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Steve Geller

"WWL First News" Sports Anchor
Weekdays 5am-10am

"Sports Talk" Producer
Weekdays 4pm-8pm

Twitter: @stevegellerWWL
Email: steve@wwl.com

Steve: Pelicans sign Solomon Hill

The Pelicans have dipped their beak into the waters of NBA free agency and have hopefully found an answer to their issues at small forward. ESPN's Marc Stein first had the news on the birds signing Solomon Hill: Stein adds that the deal is for 48 million dollars over four years and has incentives that could boost it past the $50 million mark. Hill comes to New Orleans after spending his 1st three seasons with the Indiana Pacers. The 25 year old from the University of Arizona was drafted 23rd overall back in 2013. His contibutions may not always show up in the box score but he is a good defender who can hopefully develop a 3 point shot under coach Alvin Gentry. His work ethic seems relentless as now-former teammate Myles Turner congratulated Hill on his new contract:
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Steve: Saints Coach Payton drops in NFL Network rankings

NFL Network analyst Elliot Harrison has come out with his annual coach power rankings.  The Saints' Sean Payton comes in at #9, falling 4 spots from his 2015 ranking.  Here are the other eight coaches that Harrison has ahead of  Payton:

8) Ron Rivera, Panthers
7) John Harbarugh, Ravens 
6) Andy Reid, Chiefs
5) Bruce Arians, Cardinals
4) Mike Tomlin, Steelers
3) Mike McCarthy, Packers
2) Pete Carroll, Seahawks
1) Bill Belichick, Patriots

To me, there is no question Belichick is #1, but after that I think its easy to argue about who goes where.  I don't think 9th is that far off for Payton.  It's like he says all the time, you are what your record is. After back-to-back 7-9 seasons I wouldn't have been surprised if Payton had fallen out of the top 10. 


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Voting starts today on Zephyrs final choices for new name

By this time next year, the Zephyrs baseball team will have a new name.  The franchise is rebranding the minor league baseball team in order to be "more New Orleans." 

The ballclub's current nickname actually comes from a famous Denver passenger train, not "The Zephyr" rollercoaster that used to reside at Pontchartrain Beach. 

The team asked fans for help and received over 2,000 suggestions that have now been whittled down to 7 finalists. Once again the team has turned to the fans to make a final decision.  Hold onto your hats, here are your choices. ...and now batting for your New Orleans

Baby Cakes
King Cakes
Night Owls 
Red Eyes 

Click here to cast your vote... 

Could these really be the best suggestions out of the 2,000 that were submitted? YIKES! What do you think? I don't like ANY of them, but am ready to have some fun with it. My vote is going for what I think is the absolute worst choice....the Baby Cakes. Isn't that a term of affection for your significant other? "Hey baby cakes, I missed you." 

Voting began today.  The poll closes on July 8th, and the winner wont be announced until later in the year.  Maybe that will be enough time to rethink things and just to keep the name Zephyrs.       
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Steve: LSU's Ben Simmons to go 1st in NBA Draft; but is he ready?

Not a big surprise here, but former LSU power forward Ben Simmons will be selected 1st overall by the Philadlephia 76ers 
The potential Simmons has is just too great for Philly to pass up on.  He is 19 years old and can score, rebound and bring the ball up-court like a point guard. Very similar to what Pelicans stud Anthony Davis brings to the table.

I personally am not sold on Simmons in the pros, but you can say that about every prospect.  His season at LSU just bothers me too much.  Forget the knock on a lack of an outside shot, I just got a bad vibe about his attitude while he was in Baton Rouge and felt it showed often on the court.  Maybe it was an issue with Tigers' coach Johnny Jones, but Simmons' body language and the way he carried himself makes me think he isn't ready for the bright lights of the Association.   

Photo via USA Today
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Steve: 2016 Saints mini camp is in the books

The Saints ended practice early today, as the team wrapped up their third and final day of mini-camp.  Linebacker Stephone Anthony was not in attendance and Jairus Byrd, Dannell Ellerbe, Kyle Wilson, Kasim Edebali, Jamarca Sanford and Thomas Morstead did not take part in team drills. Robert Meachem was back at practice and wearing his old #17 again.  Kyle Prater now has #12. While Meachem was present, he did not take part in the practice due to a foot issue.  

Last year at training camp, it was evident that tight end Ben Watson was going to have a large role in the 2015 offense, since he seemed to catch at least one touchdown every practice.  A love affair could be budding with Josh Hill. He ran a great route where he faked outside, then went in and caught a TD from Luke McCown. I'm interested to see if Hill is more interested in the offense this year.  The Saints clearly love him, or they would not have matched the Chicago Bears offer to keep him in New Orleans.  

Both kickers, Kai Forbath and Connor Barth, continue to struggle.  They missed a number of kicks throughout this offseason, but Coach Payton said he likes the duo, explaining that an issue with the field made for poor kicking conditions.  Payton added he believes that one of these two will be the team's place kicker, quelling any thought the team would bring in another player.  
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Steve: Could Davis Tull be the missing piece to Saints pass rush?

The Who Dat Nation suffered a panic attack upon hearing the news that last year's 2nd round draft pick Hau'Oli Kikaha suffered an ACL injury during OTAs, and will likely miss the entire 2016 season.  He was supposed to play a vital role in re-energizing a pass rush that allowed just about every opposing QB in 2015 to look like a Hall of Famer.  
After getting over the initial sting of losing a player, thoughts turn to who ca help fill the void, and the the answer might also be from Kikaha's draft class. Davis Tull was selected by the Saints in round 5 a year ago and missed the entire 2015 season because of a torn labrum. He had a really good day at mini-camp on Wednesday, where he would have had a few sacks, giving hope that maybe he could be at least be a part of the solution to the Black & Gold's pass rushing woes. 

“I said something to him, I thought he had two really good get-offs," said head coach Sean Payton. "He’s obviously quick, he’s healthy, he’s doing well. His weight is right around 250 so I’m sure he’s anxious for us to get the pads on and for him to receive some good work."

Training camp will kick-off at the end of next month so we will have a clearer picture soon.  Expect Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham for playing time at defensive end.  

Photo via USA Today
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Steve: Another CFL player looking to make NFL with Saints

Last season, cornerback Delvin Breaux was one of the few bright spots on the Saints defense.  His transition to the NFL from the Canadian Football League seemed effortless.  This year he did some recruiting for the Black & Gold, helping the team discover safety Erik Thomas, who also played ball in the CFL.

“I played with him for 2 years in Canada, that’s my guy,” says Beaux. “I went and talked to Sean Payton and was like, 'Coach, we need to get him down here.' Harris was in his contract year up there and he called me to say no teams were looking at him. I said 'WHAT!?' I went right up to Coach Payton and said look at this guy, I think he’s going to be a gem for us.”
Harris has definitely caused the media to take notice at the handful of practices we’ve seen this offseason.  First off, you can’t miss him because of his size.  He stands 6-ft-3, 220 pounds and has also played the linebacker position. 

Has Harris’ adjustment to the American game of football been as seamless as Breaux’s?

“It’s been good. With football, everything is kind of similar,” answered Harris. “It’s just learning a new terminology, almost like learning a new language. It’s not too hard to pick up on. I feel like I have pretty good football knowledge, but just repetition; that’s all it is.”

Meanwhile, Harris’ new Black & Gold teammates seem to agree with Breaux’s initial assessment. “Stud,” replied safety Kenny Vaccaro when asked about Harris. “He’s been playing good every practice. He’s competing. He’s making plays. He has a lot of range. He’s smart. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Photo via USA Today
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Steve: Saints will hold two practices in Houston before preseason game

The Saints will be headed to Houston a little early ahead of their week 2 preseason match-up with the Texans:
The two teams have done this before and the Saints could also end up holding joint practices with the New England Patriots, who they open the preseason against on August 11th.

Sometimes things get get a little "spirited" when guys start hitting players wearing another uniform...

But for the most part, coaches and players rave about the amount of benefits the sessions provide.
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Steve: Kikaha tears ACL at Saints OTA

Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic has found out a little more about Saints DE/OLB Hau'Oli Kikaha tearing his ACL. The injury happened “during a regular OTA drill, nothing special.” This is the 3rd time Kikaha had to endure an ACL tear after having two in college. 

He was drafted in the 2nd round last year and was being given an opportunity to showcase his pass rush skills at defensive end to help out Pro Bowler Cam Jordan.  In 2015, Kikaha recorded 52 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 15 games. 

What does this mean for the Saints defense?

“Let's not forget this is a team that already is devoid of a complimentary dominant pass rusher,” says Garic. “Kikaha was solid last season before he was plagued by an ankle injury leading the league in forced fumbles as a rookie before the injury. This is a significant loss for the Saints D that is searching for an identity.”

The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert was also expecting big thing from Kikaha and chimed in on how thinks this effects the Black and Gold.

“A big blow, I’d have to say," Hebert said sullenly. I think the Saints were definitely counting on him to be that initial starter in obvious pass rushing situations coming off the edge opposite Cam Jordan. I think utilizing him at defensive end would have been a big boost for his career going forward.  But, having 3 knee surgeries on the same knee now, I don’t know what the future holds for him.”

Photo via USA Today
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Steve: Saints will end 2016 with 5-11 record, according to PFF

We are 100 days away from the Saints season opener against Oakland in the Superdome and NFL analysts haven’t been too kind in their prognostications for the Black & Gold.   

The one that really hurt was Pro Football Focus’s recent prediction. PFF has become one of the go-to websites in football for in-depth analysis of the NFL and NCAA. Well, they just put out their NFC projections for 2016 and have the Saints achieving a 5-11 record. Writer Nathan Jahnke is banking on a Drew Brees decline, along with the easy target of mentioning how bad the defense was the last 2 seasons.

Now I know New Orleans has a tough schedule this year, but I just can’t wrap my head around them only having 5 wins. To me the team was not as bad as their 7-9 record showed last year despite a crappy defense.  I can easily point to 3 games that could have gone the other way and suddenly the team is 10-6. I know…woulda, coulda, shoulda. My point is that I don’t believe this team is as far away from being a contender as some of the national media might believe.  Have I become a “homer?"

First off, PFF, that Brees decline ‘aint happening this year unless something dramatic happens.  The media has been able to view 2 of the 6 organized team activity practices, and in both the 37 year old has been sharp, looking like he is already in game shape and ready for September 11th. 

Linebacker James Laurinaitis had a great quote after the defense got abused by Brees in Thursday’s practice. “We still have to find a way to get some interceptions. I think we are o-fer on Drew. He dropped some dimes in there today. We’ve got to find a way to get some.”

I think it’s safe to say we can pencil in the Saints offense as being a top 5 unit this year, since the lowest they’ve even been in the Brees/Payton era was 6th in 2010.  The Saints are going to score; they just have to find a way to stop the other team.  
Watching the defense play last year was painful for everyone.  I believe the dysfunction of having Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator and also Dennis Allen as senior defensive assistant was a huge problem. It was the worst kept secret that Allen was eventually going to become the DC.  When things are wrong within the coaching room, that negative energy finds a way to seep itself into the locker room. There were a bazillion times where the defense either looked disinterested or lost in games. But, I do see hope as there was some improvement when Allen took over. The Saints defense gave up on average 26.8 ppg when Allen was running the show compared to 31.5 ppg under Ryan. Just sayin’. 

Another reason to believe in the D is that a number of rookies were leaned on to be contributors last year and now as tough as the season might have been, they have a year of NFL experience under their belt. Delvin Breaux, Stephone Anthony, Hau’Oli Kikaha, Bobby Richardson, Damian Swann and Tyeler Davison all saw a good amount of playing time in year 1 and hopefully have a sophomore surge not slump. OH YEAH! Penalty flags will go down vastly, too, since the team let Brandon Browner hit the bricks. A record breaking 21 flags were thrown on him in 2016.  Didn’t it seem like almost everyone would come on a 3rd and long to?
Listen, I’m not saying this team is going to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix to wreck havoc on the entire league in 2016, but I feel like the national guys are painting this picture of doom and gloom and I just don’t get that feeling being around the ballclub so far.  It’s still way too early and I can’t give a season prediction yet, but 5-11? Not buying it one bit. 

The Saints will go through week #3 of OTAs starting Tuesday next week.  Then from June 14-16th is when mini-camp kicks off and those sessions are open to the public.  Come check out the Black and Gold for yourself. Practice is from 11am-1:20pm at the team facility on Airline Drive in Metairie. 
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