On our Sunday broadcast from Saints Training Camp, Kristian Garic and I were honored to be joined by Saints legend Willie Roaf.
Roaf was the first offensive lineman picked in the 1993 draft by the Saints with the 8th overall pick. He went on to earn 11 Pro Bowl selections, a first-team All-Pro four times as a member of the Saints and three more times with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bobby Hebert has told me time and again that Roaf, in his opinion, is the greatest player yet to wear the Black and Gold (although he also says “that torch will be passed to Drew Brees eventually.)
A humble Roaf told us that he thinks that torch has already been passed.
“I don’t know if I can’t agree with Bobby…I gotta say that Drew Brees, even though he’s playing now, is the greatest Saint ever,” he said.
New Orleans’ selection of Roaf paid off immediately, as he didn’t miss an offensive snap at right tackle during his All-Rookie campaign. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl and named the NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year that season.
In order to select Roaf in the draft, the Saints had to depart with star linebacker Pat Swilling, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1991, to Detroit for the No. 8 pick. That move caused quite a stir among members of the media and fans, but Head Coach Jim Mora was determined to select the O-lineman out of Louisiana Tech. Luckily for Mora, Roaf silenced the critics almost instantly with his bone-jarring blocks and outstanding play at tackle.
Willie was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s and the 2000s. He is one of just 13 position players to be named to multiple all-decade teams since the 1970 merger. The others include: Larry Allen, John Hannah, Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Ronnie Lott, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Mike Webster, Reggie White, and Gary Zimmerman. Aside from that group, other individuals named to two of the NFL’s all-decade teams include: coach Chuck Noll; kickers Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson; punter Sean Landeta; and return men Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Rick Upchurch.
Roaf was an important cog in the Saints’ success, starting at left tackle in New Orleans’ first-ever playoff victory, a 31-28 defeat of the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in 2000.
With Roaf protecting his blindside, former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green never missed a start. Roaf also cleared the way for running back Larry Johnson, who set a then team-record when he rushed for 1,750 yards in 2005. Johnson broke his own record the following season.
Roaf was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. Fellow Class of 2012 enshrinee and Arkansas native Cortez Kennedy was inducted into the state’s Hall two years earlier. Kennedy and Roaf are the first Arkansas Hall inductees to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year.
It was amazing to get to talk to Roaf just a week before his induction at Canton, Ohio.
Here’s what others had to say about Roaf:
“He was the best player on our team during his entire tenure with us, one of the top players in the history of our franchise and one of the NFL’s greatest at his position.” - Saints Owner Tom Benson
“The way he moved, his quickness, athletic ability and skill, that was what impressed me about Willie the most. That’s what made him such a great player. If I were starting a team right now, I’d take Willie.” - former Saints Head Coach Jim Mora
“One of the most impressive attributes about Willie was his ability to compete against the best. The better the player he faced, the more dominating he became. To me, he's the finest offensive lineman to ever play the game. He was truly a "shut-down" tackle.” - former Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil
“He was the best tackle I played against in the league period. The only guy that I played against that came close to him was Anthony Muñoz.” - former Saints Defensive End/Defensive Tackle Wayne Martin
“Willie always put the team first and really cared about his teammates both on and off the field. He didn’t ever want to let his team down.” - former Saints Offensive Line Coach John "Jack" Henry
“There was no defender he couldn’t handle. And, when he played the best, he played them better every time he faced them.” -former Saints Offensive Line Coach John Matsko
The Hornets announced that they have acquired center Robin Lopez, forward Hakim Warrick, and cash considerations from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for guard Jerome Dyson, center Brad Miller and two 2nd round picks (Brooklyn’s 2013 second round selection and Minnesota’s 2016 second round draft choice) as part of a three-team trade along with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Phoenix receives Brad Miller and Jerome Dyson from the Hornets as well as Wesley Johnson and a 1st round pick from Minnesota. Minnesota receives Brooklyn’s 2013 2nd round pick and their own 2016 2nd round pick from New Orleans.
“We are very excited about this trade that brings us two quality people and basketball players to help strengthen our foundation as a team,” General Manager Dell Demps said. “This move gives us a true center in Robin Lopez who brings youth and is a tough, inside rebounder. In Hakim, we get an experienced, versatile forward who will bring a veteran presence to our team.”
Lopez (7-0, 255), was drafted with the 15th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Suns. He averaged 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds for the Suns last season in 14.0 minutes over 64 games. During the 2010-11 season, Lopez started 56 of 67 regular season games, averaging 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 14.8 minutes of action. In four NBA seasons in Phoenix, the Stanford product has career averages of 5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds in 14.4 minutes over 242 games (94 starts). The Fresno, California native enjoyed a two-year collegiate career at Stanford, averaging 8.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 67 career games for the Cardinal. Robin’s twin brother, Brook, plays for the now Brooklyn Nets.
Warrick, (6-9, 219), who was the 19TH overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, averaged 6.4 points and 2.6 rebounds for the Suns last season over 35 games. The versatile forward has played for four NBA teams (Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls and Suns) over seven seasons, with career averages of 9.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 498 games (94 starts). The Philadelphia native starred for Syracuse University, playing four seasons for the Orange, averaging 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds over 135 career games. Warrick also helped Syracuse capture their first-ever National Championship in 2003.
10th overall draft pick Austin Rivers underwent successful surgery to clean up bone spurs in his right ankle. The guards’ injury flared up during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last week. Also, guard Xavier Henry underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for a lateral meniscus tear.
Henry appeared in all five games for the Hornets in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last week, averaging 12.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
Both are expected back on the court for the start in training camp in October.
It may not be the most exciting position to talk about; as a matter of fact the only time kickers really get the headlines is when they MISS! But the biggest roster battle this training camp just may be between Garrett Hartley and John Kasay.
Initially, it seemed as if Hartley would regain his job after missing last season with a hip injury that he suffered in the 3rd preseason game versus Oakland. Then things got a bit interesting in the spring when Kasay was brought back to challenge the young buck that kicked the Saints into Super Bowl 42.
While the magic of the 2009 season sticks in the mind of most, Hartley’s 2010 wasn’t freezing over hell or causing pigs to fly. He made only 80 percent of his tries, and missed a field-goal attempt against Atlanta in the third game of the season that would haunt the Saints all year long.
Kasay was solid last year, filling in for the injured Hartley, hitting 82.4 percent of his kicks while setting a franchise record with 147 points last season. Thank Drew Brees and the league’s most dangerous offense for all those point after attempts.
But Kasay is definitely going to give Hartley a run for his money, and I mean that literally.
The Saints gave Hartley a contract extension before the start of last season that makes him the highest paid kicker in the game. He is entering year 2 of his 5 year $10.3 million deal, with roughly $3 million of that guaranteed.
So with a sizable investment and youth on his side, the gig is Harley’s to lose. He has the better leg when his mind is right, but special teams coordinator Greg McMahon insists there will be an "open competition." If the youngster starts shanking ‘em in the preseason, the seasoned vet could be the one with the "leg up."
In last year’s draft, the Saints selected Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan with the 24th overall pick, and then traded back into the first round to nab Alabama Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram with pick number 28.
At the time, some national analysts questioned New Orleans’ selection of Ingram, saying the team had a crowded backfield and considered it a waste of a first round pick.
However, if you really stopped to take a look at things from the Saints’ point of view, you would see that they didn’t want to end up in a situation like 2010 when the team was down to their 4th string running back (Julius Jones) come playoff time.
Still, Ingram had a rocky rookie season, as he struggled with injuries. He played in 10 games, missing the final 4 and the playoffs. Ingram carried the ball 122 times, averaging 3.9 yards per carry while finding the end zone 5 times. He definitely didn’t live up to the hype of being a first rounder and questions about if he can remain healthy now overshadow his talent.
The loaded stable of RBs (Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles & Chris Ivory) will only help the durability issue because Ingram won’t be asked or needed to shoulder a heavy workload. Don’t get me wrong, the 22-year-old has the quickness, vision and power to be any every-down back, but the beautiful thing about being in New Orleans is that he doesn’t have to be. If he CAN stay on the field, Ingram will be the most improved Saint in 2012. Assistant coach Joe Vitt said that they will monitor him closely this training camp after he had his knee scooped this summer.
Cam Jordan played in every game during his rookie campaign and had a solid season. Now, if you look at his stats, the only thing that stands out to you is a negative…one sack.
But the Saints drafted him to primarily be a run defender, and he did that very well, especially towards the end of the season. I can recall many times where he was able to seal the edge, shed a blocker and make an open-field tackle on the ball carrier. ProFootballFocus ranked him as one of the 10 best run-stopping 4-3 defensive ends in the league.
Now in Jordan’s second year enters new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Coach Spags has a past of working with high-potential players and making them better. While with the New York Giants, he coached the likes of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and helped with the development of Chris Long during his tenure as the St. Louis Rams head coach.
I have no doubt Spagnuolo will have a huge positive influence on Jordan. I don’t expect to see 16 or 17 sacks in one year, but I do believe that he could get close to 10 a season with Coach Spags now running the defense.
Coach Spagnuolo typically runs a scheme that requires pressure from his four down linemen and nothing but coverage from his defensive backs. Jordan will immediately be expected to do more, and this should help him progress very quickly. It will now be a requirement for him to get constant pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
He will also benefit from the great coverage we will see from the Saints' secondary and athletic corps of linebackers.
Instead of having six or seven guys blitzing on each play, we will see four linemen rush and the other seven players drop back into coverage or help in run support. This will be beneficial because the quarterback may have nowhere to go with the ball, thus resulting in a coverage sack
It’s no secret the defensive front has been a weakness for the Saints for a while now. Jordan, along with the help of Coach Spagnuolo, has a chance to change that this season.
The ball is now back in the Hornets' court (hah!) regarding restricted free agent Eric Gordon. The shooting guard has signed a 4 year, 58 million dollar offer sheet with the Suns. Just last week Gordon proclaimed his heart was in Phoenix after they apparently put forth an impressive recruiting effort.
So will the Hornets match, keeping Gordon in New Orleans? Head coach Monty Willaims has proclaimed, and rightly so, that he only wants players who want to be here.
During a recent mini-camp workout with some of the team's young players are getting ready for the NBA's Summer League in Las Vegas, Williams stated that he is waiting to hear more from Gordon himself before rushing to a decision.
"I think Eric is just in a weird situation right now", Coach Williams said. "I've told you guys from day one with him, he's always talked about being here. And then all this stuff has come out of the blue. It's not a contradiction. I just think when you're going through free agency, and you're talking about that kind of money, certain things are said and felt, but I think when the dust settles we'll hear more of the truth of where he wants to be. At the same time I'm not going to back off that stance, I want people that want to be here."
The Hornets have until Saturday to make a decision. They could decide not to match the Suns offer and just let Gordon walk, but all indications are that the Hornets will keep Gordon in New Orleans.
Dealin’ Dell Demps has been at it again and has traded point guard Jarrett Jack to the Golden State Warriors.
In return the Hornets get back the draft rights to Edin Bavcic, who was selected back in 2006. Honestly, they really take nothing back in this deal. Complete salary dump move here folks. Jack was set to make $5.6 mill this coming season and it was the final year of his contract.
I really like this move for the Hornets, because they are getting more cap space. Plus, this means that Austin Rivers is going to be thrown right into the fire from the get go and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Hornets 10th overall pick is getting most of his work in at point guard as the team is holding a mini-camp as they get ready to leave for the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
Grevis Vazques also remains on the roster as the likely back-up point guard to Rivers.
The Hornets and Orlando Magic reached agreement on a sign-and-trade deal that will send forward Ryan Anderson to New Orleans in exchange for center Gustavo Ayon.
NBA.com is reporting that Anderson will sign a four-year deal worth between $34-36 million.
Anderson is 6’10” and is entering his fifth season in the NBA out of Cal Berkley. He started 61 games for the Magic last season, averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds per game. He led the NBA with 3-pointers made (166) and attempted (422) last season while shooting just above 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Ayon spent his rookie NBA campaign in New Orleans last season after playing professionally in Spain's top pro league. The 27-year-old started in 24 games for the Hornets, averaging 6 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. Ayon shot 54 percent last season with highs of 16 points (twice) and 17 rebounds, showing the potential to be a solid player if he can produce more consistently.
As with all league business, today's trade can't be consummated until Wednesday, which is the first day new NBA contracts can be signed for the 2012-13 season.
Restricted free agent Eric Gordon has agreed to a max offer sheet by the Phoenix Suns. It is worth $58 million through four years. However, some internet reports mention that the Hornets have every intention of matching that offer.
Gordon is one of the best shooting guards in the league when he’s not hurt. He only played in nine games for the Hornets last year. Before that, he was great for the L.A. Clippers and helped Team U.S.A. win a gold medal in the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
According to a prepared statement, Gordon says; “After visiting the Suns, the impression the organization made on me was incredible. (Suns Managing Partner) Mr. (Robert) Sarver, (President of Basketball Operations) Lon Babby, (General Manager) Lance Blanks, the front-office staff and Coach (Alvin) Gentry run a first-class organization and I strongly feel they are the right franchise for me. Phoenix is just where my heart is now."
Where his heart is now? After one meeting!?
Sorry Eric, truth be told, you really don't have much of a choice. As a restricted free agent, the Hornets matching the Suns offer means Gordon would stay in New Orleans.
But does the franchise want the supposed leader of their team playing here if his heart is somewhere else? We'll have to see where this one will turn.