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Deke Bellavia

Join Deke and the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert for live, local talk about the Saints, LSU, Pelicans and much more on "Sports Talk!" 

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Twitter: @dekebigchief
Email: bigchief@wwl.com
Posts from June 2014


Deke: Top five takeaways from Saints mini-camp
The New Orleans Saints will open training camp at the end of July in West Virginia, but there was plently to see at the three day mini-camp. With the help of our resident pros Hokie Gajan and Bobby Hebert, we jotted down the top five takeaways from this week.
 
1) The wide receivers battle will be competitive. I think it's safe to say that the Saints are OK when it comes to having a veteran presence as leaders of their WR's.  Guys like Marques Colston and Robert Meachum have been in the league for a long time, and both are coming off good mini-camp outings.  

Kenny Stills and top draft pick Brandin Cooks are good to go as far as making the team.  But what about the rest of the players at this position? Should make a nice storyline as we approach training camp. 
 
#88 Nick Toon, who many feel needs a good camp to stay on the team, has been impressive in OTA's and mini-camp.  Here is what Coach Payton had to say about Toon when asked if he's looking for better production from the WR this season:
 
“Yes, I would say so. Part of that was what was ahead of him a year ago. It was hard to get him on the field. We felt like he had a real good training camp. I would expect him to play a bigger role for our offense this season. I thought he played real well in his opportunities last year in training camp, and he’s doing well here in this offseason. His progress is important to us. With the loss of a number of players, particularly Lance Moore, I think you’ll see more snaps for him and more opportunities.”
  
#14 Andy Tanner will certainly not go quietly, as he will catch just about everything thrown his way.  #13 Joe Morgan has the one thing that you just can't coach, and that is blazing speed.  But can Morgan get healthy enough to make another good showing?

READ MORE: Steve: Could Travaris Cadet be the next Darren Sproles?

 
#15 Seantavius Jones, #16 Brandon Coleman, #18 Charles Hawkins and #19 Steve Hull round out the entire group of Saints WR's currently on the roster.  Jones has made some plays at times and has drawn the attention of the media at practices. Coleman's biggest thing going for him is his 6'6" body size.  The 225-lb beast from Rutgers looks the part, but I think he has dropped the ball too much. I've not really noticed anything real good or bad from #19 Steve Hull.  
 
The one player that could continue to make a push is Charles Hawkins.  "He's a fast player and he's doing some good things out there right now," said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan.  Gajan said that Hawkins has to not only do well on the field, but he and the other younger players must be able to be as sharp as possible in the meeting rooms and play a part on special teams in order to have a shot to make the roster.

Coach Sean Payton was also asked about the Hawkins' plays at mini-camp
. “He’s a guy that came here as a free agent and from a small school. He ran well. You saw it when we worked him out and you see it periodically in these drills. It’s all the other little things you see in playing the position, formations, splits, alignments, route depths, some of those things are the key for him. He has the ability to get up the field. He can separate quickly. But it’s also all the other things in playing the position.”
 
Regardless of which players make up the 2014 WR squad for the Saints, I feel like they have the potential to be a very dangerous group.  The right mixture of size, speed, youth and veteran leadership is all evident in this group of players - and I've not even mentioned the names Graham and Watson yet either!  
 
2) Better O-Line?  The Saints have four of five starters back on their O-Line this season, and the lone new face will be at center.  Veteran Jonathan Goodwin is in a battle with Tim Lelito for the starting job. Coach Payton and his staff have built a solid franchise in picking the best players to make the roster. If Tim Lelito wins out, he would have had the best camp and gives the Saints the best player at the center position. But holding off a veteran player that has been to four straight NFC Title Games and two Super Bowls is going to be very difficult to do.  
 
With Strief and Armstead anchoring down the tackle spots, and Evans and Grubbs at the guards, the Saints look to once again have a complete O-Line.  The Saints will look to rush the ball at a more consistent level this season, and it all starts with the big guys in the trenches.  

READ MORE: Drew Brees reflects on mini-camp, clears up Graham comments
 
3) A legit backup QB battle! 
As the Saints get ready for West Virginia, it looks like there is a serious battle to see who will be the backup to Drew Brees.  Veteran QB Luke McCown and former Tulane standout Ryan Griffin are the two vying for that job.
 
“He’s doing it right now, both he and Luke (McCown) are competing. Ryan showed enough progress last year. I know that would certainly be a goal of his this year."  That is what Coach Sean Payton said when asked if Griffin was in competing for the backup QB job.  Griffin and McCown have both made plays during OTA's and mini-camp.  And the battle to see who is next in line behind Drew Brees could very well last until the final preseason game is played.  
 
4) Take-it-away defense! From the end of last season until the beginning of the 2014 season, the Saints have said that creating more turnovers is a must, and something that the club is working on each day.
 
There was not one practice that happened in which the defense did not at the very least jar the ball out, pick off a pass or scoop up a fumble.  Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has said that the Saints are doing everything, from watching film on players that are better at taking the ball away, to doing drills in order to get better themselves.
 
I feel very confident that the Saints Defense will improve in the takeaway area this season.  

5) We're ahead of schedule. Both Bobby and Hokie think that the Saints are on schedule as far as implementing their play book and getting the work in prior to training camp.
 
In fact, both former Black and Gold greats have said that they think the Saints may be ahead of schedule.  "When you look at the way the defense was blitzing and the piping in of crowd noise, those are things that we have not seen done this early in prior years under Coach Payton," said Bobby Hebert.
 
With a little over a month left before the start of camp takes place up in West Virginia, the Saints will look to get back WR Joe Morgan and new addition in Safety Jairus Byrd.
 
The Saints have a few more OTA's and then they will break for the remainder of June and part of July before players report to the Greenbrier on Thursday July 24.  
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Deke: Saints finish mini-camp looking strong
The New Orleans Saints wrapped up their three day mini-camp today with two hour and 15 minute practice.  The Black and Gold worked on special teams, and had three team periods in which the offense faced the defense.  

"Today was a culmination of the previous two days. I thought that the camp was run at a faster pace, and I think they got in a lot of work in three days," said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan.

PHOTO GALLERY: Saints mini-camp day three

Hokie was pleased with the progression of the Saints defense, and several players stood out to Hokie.  "I thought WR Robert Meachum had a nice camp, as did TE Ben Watson.  Watson got more balls thrown his way with Jimmy Graham not being here, and he looked good." Hokie said that WR Charles Hawkins is a fast, shifty player that looks like he can compete this training camp with the other wide receivers.  

During the first team period, RB Mark Ingram reeled off a nice run.  "He had good vision and made a nice cut for about a 10 yard gain," said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.

All kickers nailed their field goal attempts, and after special teams work, the Saints then went into seven-on-seven drills.

Drew Brees hit WR Nick Toon for a 15 yard gain and would later hit WR Robert Meachum for about 25 yards.  And Brees hit WR Kenny Stills for a 20-yard gain later in the drill.  

"That drill provided long completions by the Saints offense. It was the most completed passes that were of longer gains during mini-camp," Hebert said.  Back-up QB Luke McCown completed the longest pass of the mini-camp when he hit WR Charles Hawkins for a 60 yard bomb...



"He (Hawkins) blew by the defender and got wide open."  Later in seven-on-seven drills, QB Ryan Griffin hit WR Andy Tanner for 20 yards.  DB Ty Zimmerman picked off a pass that was tipped by WR Kenny Stills.

Then later in practice the Saints worked on team offense versus team defense.  "I thought Vaccaro (Kenny) made a nice play,"  Hebert said, after Vaccaro picked off Saints QB Drew Brees on the first play of team offense and team defense.  But Brees would bounce back two plays later with a 25 yard strike to WR Marques Colston.
'
Other highlights included Brees connecting with TE Ben Watson for a nice 15 yard gain.  "Ben Watson is a complete player.  He can block and Ben can still catch the ball at a very high level.  He looked legit," Hebert said. Saints CB Kennan Lewis had a nice pass break up as he batted the ball away from WR Robert Meachum.  

You can listen to the Cajun Cannon give a full breakdown of the Saints mini-camp by listening to Sports Talk today at 4PM.  
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Deke: Saints D brings the heat at mini-camp
Day two of Saints mini-camp saw the defense bring a lot of pressure on the offensive squad. "I don't recall seeing this type of pressure brought this early," said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan. During the two and a half-hour practice, the Saints defense confused the offense using blitz packages. 

Crowd noise was piped in to help the younger players get more of a real game atmosphere. Coach Payton did say afterwards that this is the earliest that he has had crowd noise factored in at a practice.  

PHOTO GALLERY: Saints mini-camp day two

"I thought the running backs and the offensive line struggled at times with the pressure.  The defense was bringing the house out there today," Hokie said.  Gajan said that the Saints look like they are at a faster pace implementing different phases of their defensive playbook. Hokie also thought that WR Robert Meachum, TE Ben Watson and RB Travaris Cadet all had good showings this morning for the Saints offense.  

The Saints worked in one-on-one drills. “It is a drill in which the wide receivers are going straight up against the defensive backs,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. WR Robert Meachem beat CB Kennan Lewis, and WR Nick Toon got the best of CB Patrick Robinson in one on one drills.

“Drew’s timing was great with WR Marques Colston, but the timing did look off on several plays during the drill.” said Bobby. Drew's best pass of the day came when he hooked up with TE Ben Watson for 30 yard gain. Watson beat DB Rafael Bush to make the long grab.  Bobby said that backup QB Luke McCown looked good during the drill.

The Saints worked on kickoff coverage and return in the special teams portion of practice today. WR Charles Hawkins and WR Seantavius Jones both stood out in kickoff returns according to the Cajun Cannon.  

The Saints defense got off to a great start in seven on seven drills, focusing on Red Zone offense and defense.  The first two plays saw safety Kenny Vaccaro bat down a pass, and LB Curtis Lofton broke up a pass on the next play.  Lofton broke up two passes overall during today’s practice.  

“The Saints defensive nackfield had good pass coverage on the back end. They covered well making the QB’s hold the ball longer than they would like to,” Hebert said.  Drew Brees did hit WR Robert Meachum for a 10 yard TD.  Then, CB Kennan Lewis defended a pass later in the Red Zone period.

Backup QB Ryan Griffin threw three TD’s in Red Zone work.  Griffin tossed one TD to TE Ben Watson.  And then the former Tulane product hit WR Kenny Stills down the middle for a 20 yard scoring strike.
Griffin would also hit pay dirt by hitting RB Mark Ingram on a short route in the flats. Other highlights included CB Patrick Robinson stripping the ball from WR Marques Colston in the back of the end zone, keeping the veteran WR from scoring.  

Bobby gave the catch of the day to TE #86 Je’Ron Hamm.  Hamm hauled in a great catch over his head as he dove to make the reception.  Be sure and check out the Cajun Cannon’s practice re-cap today at 4PM on Sports Talk.  
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Deke: Defense shines at Saints mini camp, Jenkins out
During practice the media learned new information about second year Saints defensive linemen John Jenkins.  Jenkins had surgery on a torn pectoral muscle, and will be out until training camp, according to various NFL reports.  Saints Coach Sean Payton would not talk about Jenkins' reported surgery.  

PHOTO GALLERY: Saints work out at Mini-Camp Tuesday morning

The first day of mini-camp was a successful one by the Saints defense. From the beginning of practice until the end, the Saints defense seemed to have the upper hand on the offensive squad. “I’d say that the defense did have the better practice this morning,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.  Hebert said that the Saints defense continues to show an emphasis on taking the ball away.  Early on in practice the Saints Defense forced a fumble on RB Mark Ingram.  Safety Rafael Bush had a nice interception on Drew Brees. The defense would later take the ball out of the hands of RB Khiry Robinson. “I thought the defense looked good, but it’s hard to tell when they are not tackling... but they looked good during that drill!” Hebert said.

The Saints then went to work on special teams, and after that, worked on Red Zone offense and defense, when Bush picked off Drew Brees. Bobby was impressed with the way the Saints defense made the QB’s hold on to the ball. RB Travaris Cadet hauled in a TD pass in Red Zone work, while Brees connected with WR Nick Toon for a score.  TE Josh Hill also hauled in a TD grab during Red Zone work.

FB Erik Lorig got open on play action during team drills.  Drew Brees ran play action and hit Lorig for a nice gain.  WR Nick Toon did a double move and beat CB Rod Sweeting during team drills.  Rookie RB Derrick Strozier continues to make plays. The former Green Waver hauled in two nice catches for scores.  The QB throwing Strozier the football was also a former Tulane player, QB Ryan Griffin.  

“I thought the defense did some good things,” said Hokie Gajan.  “The defense was flying to the football... you can tell this team has 'getting the ball out' on their mind all the time.”  Hokie said that Saints DE Glenn Foster had a nice practice with a sack today during team drills.  

The defense did have a few lapses, as safety Kenny Vaccaro dropped what should have been an interception, and RB’s Robinson and Cadet both had a couple of nice runs today.  

Be sure to get Bobby Hebert’s complete practice breakdown and Hokie Gajan’s analysis today on Sports Talk beginning at 4PM.  
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Deke: 5 things to watch at Saints mini camp
The New Orleans Saints open their three day mini-camp today at their facility on Airline Drive, and I've compiled a list of things to keep an eye on, along with help from our pros Bobby Hebert and Hokie Gajan.

1.  Turnovers - The Saints had the fourth best defense in 2013, but were not creating turnovers on a consistent basis.  Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has said during Saints OTA's that there is an emphasis on creating turnovers for his defense: “That was a glaring weakness last year on our defense. I think the effort was outstanding, our players are outstanding. We did pretty decent as a unit, but we want to be great, and to be great, you have to take the ball away. We identified that. Every coach on our staff individually has a responsibility for turnovers. We present it to the defense. It’s every one of us at different times, we present different aspects of getting turnovers. We talk about it, we show clips of it. We show some (Charles) Peanut Tillman punch-outs, we saw a few of those today. Great players can be imitated, and we’re trying to do that here. He was a Ragin’ Cajun wasn’t he? I like that there. He’s great to watch, so we’ve been trying to imitate him. Imitation is the biggest form of flattery. So we enjoy doing that; we’re working hard on that. We know we have to improve on that. Seattle won the Super Bowl; they took the ball away more than anybody. They raised the bar, so we have to match it.”

The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert says "the best defenses in the league create turnovers.  If we can force more takeaways this season, I don't see why we can't have an elite defense in 2014."  

2. Better Secondary - This one is rather easy for me. Anytime you can add a future first ballot Hall of Fame caliber player and one of the best safeties in the NFL to your defensive backfield, you should be better. And Jairus Byrd is even not on the field yet.  But you can already see that the Saints Defensive backfield is going to be even better in 2014.  

Champ Bailey's wisdom and passion for the game alone will make a difference, and the higher level of competition will greatly benefit the Saints defense.  The Saints will be deeper and better in all coverages from dime, to mickel, to lining up.  Fans should be able to tell right away that the Saints secondary will be considered one of the best in the NFL going into the 2014 season.

"What Bailey brings to the Saints is invaluable," said Bobby Hebert.  "Champ Bailey has seen and done everything in this league, and he has done so at a high level for a very long time.  He will not only help the Saints defense on the field, but his knowledge of the game will come in handy in those team meetings."

3.  Centers of attention - We know that the Saints will have a new face snapping the football to Drew Brees this season.  With the acquisition of Jonathan Goodwin last week, the Saints have assured themselves of having a quality player that knows the offense.  Goodwin's experience playing with the Saints and helping lead the Black and Gold to the Super Bowl is a huge plus.  And since that Lombardi Party, Goody has played in the NFC Title Game, the Super Bowl and the veteran Center is coming off another trip to the NFC Title Game with the 49ers this past January.  

Goodwin, who will battle Tim Lelito for the starting job at center, talked about the challenges he faces: “It isn’t easy. I feel like I’ve been doing the same thing the past few years in San Francisco with Daniel Kilgore. In this league, when the younger guy can play, you know that’s what teams tend to go with, but guys did it for me. I have no problem doing it for him. We’ve already had conversations and started to build a relationship. I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t want to play. Naturally I want to play. We’re going to fight tooth and nail, so either way, I think this team will be straight at the center position.” 

Regardless of who wins the starting job, the Saints are in good shape here.

4.  Learning the playbook - If there is one man that knows a a lot about everything football, it's our own Hokie Gajan, who brings over 32 years experience of being associated with the New Orleans Saints. “To me, this time of year it’s more about the new faces and the young guys,” he said.  Hokie pointed out that during OTA’s, coaches are looking to make sure that the new additions to the team are picking up what is being handed to them.  “This is a small part of the playbook installation going on right now.  When they (players and coaches) get into film session that is where you can really tell how much progress is being made.

Gajan went on to say that how much progress players are making and how fast players are getting a grasp of things will be more important during Saints mini-camp.  "Every player out here has talent.  You don't make it this far without being a good player.  But if you can't line up right, and if you can't do what the coaches ask you to do, then you won't make the team."

5.  RB's and WR's - The Saints will no longer have the services of the dangerous Darren Sproles, and many wonder who will take his place.  That answer may come in the form of several players.  Bobby likes what he has seen thus far from RB Tavarius Cadet:  “He has been very active at the OTA's.  He's been able to catch passes that would have been for first downs and he has done a good job of running the football.” Bobby said that Cadet’s elusiveness and vision are two things that make him a very versatile back.  

Other RB's Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson give the Saints different options with different styles.  And thus far through two OTA's, former Tulane DB Derrick Strozier has taken advantage of his chances by making several nice runs.  

The Cajun Cannon has said how important a camp this will be for WR Nick Toon.  And at the last OTA, Toon had a good practice.  "He had one of his better days.  I thought he caught the ball well and he was able to get space between himself and the Saints DB's at times."  

Keep it right here on WWL.com for full coverage of Saints mini camp all week long!

Photos via Chris Bennett
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Deke: NBA Finals are here and I'm going with the Spurs in 7
The NBA Finals are here, and for the first time since the late 1990’s, we have a rematch in the battle to see which team will hoist the covenant Larry O’ Brien Trophy.  The defending NBA Champion Miami Heat will battle the San Antonio Spurs in a series that everyone has been eagerly awaiting.

In arguably one of the best final series ever, the Heat came up with one more win than the Spurs last June, beating San Antonio four games to three.  Personally, I thought the 2013 version of the NBA Finals was exciting as I’ve seen. I’d probably have to go back to some of the Lakers versus Celtics Finals and Lakers versus Pistons to conjure up some of my best Finals memories.  

 

Last year I thought the Spurs would win.  I never would have thought that a veteran Spurs ball club would have melted down at the closing moments of game six like San Antonio did.  Although some would say that it was not a Spurs meltdown, but a Heat comeback.

Tony Parker’s health is huge here.  Sure, the Spurs came up with a huge Game Six road win over the Thunder to advance to the finals, but this is another level of play. If Parker can’t go - and go hard - the Spurs are far less likely to win their fifth NBA Title. 

It’s all about which other players step up.  I think players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli could very well tip things in favor of the Spurs.  Remember that for much of the second half of the season, these players and others took on the majority of the minutes in games, as Coach Popovich once again implemented a "rest my older guys" format to his team.

Role players for the Heat like Chris Anderson, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have all come up big at one time or another this post season.  And it was the Heat’s role players that tipped the scales in Miami’s favor in last season’s NBA Finals.

READ MORE: Seth: Russillo picks Heat to win NBA Finals, talks Duncan's legacy

I don’t know if we will see as good of a Finals as we did last season, but I think we will all be more than pleased with the product we get each night on the court.  I said Spurs in seven a year ago, and I think I’m just a year late on my prediction.  I’ll say Spurs in 7 this year and hope that I’m right!   

The Cajun Cannon thinks the Spurs will win in six games in the NBA Finals.  “To me, it’s all about Tony Parker,” said Bobby Hebert. “I think the Heat will have a lot of trouble trying to contain Parker.  He has been having arguably his best post season.  And if he’s (Parker) healthy and ready to go I think he will be the difference in the series.  
 
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Deke: Saints get back to work, Toon makes plays
The media was allowed to watch the Saints practice this morning, as the Black and Gold had another OTA. After stretching, the Saints broke off into position groups for work.  The bulk best part of practice came when the Saints went into team drills as offense faced defense.  

Drew Brees opened team drills by completing a swing pass to the near side of the field to RB Travaris Cadet. Brees then completed what would have been about a six yard pass to WR Kenny Stills. Next, Drew  looked down field for WR Marques Colston, but the pass was overthrown, falling incomplete.  On his last play at the helm, Brees completed a pass to WR Andy Tanner, but the Saints D had good pressure on their QB, and in a game, he might have been sacked.

PHOTO GALLERY: Saints OTA's - June 5

“I saw good coverage at times this morning.  CB Corey White did a good job.  But then White got beat by WR Robert Meachum on a third down situation,” said Bobby Hebert.  

 Hebert was also impressed with the play of Saints RB Travaris Cadet. “He was very active!  He caught a couple of swing passes that would have been for first downs, and he did a good job of running the football as well.”  Bobby said that Cadet’s elusiveness and vision are two things that make him a very versatile back.

Hebert said the catch of the day was made by WR Nick Toon.  Toon hauled in about a 12 yard pass from QB Drew Brees.  “The longest pass play came when QB Luke McCown completed a pass to WR Seantavius Jones for about 20 yards.” Bobby pointed out that Toon was more involved in today's OTA than the previous one the media attended.

Bobby said that the Saints defensive secondary did a good job in coverage overall, and he was impressed with the Saints downfield coverage on long pass plays attempted by the offense.  

Rookie CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste got some work in with the Saints first team defense, but he also worked with the second team defense.  

FULL AUDIO: Hokie talks to Deke and Bobby about Saints OTA's

Hokie Gajan says that the OTA's are more important to the new faces to the Saints team.  “To me, this time of year is more about the new faces and the young guys,” he said.  During OTA’s, coaches are looking to make sure that the new additions to the team are picking up what is being handed to them.  “This is a small part of the playbook installation going on right now.  When players and coaches get into film session, that is where you can really tell how much progress is being made.

Be sure and check out today’s Sports Talk beginning at 4, as our pros Bobby Hebert and Hokie Gajan break down today’s Saints OTA.  

The Saints will hold their 2014 mini-camp next week June 10-12.  

 
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Deke: Cougars stun Tigers to advance to Super Regionals
Coach Paul Mainieri could not have scripted a better start to the first few moments of the game for his LSU Tigers.  But then in the blink of an eye, what could have been the start to a great night turned into a nightmare. 

It looked as if the Tigers were going to run away with the final game of the Baton Rouge Regional, but a quick 2-0 lead quickly evaporated, and the Houston Cougars came up with a huge third inning that led to a 12-2 blowout for UH.  Houston now advances to the Super Regional and will play host to in-state foe Texas next week at Cougar Field in Houston. 

LSU batted first in the game and the Tigers scored two runs.  The home crowd was in the game and freshman pitcher Alden Cartwright had a lead as he went to the mound for the Tigers.  LSU jumped on the Cougars by scoring two runs in the top half of the first inning.

But then LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn took Cartwright out of the game in the first, as the Cougars tied the game at 2-2 when they came to bat in the first inning.  Then both teams would then go scoreless in the next inning before the Cougars erupted for a massive seven-run third inning to blow the game wide open building a 9-2 lead.  The Cougars stunned the Tigers and took the crowd out of the game. 

After scoring two runs in the first, the Tigers were unable to score any runs as the Cougars protected their 9-2 lead.  Houston kept LSU off the scoreboard as pitcher Jared Robinson retired 10 of the next 12 Tigers batters he faced.

Baseball is a game of confidence, and Houston had plenty of it. The Cougars grew stronger as the game wore on.  Houston coasted into the eighth inning with the Tigers down to their final six outs of the season.

LSU would get runners on second and third base but the Cougars got Tyler Moore to ground out to first and the Tigers were unable to score leaving Houston in the lead 9-2 with the Cougars going to bat in the bottom half of the eighth.

The Cougars would add three insurance runs to push their lead to 12-2 going to the top of the ninth inning.  LSU was unable to score at their final at bat of the season and the Cougars easily won the game.  The Tigers season comes to an end with a 46-16-1 overall record.  After riding a ten game win streak and considered the team to beat by many, the Tigers end their season losing their final two games.
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Deke: Saints defense on the rise
Going from the #32 defense in the NFL to #4 is one hell of a jump. In less than a year's time, the New Orleans Saints went from being on the bad end of history to making great history.  The 28-position jump in total defense from the 2012 season to the 2013 season was one of the most significant improvements in league history.

The Saints have added Jairus Byrd and future Hall of Fame CB Champ Bailey to a unit that once again looks to be among the league's elite.  After each season, every phase of the game is evaluated.  Although the Saints defense was one of the league's best overall, the improvement that most needs to be made is on takeaways.

When you look at the Seahawks, the 49ers and the Panthers defense, the only thing that separated the Black and Gold defense from those three units was takeaways.  Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan says that taking the ball away is a goal this season.

“That was a glaring weakness last year on our defense. I think the effort was outstanding, our players are outstanding. We did pretty decent as a unit, but we want to be great, and to be great, you have to take the ball away. We identified that. Every coach on our staff individually has a responsibility for turnovers. We present it to the defense. It’s every one of us at different times, we present different aspects of getting turnovers. We talk about it, we show clips of it. We show some (Charles) Peanut Tillman punch-outs, we saw a few of those today. Great players can be imitated, and we’re trying to do that here. He was a Ragin’ Cajun wasn’t he? I like that there. He’s great to watch, so we’ve been trying to imitate him. Imitation is the biggest form of flattery. So we enjoy doing that; we’re working hard on that. We know we have to improve on that. Seattle won the Super Bowl; they took the ball away more than anybody. They raised the bar, so we have to match it.”

After having been under Coach Rob Ryan a full season, the Saints look to be deeper at all positions, with Byrd, Bailey, the return of Vaccaro, Keenan Lewis and a healthy Victor Butler. Ryan was asked about his depth on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think I can only answer that from last year. I think we’ve got a ton of depth. I think we’ve got competition at every spot. It’s going to be great. We want to be a great defense, and I really think we’ve got the parts to really do something special. We’ve got a lot of great young players. They all work hard, they take coaching. I told you before, we have the best coaches I think. Our position coaches are outstanding. They’re all getting better, all working hard, all buying in, and things are going well.”
 
The addition of a guy like Champ Bailey is huge for the Saints.  Sure, all the so-called analysts will quickly point to his age.  And many will use the same line "how much left in the tank does he have" but I'm here to tell you, anytime you can add a player that is a sure thing for the Hall of Fame, it's a good thing.  A damn good thing.  

“There are so many things you could say about him. His athleticism obviously. The way he has been able to cover people over the years and still make plays on the football, that’s unique. That’s why he is what he is. He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and we’re fortunate to have him. I’m telling you, he looks great out here. He’s got a lot of life, he’s got young legs, and he’s fun to watch," Coach Ryan said about Champ Bailey last week.  
 
Bobby Hebert says that the competition at practice will only make the team better overall.  "Facing guys like Champ Baily, Jarius Byrd, Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro will make our passing game even better.  Our secondary can be one of the best in the league this season."  

Bobby also said that the Saints wide receivers will get a different feel of things facing a guy like Bailey, and seeing the effect Bailey will have on the other players on the Saints defense.  Hebert thinks the value that a player like Champ Bailey brings to the Saints far exceeds what takes place on the field.

"He (Bailey) has been in this game for a long time.  And he has become one of the best ever.  Champ knows what it takes to be prepared each week, and his leadership will be something that rubs off on the younger players," Hebert said.  

Saints Quarterback Drew Brees talked about the Saints improved defensive secondary last week.  

“You know, I see a lot confidence in that secondary. Keenan Lewis had a big year last year for us. I love his mindset, I love his approach each and every day. He’s very much about technique and doing things the right way. You can tell he loves game because he studies it, he knows receivers, he knows certain tendencies. I just watch the way he works and it’s great to have guys like that on the other side not just from the standpoint that your one of the starters but the influence that you will have on younger guys, just like a guy like Champ (Bailey). Champ’s career speaks for itself and certainly he’s going to help us a ton. Jairus Byrd you can’t say enough about. His ball production, his productivity. When he’s out there, he is a ball hawk and you have to know where he is so he can do some things. That combined with just the youth that we have and some of these guys that are still up and coming. Patrick Robinson coming back from his injury last year. We’ve got some guys around here that can play. The second round pick (Stanley) Jean-Baptiste, I’m excited about continuing to see him develop. He is a big, physical guy out there so I think we have a lot of diversity in terms of the type of players that we have back there because they all have ball skills. They are all in and around the ball, they’re getting their hands on it and typically when they do that, one of them is coming up with it which makes it tough for us to go up against that in practice and that’s a good thing for once we get to game time because hopefully that means we get a lot a short fields”. 

So now for the first time in the Sean Payton era, the New Orleans Saints step on the field with legit defense to go along with one of the game most potent offenses.  Over the course of Coach Payton's run in the Big Easy, he has had five playoff appearances, and a Super Bowl title to his credit.

In 2013 there were only two team's in the NFL that boasted a Top 10 Offense and a top 10 defense.  The Bengals and the Saints.  New Orleans has one of the most complete teams in the NFL.  And being more complete could be the difference between losing on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs and winning it all!  

Once you win the Lombardi, anything less than accomplishing that feat again is just not the same.  How good will the 2014 Saints will be? Obviously, time will tell.  But I'll ask anyone, going into an off season of work, has there ever been a Saints team that looks as good as this one can potentially be?  

 
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Deke: Houston battles back to take down LSU
Once down 0-4, the Houston Cougars battled back to score the final five runs of the game to force a winner-take-all Regional title game tomorrow night in Baton Rouge.  The Cougars rallied for a 5-4 win over LSU, snapping the Tigers 10-game win streak. 

Extra innings would be needed to decide this regional contest between the Tigers and Cougars.  In fact, this game would be the third extra inning game of the Baton Rouge Regional.  In a tight game, the Tigers got their first score in the bottom of the second inning. Kade Scivicque hit a home run over the left field fence to give Tigers a 1-0 lead.  With no outs and up 1-0, the Tigers looked as if they would do more damage at the plate, but credit the Cougars as they were able to get out of the inning, allowing just one run.

LSU would once again get another outstanding performance from a starting pitcher.  Kyle Bowman cruised right along as 40 of his first 64 pitches went for strikes.  Through the first six innings of the game, Bowman allowed just two hits and no runs. 

 

In the bottom half of the sixth inning, the Tigers led off with Alex Bregman hitting a single to reach first base.  Bregman’s single prompted the Cougars to make a pitching change in the inning.  Houston sent leftie Jared West to the hill. West got the Cougars out of a tight spot, as the left hander was able to get out of the inning and keep the Tigers' lead to a slim 1-0 as the clubs entered the seventh inning.  LSU then went to their bullpen calling on Kurt McCune to come in the game.

McCune would walk the Cougars' first batter before getting three outs, sending LSU to the bottom of the seventh to bat leading 1-0.  Connor Hale got things cooking for the Tigers with a single hit to left centerfield.

Then Tyler Moore came up to bat, and he would help extend the Tigers lead.  Moore was credited with an inside the park home run, increasing the Tigers lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh.  Houston right fielder Kyle Survance was looking for a ground rule double call, but the 1st base umpire ruled the ball in play.  Cougars Coach Todd Whitting would argue the call with no success, and the call stood. Two umpires then left the field to examine the play using video replay.  Again the call stood, and the Tigers remained with a 3-0 lead.  The Cougars would then make another pitching change as Chase Wellbrock would enter the game for Houston. 

Chrisitan Ibarra would then hit a single and eventually advance to third base.  Alex Bregman would cash in for the Tigers by nailing a double to right field. Ibarra scored and the Tigers upped their lead to 4-0.  The inning would come to an end with Jake Fraley grounding out, but the Tigers did major damage, padding their lead to 4-0. 

Things got more intense in the top of the eighth inning as the Cougars loaded the bases, putting LSU in a major jam with no outs and the bags juiced.  The Cougars would come up big as Landon Appling would hit a double, scoring two runs and cutting the LSU lead to 4-2 with no outs.

Tigers Pitching Coach Allan Dunn took a chance as Zac Person would come in the game, replacing Kurt McCune.  Person would come in and get one out before Coach Allan Dunn came back to the mound and called on Nate Fury to come in the game. 

Houston would advance their runners to second and third base, and Tigers right hander Nate Fury was in charge of trying to get the Tigers out of the inning with the 4-2 lead.  But the Cougars roared back, tying the game on Caleb Barker’s single that scored two runs and the game was tied 4-4 in the top of the eighth inning. 

Nate Fury struck out the next batter and then forced a fly ball for an out to get out of the inning.  The Tigers went into the bottom half of the eighth inning in a tied game 4-4.  LSU was unable to get any runs in the eighth, and the Cougars and Tigers found themselves going into the ninth inning deadlocked at 4-4.

Joe Broussard would come in and pitch in the ninth inning for LSU, and he did his job keeping the game tied at 4-4, with the Tigers getting a chance to win the game in the bottom of the inning.  The Tigers would get a runner on base, but Mark Laird would fly out to end the inning, leaving the score tied at 4-4.

Joe Broussard would continue to pitch for the Tigers in the tenth inning and had an excellent showing as he retired the Cougars in order, sending the Tigers to bat with a chance to win the game. But the Tigers could not manage any runs, and the game would head to the 11th inning.  Houston would get one run in the top of the 11th, and then the Tigers were in a must-score position.  The scrappy Cougars would get Tyler Moore to fly out and beat LSU 5-4.

Now it’s down to one game.  The winner moves on to the NCAA Super Regional round, and the losers season will come to an end. 
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