival games than the Bulldogs do. UGA has a salty history with Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia Tech and their annual deep south’s oldest rivalry against Auburn.
The layout of the schedule leaves me to believe that UGA will be still standing once the regular season is over and make it back to Atlanta for an impressive third straight season.
Alabama Crimson Tide (13-1) – They’ve won three of the last four national titles. They have the #1 recruiting class more often than any other school does. And their coach does not and will not allow his team to think that they are the best.
Yes those key ingredients help make the Rammer Jammer’s from Tuscaloosa the odds on favorite to win the SEC and the national title again this season. Alabama has to be concerned about their younger O-Line and the Tide Defense has some new faces.
But do you think anyone going into the 2013 season is more of a complete team than Alabama? This program plugs in players greater than any other team with the exception of the 80’s and 90’s Miami Hurricanes.
And when you are breaking in some new faces the schedule is also key. Alabama has a tough road game at College Station early in the season and the season opening game against a much improved Virginia Tech Team is no push over either.
But other than those and the Tide’s annual physical brawl with LSU, things look pretty smooth for the Tide. The experience of QB A.J. McCarron is something that not many programs in the history of CFB have ever or will ever have and who else would you actually put above Alabama right now?
Hey look at it like this. If someone beats Alabama, twice, then someone else will make it to the national title game. Until that happens for the good ole folks in Alabama I say to you RTR!
This is part III in Deke’s top-to-bottom breakdown of the 2013 SEC. Today, the Big Chief takes a look at the teams bubbling just under the top.
LSU Tigers (10-3) – How can you not consider the Bayou Bengals a legit contender in the SEC? When you look at which team in the SEC has had the best overall record the last three years, you go to the LSU Tigers. And when you look to see which SEC Team has had the best conference record the last 10 years, you go to LSU.
The thing that surprises me is that going into the season, not many folks are thinking too highly of LSU. Outside of Phil Steele, everywhere I’ve looked the pre-season predictions are not high on the Tigers from Baton Rouge.
LSU has posted an SEC best 20-4 mark in the last three seasons, with an SEC Title to their credit. And over the course of the last 10 seasons the Tigers boast an SEC best 60-20 league mark, which leads second-best Florida, with the Gators having 56 league wins in that very same time span.
The Tigers did not end the season the way they would have liked. But when you look back over the course of the last several seasons, the Tigers have kind of tapered off in the last few games of the season. It’s like LSU gives it their all against Alabama, and then they coast the rest of the way!
The Tigers, along with the Ole Miss Rebels, have the most difficult paths in the SEC this season. At least, that’s my opinion. You can look at the Tigers schedule and you can’t find one stretch where there are not at least one or two very difficult games.
In September the Tigers take on Auburn and UGA at the end of the month, and those tough games come after opening the season against a very good TCU Team. October brings the likes of Florida and Ole Miss, and November has Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
I think a much needed spark this off-season was needed in the Capitol City, and that spark came in the form of new Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron. Now, I get call after call saying that folks are not buying into Cameron, and I’m OK with that. But to say that Coach Miles will not let Cam do his thing on offense because of past offensive sputtering is to me flat-out silly.
If Miles meddles with the offense, we will see. But until that happens I think we have to assume that it’s the ‘Cam Show’ on offense. Bottom line is that LSU is a talented team and they are deep with solid players across the board. But, it all comes down to the QB.
If Zack Mettenberger can play like he did against Alabama, and not like he did against Arkansas, then LSU will make a serious run in the SEC. If Zack plays like the latter then the Tigers will once again allow most of their foes the opportunity to hang around, and that is not a good thing!
And to me, on defense it’s all about Anthony Johnson. If Johnson lives up to his high school hype then the Tigers defense will be fine. If Johnson does not kick it into high gear and live up to his best linemen in the land status while he prepped at O.P. Walker High on the West Bank, then look for Jermauria Rasco and Ego Ferguson to have breakout seasons. Bottom line, someone on the Tigers D-Line needs to have a breakout season!
Texas A&M Aggies (11-2) – Ok I’m sure the folks to the near West of us will call me a hater. But I’m telling you, one thing about the SEC is that time will most certainly tell which teams are consistent contenders and which teams are one-year wonders.
Hell, Auburn was a one-year wonder just three seasons ago. Now that one year wonder landed the Tigers the crystal ball. But look at their program since that magical season. Am I saying that A&M is the next Auburn? No! But what I am saying is, prove us all wrong, Aggies! If you are all that, then another double-digit-win regular season will happen, and the solid youngster named Johnny will be back in the spotlight again in 2013.
The reason why I think that A&M will be a consistent team in the SEC for years to come is their head coach! Kevin Sumlin is an all-business type guy who is a proven winner. I think Sumlin is one of the best young coaches in the country and he can lead the Aggies out of the long shadows of an overrated UT program.
The Aggies welcome back 11 starters this season, with six back on offense and five more starters back on defense. But the reason why I think that A&M has a chance to win the West this season is due to their schedule.
A&M has Alabama at home early in the season and they have to go to Baton Rouge late in the year. Even if the Aggies drop both of those games, to me it would be a shame if this team is at the very worst a 10-2 team in the regular season. Bad news is that sometimes 10-2 in this league means you’re left out of the SEC Title Game. Just ask A&M!
Florida Gators (11-2) – Well, the Florida Gators had a hangover after being left out of the national title game play in game last December in January. The Gators got handled from start to finish in the Sugar Bowl, losing to underdog Louisville.
“I’ll tell you, have to give Louisville credit. The Cardinals were well prepared and Coach Strong and his staff really had them ready to play,” said former Gators great and color analyst of the Florida Radio Network Scott Brantley.
Florida could be better this season and might not equal last year’s 11-win total. The Gators welcome back six starters on offense and four on defense. But don’t let those numbers fool you. Coach Will Mushchamp and his staff have done a good job of landing some of the nation’s top prospects.
For the first time since the Tebow days, the Gators look set at QB with Jeff Driskel. Driskel can throw and run, and he is one of the best dual threat QBs in the nation. Three O-Linemen are back as well to help pave the way up front.
The multi-talented Trey Burton is back for his senior season to help give Florida more of a spark on the offensive side of the football. Florida did lose seven quality starters from last season’s defense that allowed only 14.5 points per game in 2012.
Florida will be tested early in the season with a week two trip to Coral Gables to face the Hurricanes. Miami is said to have one of their best teams in years, and this Sunshine State showdown could be a biggie early in the season.
If the Gators beat the ‘Canes, they should be 5-0 before they head to Louisiana to face the LSU Tigers. The two best SEC Football programs over the last 10 seasons will square off in what could be an elimination game to see who gets to Atlanta.
I think the Florida program has made some big strides the last two seasons but equaling last season’s win total is going to be difficult this season. And to the Gator Nation, be happy you’ve got a solid UF guy leading you’re program and not the Urban Lyer from up North!
South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2) - Did you know that in the last three seasons, the Gamecocks have the best record against their East Division foes? In fact, SC has lost only two SEC East games in the last three years. SC was a perfect 5-0 in 2011 but lost to two Western Division Teams keeping SC out of the SEC Title Game that season.
Steve Spurrier said he would build SC into a legit SEC Contender, and he has. SC was 11-2 last season and now everyone in the country is on their jocks, so to speak. DE Jadevon Clowney has a chance to go down as one of the best defensive players ever in the mighty SEC.
Clowney has by far lived up to his hype coming out of high school…and let’s be truthful here: Had Clowney been able to go into the NFL draft last season he would have been the #1 pick last April. South Carolina has a schedule that sets up nicely.
Basically, if the Cocks can win in Athens the second week of the season, SC could run the table. Having their last four games of the season at home is huge especially facing the likes of Florida and a much improved Clemson team.
SC is better at QB, better on defense, and now that the Gamecocks have been able to beat everyone in the East more times than not the last few seasons, South Carolina could reign supreme in the East. And who knows, with an SEC Title in the ATL, South Carolina could win it all!
OK, the last time I wrote something about the Southeastern Conference, I gave you what I thought were the bottom of the league teams. Now, today I’ll examine the teams that I don’t quite consider at the bottom, but things are going to be hard for these teams to equal, surpass or maintain the level of success they had in 2012 in the SEC.
A quick recap: Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri are the teams I think are at the bottom of the SEC right now. Now, it’s time to move to the next level just above those five teams.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-5) – OK, no offense to the fine folks up in Starkville, but the truth hurts, doesn’t it? After a 7-0 start in 2012 the Bulldogs got hammered down the stretch of the season going 1-5 in their final six games.
Hail State did anything but in November last year with their lone win in the last month of the season against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Now, many of the national media believe that the Bulldogs will take a step back this season.
I would tend to agree. But I would also caution those that Coach Dan Mullen is one good QB Coach. Mullen has been around some of the best QB’s in CFB over the course of time and he looks to have his best QB since he has been at state in the return of Tyler Russell.
“It’s nice to have an experienced player back at that position,” Mullen told me earlier this summer. Russell threw for nearly three thousand yards last season, along with 24 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions. However, the main number is wins and Russell and the Bulldogs were 1-5 in their last six games of the 2012 season.
The Bulldogs have eight starters back on offense this season so the offense will be solid again. The MSU Defense allowed their most points on average since the 2009 season. If the Bulldogs are going to be a legit threat in the West this season they will have to allow less than 23.3 points per game on defense.
Looking at the MSU schedule: A 4-3 start after seven games. But, the last five games set up like this: Back to back road games at South Carolina and Texas A&M, followed by a home date with the Crimson Tide and then the final two games are at Arkansas and the annual Egg Bowl versus rival Ole Miss in Starkvegas.
I think that the Bulldogs can get back to a bowl this season. But eight wins is a stretch to me and the rival school from the near North is on a hot path right now to take over Hail State!
Ole Miss Rebels (7-6) – If there was one team that could lay claim to being better than their record indicated it would have been the Rebels of Oxford, Mississippi. The Rebels had the lead in games against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU. And one could break out the film and argue that the Rebels should have won each of those three games last season.
Coach Hugh Freeze has everyone in the nation buzzing about Ole Miss going into the 2013 college football season. I’m much bettered served using caution about the Rebels than anything right now. Sure Ole Miss has 19 starters back in 2013. And sure the Rebels can say they had a lead for a few seconds on Alabama and could have beaten LSU and A&M.
But folks, that was last season! The Rebels QB is coming off surgery. Albeit, Bo Wallace will be just fine to start the season. Wallace and the Rebels will get either a big wakeup call to start the season or the Rebels will become a top 10 team in the blink of an eye.
The Rebels’ first seven games of the season are as difficult as any team in the land. A Thursday night road game at Vandy is going to be extremely hard to win. Then the Rebs are back home to get a win against SE Missouri State.
But after that game, look out. Ole Miss then has a crucial four game stretch. A trip to Austin to face one of the nation’s most improved teams in the UT Longhorns, a week off, and then a trip to the RTR land to face the Crimson Tide looms.
After a date with Alabama, the Rebels have a road trip to Auburn followed by homes games against A&M and LSU. So, to be fair, a 4-3 start is possible. But I’m betting it will be 3-4. But after that seven game stretch, the Rebels should be able to win their remaining five games.
A nine win total including a bowl game could happen. But the Rebels could win just seven games against this season and be much better. The Rebels have to be better on defense after giving up nearly 28 points per outing in 2012.
With an improved defense, a win over Vandy to start the season and a little luck, the Rebels could be a scary team in the SEC this season!
Vanderbilt Commodores (9-4) – A seven game win streak, a nine win season and a fierce head coach have the folks in Music City USA screaming loud and proud about their team. No, I’m not talking about eh Grand Ole Opry, I’m talking about the Vanderbilt Football Team.
Nine wins could have easily been ten if not for a season opening four point loss to the Gamecocks. But hey nine wins is a huge deal in the SEC and an even bigger feat for the Commodores. Like him or not, Coach James Franklin is on fire in Nashville!
Vanderbilt welcomes back a total of 13 starters this season. Look for Vanderbilt to rely on the rushing attack on offense led by Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate. The loss of Zac Stacy hurts, but Kimbrow and Tate are as reliable as a RB tandem in the East going into the season.
QB Jordan Rodgers was a big reason for the Vandy success the last two seasons, but the Commodores defense was the reason for the impressive campaign in 2012. In the last three seasons, Vanderbilt have gone from allowing over 20 points per game to just that of 18 in 2012.
Vanderbilt again has a monster of a schedule. But I could see Vanderbilt getting off to a hot 5-1 start to the season. A huge one to open 2013 comes in the form of a Thursday night game against Ole Miss, and then there is a road trip to Columbia to face South Carolina later in the first month of the season.
But the Doors could be 5-1 when the boys from Athens come to Nashville, as UGA shows up on the schedule on October 19. Man, if Vanderbilt can win against either SC or UGA earlier in the season, then the Commodores become big-time SEC East Title Contenders and we know where that leads.
The last five games are tough, with dates against A&M and Florida, but the Doors could end the season 3-2 which could lead to another nine win season. Maybe ten wins in 2013 could happen?
Agree or disagree? Sound off below!
Tomorrow: Deke looks at The Contenders in the SEC!
OK, we all know who the big dog is. And we all know who the contenders are as well as those trying to become contenders, but what about the teams at the bottom of the nation's toughest conference?
Well, the best conference in the land deserves several features. Today we examine the teams that were the worst in the SEC in 2012. Of the five worst teams in the SEC from 2012, four have new coaches. I’m telling you, four of these five teams that I have reviewed for you could go to bowl games this season! Here we go!
Kentucky Wildacats (2-10)- The UK Cats from Lexington were a dismal 2-10 a season ago. The Kentucky program made tremendous strides under former Coach Rich Brooks, and Brooks and then-OC Joker Phillps built a solid foundation. But that foundation has been leveled and now new coach Mark Stoops has the tough task of cleaning things up. After five straight bowl games (2006-2010) Kentucky has failed to be in a bowl in the last two seasons. Joker Phillips was shown the door and Stoops is now in charge. The good thing is that Kentucky has 14 returning starters back this season. The bad thing is that the Wildcats are still the worst team in the league right now. Stoops will breathe new life into the Cats but anything above six wins this season to me would be wishful thinking.
Auburn Tigers (3-9) - The other Cats from the Western side in the SEC were also 0-fer in SEC play with a 0-8 mark in 2012. Gus Malzahn returns and Auburn fans are hoping that Gus brings back the offensive style like the Tigers had in 2009 and 2010. Auburn has talent and the cupboard is not bare, but Auburn has some big strides to make to get back to the place they were three years ago. I would not at all be shocked if the Tigers are 3-0 when they go to LSU in late September. Going into 2013 I would place Auburn right at the 6-6 mark and a bowl game is likely.
Missouri Tigers (5-7) - Gary Pinkel talked the talked going into the 2012 season. But, his Tigers did not walk the walk. Missouri found that life in the SEC is tougher than it looks. If there is one team in the East that can start as hot as anyone in the conference it very well could be Missouri. With the return of QB James Franklin and coming off an embarrassing season, I think the Tigers can also be a bowl team in 2013. A 5-0 start is certainly possible, and if that happens the Tigers should be a bowl team.
Arkansas Razorbacks (4-8) - The Hogs also have a new man in the old school power running attack style coach Bret Bielema. Bielema should be able to come in and fix some of the Hogs problems right away.
Like Missouri and Auburn, Arkansas has a schedule that sets up well in the first month of the season. If the Hogs can get off to a good start I think they can be on par for a bowl bid this season. Call me crazy, but with a little luck the Hogs could be a perfect 4-0 when the Aggies come to Ar-Kansas in late September!
Tennessee Volunteers (5-7) – I think we would all agree that the Tennessee Football program is one that should never have a losing season. This program has excellent facilities and one of the best home venues in all of sports.
Now, the Volunteer nation has a new leader and they are excited. Former Cincinnati Coach Butch Jones is now the head man in good ole rocky top! Tennessee has a tough schedule but getting to six wins this season is an obtainable goal. 13 starters are back with the strength of the team being defense. Eight starters are back on defense for the Vols this season. Tennessee should be 3-2 after their first five and if they can squeeze out three more wins in their final seven games, the Vols will go back to a bowl.
Did you know that only two football programs in FBS history have never lost eight games in a season? And did you know that Tennessee is one of those programs? Ohio State is the other!
Next time I'll take a look at the contenders in the SEC!
People, I have had the honor of interviewing some amazing people in my time here at WWL. On Sports Talk Wednesday, I got to interview 91-year-old Herbert Simpson, a veteran of both WWII and the Negro Baseball League.
Simpson told me about returning home from the Army and playing with the Seattle Steelheads in the Pacific Coast League. Amazingly, he was part of an all-star team was picked to go to Hawaii. One of the supervisors? Jesse Owens.
He also told us the amazing story of getting married at home plate in 1954. It is simply an amazing trip down memory lane.
Any way you slice, it the New Orleans Saints are a team that has a lot to prove.
Now, all 32 teams in the NFL will tell you that every season is a new one and each team has something to prove as well. But things are a little more unique as they seemingly are in the BigEasy. The Saints have their head coach back, a head coach that proved to be even more valuable than everyone, including the odds makers, predicted a season ago, and taught us all the value of a great head coach.
Even without the services of Sean Payton during the 2012 season, the Saints were projected to be a 12 win team in 2012. Falling well short of that projection with only seven wins, the Saints were a team lost without their leader.
To dismiss the notion that Sean Payton will not be a huge factor would be uneducated at the very least. The three seasons prior to Coach Payton's time off, the Saints won 41 games. Now a well-rested, recharged and perhaps even better Sean Payton will be back, and to me that means trouble for the rest of the league.
Payton leads a cast of guys that look as if they have something to prove. Ironically this 2013 season looks like a must prove or else season for the Ryan Family. With a lot of pressure on Jets Coach and brother Rex in the Big Apple, by many national media accounts, brother Rob has just as much to prove down in the Big Easy.
Ryan has spent the last four NFL seasons with the Browns and Cowboys. Two seasons with Cleveland and two with Dallas. The end result, no playoff appearances in any of those four seasons.
Coach Ryan has landed in a place that has a new defensive leader for the third time in as many years. And, Ryan takes over a defense that was flat out bad a year ago. I agree that the players on the Saints defense are not as bad as the seven thousand plus yards they allowed. But the numbers don't lie. In fact to give you an idea of how bad the Saints D was a year ago, check this out.
New Orleans ranked 32nd in defense last season. The Giants were 31st. But did you know that difference between that one spot from 32 to 31 was a whopping 1,000 yards? New York allowed 6,134 yards which is about a thousand less. Yikes!
Then there are the players that have something to prove. Many feel that the Saints are still a playoff caliber team. But are the Saints still in that small elite class of teams in the NFL?
The NFC West has two powerful clubs in the 49ers and Seahawks, the Falcons look like they will make, and another run, three teams from the NFC North Division won ten or more games last season. And the NFC East is wide open with a young talented group on our nation’s capital.
So the competition is as tough, if not tougher. The division that the Saints reside in is as good as it has ever been with an improved Tampa Bay club and a Panthers team that went 5-2 in their last seven games a year ago.
So when adding things up and looking at what each team has and what could be a difference maker, I would have to say with a lot of confidence that a team, whose head coach, defensive coordinator and their players feel like they have a lot to prove could be a big factor.
I was actually right in the middle of getting my thoughts together on the SEC outlook for this season today...Then Mamma D stepped in my office and said "hey little boy (as she refers to me from time to time) did you hear about this?" This was the breaking news about LSU RB Jeremy Hill. The news is that Hill will be charged with misdemeanor simple battery for his alleged involvement in an incident that took place in a bar parking lot back in April.
So, as we have speculated before, I said to myself, "Self, what if the "Hill" is gone and he can't suit up for the Tigers this season? What does that mean to the team? What does that do to the Tigers RB rotation?"
If Hill can't go, the Tigers lose their leading rusher from a season ago. Hill had a strong finish last season, ending the year with 755 yards on 142 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per rush. Hill also scored 12 TDs in 2012.
So let's speculate and see what may happen if Hill can't play in 2013.
Current LSU Running Backs (that are not in trouble with the law at the time this is being typed:)
#4 Alfred Blue 6-2 235 pound senior: 40 att, 270 yards, 6.8 yards per carry, 2 TDs - Blue started out the 2012 season with some impressive numbers, but then the former Hahnville star was lost for the season in the Tigers game against Idaho. At the time Blue was lost for the season he was the 2nd leading rusher in the SEC. Blue was solid in the Tigers first two games with a 123 yard effort against North Texas, and Blue rushed for 101 yards in the Tigers' win over Washington.
Here are Alfred Blue's notes on his previous two seasons prior to the 2012 campaign: Played in 12 games in 2011. Blue started against Auburn ... Rushed for 539 yards and seven touchdowns in helping LSU to the SEC title and a 13-1 overall mark ... Was one of the three LSU running backs with more than 500 yards rushing in 2011 ... Joined Michael Ford (756 yards) and Spencer Ware (727) to become the first LSU trio of backs to each rush for 500 yards or more since 1997 when Kevin Faulk (1,144), Rondell Mealey (664) and Cecil Collins (596) did it ... Led the team in rushing in four games this season: 72 yards vs. Kentucky, 119 yards vs. Western Kentucky, 74 yards at Ole Miss and 94 yards vs. Georgia ... Held the longest run from scrimmage on a 57-yard scamper at Ole Miss ... Did not play against Arkansas due to injury ... Set career highs with 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns on nine carries against Western Kentucky ...
In his freshman season Blue made a name for himself playing in 11 games. Blue Rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries for the year ... Best outing came vs. Mississippi State when he rushed for 36 yards on five carries in what was his first career start ... Had a long run of 16 yards vs. Mississippi State ... Scored first touchdown of college career on a 6-yard run vs. Vanderbilt ... Carried a career-best six times for 31 yards in win over Louisiana-Monroe ... Contributed with five tackles and a forced fumble on special teams ... Missed the McNeese and Auburn games with an injury.
#27 Kenny Hillard 6-0, 231 poundn junior: 82 att, 464 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, 6 TDs in 2012. Here are the notes from the LSU Web site on Hillard: In 2012 Hillard Played in 12 games with one start ... Ranked second on team with 464 rushing yards and six TDs … Averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 82 attempts … Had first (and only) start of his career vs. Auburn and responded with 40 rushing yards on 10 carries … Also caught a pass for seven yards in 12-10 win over Auburn … Opened season with career-best 141 yards and a pair of TDs in win over North Texas … Followed that with 46 yards and two TDs in 41-3 win over Washington … Had his third straight game with two rushing TDs against Idaho … Added 116 rushing yards on 11 carries in win over Idaho … Became the first LSU player since LaBrandon Toefield in 2001 (3 vs. Alabama, 2 vs. Middle Tennessee., 3 vs. Arkansas) to have at least two rushing TDs in three straight games … Also, became the first LSU running back to rush for 2 TDs in each of the first three games of a season since Charles Alexander in 1978 ... Joined Alfred Blue to become the first duo of LSU running backs each to eclipse 100 yards rushing in a season opener since 1982. 2011 LSU notes on Hillard. Played in 13 games with no starts ... Came on late in the season to give LSU a four-headed rushing attack ... Tied with Spencer Ware for the team lead in touchdowns scored with nine total (eight rushing, one receiving) ... His eight rushing TDs was the most in a single season by an LSU freshman since Justin Vincent rushed for 10 TDs as a freshman in 2003 … Scored a career-high three touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia when he rushed for two TDs and caught one in the third quarter ... Posted two rushing TDs against Auburn, Western Kentucky and Georgia ... Earned SEC Freshman of the Week distinction after he set career highs with 19 carries and 102 yards and also added one touchdown against Arkansas ... Produced two one-yard touchdowns against Western Kentucky ... Saw action at fullback and tailback ... Stepped in at running back against Auburn and rushed for 65 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
#14 Terrence Magee 5-9, 212 pound junior - last season Magee played in nine games with no starts ... Made his first career reception for seven yards against Idaho Coach Miles moved Magee to WR where he had no impact. Here are Magee's numbers from his freshman season in 2011. He rushed seven times for 55 yards at Ole Miss ... Saw his first action as a Tiger against Kentucky and carried the ball 12 times for 38 yards and a touchdown.
#28 Jonathan Juneau 5-11 198 RFr. - Has not current stats according to the LSU football website.
Other possibilities: Well, coaches get paid to coach. And I'm quite sure that Coach Miles has a plan in place as far as another possible player that could lend a hand in the Tigers backfield if needed.
LSU did not sign a running back in their recruiting class of 2013. But there is one player that played RB in high school: Loranger's Jeryl Brazil was a running back his entire career in high school. Brazil also played QB at times but was primarily a RB on the prep level. Brazil is not a big guy at just 181 pounds, but the youngster from Tangipahoa Parish is lightening quick. And, Brazil could be used in certain situations in the running game like former players Russell Sheppard and Trindon Holiday.
It's all about the legal process now. Hill obviously must get cleared from a legal standpoint in order to be ready for the 2013 season. But the general rule of thumb in sports when it comes to a situation like LSU is facing, the team has to coach and prepare as if the "Hill" is gone.
Weather or not Hill is gone for good remains to be seen!