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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: Know Your Enemy, week one - Atlanta

The Saints season begins in their home away from home, the Georgia Dome. That's right, you heard me. The Black & Gold have owned Atlanta since coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans back in 2006. In the 8 games played in the ATL, the Saints have won 6 of them. The games are typically close, though, and even though the Dirty Birds are trying to find their toughness, as seen on Hard Knocks, they should not be considered pushovers.

Atlanta comes into the 2014 season looking to bounce back from last year's 4-12 record that caused them to finish tied with the Buccaneers for the worst record in the NFC South. Injuries plagued the team, wreaking havoc on top talents Julio Jones, Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Sean Weatherspoon, Sam Baker and Kroy Bierman. That trend has spilled over into this season, as Baker and Weatherspoon have already been shelved for the year, Jones is still recovering from a foot injury and Jackson is dealing with a hamstring issue.

A crushing blow to the Falcons is the departure of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. He retired from the game after the end of last year. Gonzalez was a Saints killer and will be almost impossible to replace in the in the lineup. QB Matt Ryan loses his trusted security blanket.

The team did address some issues up front, signing big defensive tackle Paul Soliai and guard Jon Asamoah. Atlanta also used their 1st round draft pick on tackle Jake Mathews out of Texas A&M. Clearly, protecting their signal caller is a top priority, as Ryan was sacked 44 times last year, which was 3rd most in the NFL. Look for the Saints D to challenge the rookie Mathews early and often.

The Falcons defense needs to do a better job as well, as they finished ranked 27th overall in the NFL. Along with adding Soliai, the team also beefed up by bringing in defensive end Tyson Jackson. The D-line gave up a whopping 135.8 rushing yards per contest last year and like the Saints, the secondary struggled to create turnovers, tallying just 10 interceptions.

While I do think the Dirty Birds will be better this season, they just don't have enough to make a legitimate run at the division crown. I think the Falcons can certainly "Rise Up" and achieve an 8-8 season, but victory numero uno won't be coming this Sunday.

Prediction: Saints 31 Falcons 16
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Steve: Saints LB Junior Galette curbs contract rumors

It's been an interesting morning in the Twittersphere.

First off, Randy Getlin of Yahoo Sports reported that Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette had agreed to a contract extension with the team.

Shortly thereafter Galette responded:

Galette inked a three-year, $6.3 million contract ahead of last season before breaking out for 12 sacks, but if he does meet certain goals in that deal he is able to void the final year of the contract.

Meanwhile, still no word on a place kicker of yet. I would imagine someone would be signed today as the Saints are back on the practice field tomorrow as they get ready for the season opener Sunday in Atlanta.
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Steve: Inside the SEC week one

What a start to the college football season the other night! Aggies fans have already forgotten all about Jonny Football thanks to Kenny Hill - the sophomore broke Manziel's single-game passing record with 511 yards, and No. 21 Texas A&M beat No. 9 South Carolina 52-28, ending the Gamecocks' 18-game home win streak.

#18 Ole Miss took down Boise State as Bo Wallace threw for 387 yards, 4 TDs and 3 picks.  Meanwhile, Vanderbilt brought shame to the conference getting decimated 37-7 at home against Temple - the Owls got their first win over an SEC team since 1938 when they bested Florida.

Here's a look at what’s happening this weekend:

Missouri was underestimated early last season, but it did not take long for people to realize their true potential. This year they are being given a bit more credit by starting out the season in the AP Top 25. The Tigers may struggle this season, especially following the dismissal of their best wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. They shouldn’t have trouble against South Dakota State though, as strong-armed QB Maty Mauk will likely lead Missouri to victory.

ALABAMA vs. WEST VIRGINIA (in Atlanta, Ga.)
There are few concerns with this year's Crimson Tide. It is likely that this game against the Mountaineers will be used as trial run for both quarterback candidates Jacob Coker and Blake Sims  Eventually in this game expect the offensive firepower of T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, along with Saban's smothering defense, to be too much for West Virginia to handle. The Crimson Tide should start the year with a comfortable victory.

For some reason, this game is landing on a lot of people’s upset-special lists. Unless Auburn truly was a smoke-and-mirrors outfit with no substance in 2013, Arkansas will be down 14 by the time the Hogs leave the hotel. Arkansas has no defense until it proves otherwise, and the offense can’t keep up with the Tigers. Unless Auburn comes apart this one won’t be close. 

Georgia’s championship aspirations might be over quickly, as the Bulldogs open with Clemson and then South Carolina, with an off-week in between. Clemson won this game last year and relegated Georgia to also-ran status, and the Bulldogs are well are well aware of it. Both teams are replacing successful quarterbacks, both have questions on defense and both are desperate to take the next step up in national prominence. With the game in Athens, I’d say bet on the red and black.
As the Gators try to get their confidence back, the first week of play will at least allow them to take things slowly. The Vandals have no chance at taking down an SEC team, much less one most people figure to be competitive this year. The real question in this game is how much improvement we’ll see from Jeff Driskel under center for Florida.  It will be his first action since suffering a broken leg last year. 

Southern Miss has fallen to depths previously unforeseen in Hattiesburg, and could do a lot for its rebuilding image by upsetting a heavily favored in-state opponent - but forget it, folks.  State is a solid team that needs to fill just a couple of holes while Southern Miss needs to fill entire platoons. The Golden Eagles are going down hard.

LSU vs. WISCONSIN (in Houston, Texas)
This is an intriguing matchup, to say the least: Wisconsin has better stability, LSU has far better team talent, and by virtue of catching the Tigers before their quarterback situation gets ironed out, Wisconsin has upset on their mind. The Badgers might run the ball effectively, but LSU has tons more speed on defense, and it’s unlikely the Wisconsin offensive line is accustomed to dealing with edge rushers like the ones the Tigers possesses.  This one’s going to be close but I’ll take the Bayou Bengals.

Hey, Tennessee could actually lose this game. The Vols are no lock to win, and if Utah State had just a bit more coming back to go along with QB Chuckie Keeton, I might make them my pick. It’s sad that one of the SEC’s traditional powers has been relegated to fighting for its life against mid-major programs for the last four or five years, but that’s the current reality in Knoxville.
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Steve: Brees back at practice after helping deliver baby girl

Drew Brees and his wife Brittany welcomed a 7-pound 7-ounce, 20-inch long baby girl to the family last night at 7:43pm.  They have the name picked out, but it’s not on the birth certificate yet so Drew didn’t want to share it just yet.

“Brit and her are healthy, happy; everybody’s doing great,” Brees said.  “It melted my heart to watch her be born last night.  Got to take the snap, so to speak, and catch her on the way out so that’s a memory I’ll have forever.  She already has daddy wrapped around her little finger and she’s less than 24 hours old.”
The new addition is child number four for Drew, and the first girl. How are the three boys liking the idea of a baby sister?

“The older two are definitely really excited,” Brees said with a smile. “The younger one who just turned two, he’s in a big momma phase right now, so anything that is diverting her attention away from him is probably not something he’s going to be a fan of right now. No, but they’re all really really excited. We’ve obviously been talking about it for a long time.  Even going back to when Brittany first got pregnant and we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl; just asking them do you want another brother or a little sister? And they all said baby sister, so they got their wish.”
The Who Dat Nation retweeted and commented on the picture of Baby Brees.  How does it feel to receive that kind of support from the fans?

“It’s awesome”, responded Brees. “They are all New Orleans babies. New Orleans will always have a special place in our hearts and theirs. This is their birth place; this is where they are growing up.  It just goes to show the relationship between us and the fans, it goes well beyond the playing field or what we do in the Superdome on Sunday.  Which I would say is most unique across all professional sports.  I don’t know if it’s like that anywhere else.”

Well said. Congrats…Drew Dat!
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Steve: Three exciting Saints players to watch tonight

There are quite a few reasons that Saturday night’s preseason tilt in Indianapolis is going to be exciting for Saints fans.

You get to see Drew Brees in action for the first time, as he missed the first 2 preseason contests with a strained left oblique. Also big ticket free agent acquisition Jarius Byrd will see his first game action in Black & Gold, as the safety has been given clearance for contact following back surgery.  And, of course preseason game #3 means were are that much closer to the real thing, baby! 

With the first set of roster cuts coming on Tuesday, here are 3 players who I’ll be looking out for in this one:

1.     Cornerback Champ Bailey

Bailey has spent very little time partaking in team drills, but the future Hall-of-Famer doesn’t really need the practice reps.  We all know who Champ is and what he’s capable of, but does he really have any gas left in the tank?  Whatever the reason may be for the Saints limiting his training camp participation, I’m all for it.  Keep those legs fresh for the regular season. Let’s see if Andrew Luck dares to throw the 36-year-old's way.  

2.     Wide Receiver Nick Toon

"Will the real Nick Toon please stand up, please stand up, please stand up?" There have been times during this year’s camp when the 2012 4th round draft pick has looked amazing, but then come a game situation, POOF, he vanishes. Right now, I have Joe Morgan ahead of Toon for the 4th WR spot, but the team will carry 5 receivers or possibly 6 this season.  Would you rather have Toon or Robert Meachem?  I’d lean toward Meachem right now just because I know what I’m getting.  Toon needs to show me something during show time to get my nod of approval.

3.     Outside Linebacker Kasim Edebali

Many of you are reading this right now and are saying, “Who the heck are you talking about?”  I feel you, but when fellow OLB Junior Galette singles Edebali out as a player that has stood out to him this camp, you make a note and be sure to pay attention.  Here is a rookie profile of Edebali I did during camp to get a little background on him.  So far in the previous 2 preseason games he has registered 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and 1 QB hit.  We’ll see if he becomes one of those undrafted rookie free agent finds to make the roster. 
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Steve: Who Dat say they got the best fans in the NFL?

We hear from Saints players and coaches all the time the Who Dat Nation is the best fan base in the NFL.  But do those outside Louisiana agree? 

Well, according to Forbes the Black and Gold boast only the 3rd-best fan base in pro football.     

"Blasphemy," you say! Which legion of loyal supporters could possibly top a single Who Dat - much less the entire nation?
Coming in at #1 are those cheesehead Green Bay Packers fans, and in at #2 are the Orange & Blue Denver Bronco fan base.  

I am surprised to find that the category that really caused the Saints fan base to come in at #3 was merchandise sales.  The Black and Gold rank 10th there, while finishing 2nd in hometown crowd, 1st in TV audience rank, 1st in stadium attendance rank, and 2nd in social media rank.  
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Steve: Big-name Saints will make preseason debut Saturday

Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson participated in team drills for the second straight day, which is a great sign both are feeling better from undisclosed injuries that has kept them out for a significant amount of time. Will they be a go for Saturday’s preseason contest against the Colts?

“Well, I think the plan is to play them,” Payton said. “Then more importantly, the correct amount of reps. So, we went through the roles yesterday, what our goals are. But both of those guys will play.”

Rookie Brandin Cooks was back in action after missing some time due to illness. Payton said the other day he was dealing with a stomach virus and fever. Will the first round draft pick see the field in Indy? “We’ll see,” answered Payton.  “We’ll see where he’s at tonight and tomorrow. Really just keeping him hydrated, getting his body weight up a little bit.”
The Colts will be a good test for the Saints, as they are one of the better teams in the AFC, finishing 11-4 last season and losing to the Patriots in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.  

Of the Colts, Payton said “There are a lot of new faces, guys that are very impressive and can run. Obviously we know the quarterback has turned into a real good football player, he’s got the arm to make all the throws.  I think the offensive line has played well.  And so when you put that together with the defense, you’re seeing a young roster that has played well and I’m sure they have high expectations.”   

Obviously goal #1 in this contest is to stay healthy, but does quarterback Drew Brees have any other goals in mind? “Look sharp, make good decisions, score points,” Brees responded. “Feel like we get good tempo and rhythm going in the game.”
Preseason game #3 is typically where starters see a bulk of the playing time before the regular season kicks off.  Does that make this exhibition game more meaningful?

“It is important, that’s why I want to play well,” said Brees. “I want to get out there and feel comfortable. This week has been great just to get back out and feel like I’m throwing the ball like I should.  Now it’s just time to take it to the game field and go through this final dress rehearsal before the season.”
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Steve: NFL wants Super Bowl halftime acts to pay to play

We all know that the Super Bowl is pro football's biggest stage and the most-viewed annual American sporting event. And apparently so does the NFL.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the league has asked some of the musical acts under consideration to play at this coming Super Bowl to pay them to take the stage. 
The NFL has reportedly notified Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Coldplay that they are under consideration to perform at the big game, and asked the artists to either give a portion of their post Super Bowl tour proceeds to the league or make some type of financial contribution in exchange for being offered the gig.

The WSJ says the artists' representatives have balked at the request.

Wait a minute, I thought the NFL was against pay for play. BOOM!
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Steve: Payton will be smart with Jairus Byrd at Colts

The Saints big $54 million dollar free agent acquisition finally participated in team drills today for the first time EVER. Yes, Who Dat Nation, ballhawking safety Jarius Byrd is a full go for the Black & Gold after missing all of organized team activities, all of mini-camp and all of training camp in West Virginia.

“Now, it’s just... I’m looking ahead,” said the Byrdman. “I’m looking ahead to what we have to get accomplished this game and long road we have ahead for the season.”

Wait did he say this game? Like, Saturday in Indianapolis versus the Colts?  

“In my mind I’m expecting to play,” Byrd stated.  “My mindset is I’m going to play. Now the last say-so goes through Coach Payton so I’m just preparing myself as if I’m going to play.  But things can change, I don’t know.”

Sean Payton sounded confident when asked about Byrd having a very physical first day, including a pad-smacking collision with running back Mark Ingram.

“Basically the last step was getting clearance for contact,” Payton said. “He’s gotten that final clearance so now you’re seeing him with no limitations.”

CLEARANCE FOR CONTACT! Glorious coach! So will Byrd play Saturday?

“When you take a player like Jarius, this is an important game because he hadn’t been able to play in the first two,” responded Payton. “We’ll be smart with the reps we give him, the amount we give him, but I don’t think you can just throw the ball out there and play. There is a little bit of football conditioning that goes ino it and I think that’s important.” 

Sounds like #31 is ready to take flight to me.

I’ll wrap up this blog the exact same way practice concluded today… DREW DAT! 
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Steve: Stills learned about more than football while missing Saints camp

The Saints were forced to move today’s practice indoors due to the rain; which means access to the fans is closed.  

Receiver Kenny Stills practiced fully with the team for only the second straight day, as he has missed most of camp due to a quad injury he suffered on the first day.

“I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot,” Stills said. “There was a lot of team-building in camp; getting in shape, getting the reps with Drew and the offense. So I’ve missed out on a lot, but I’ve been focused. I’ve been paying attention and taking great notes, so I don’t feel like I’m too far behind.” 

Something we can all relate to is having a hard time learning patience.  For a kid like Stills, who is entering his 2nd season in the NFL and chomping at the bit to get on the practice field, missing any time with the team is difficult.

“It’s tough not playing,” Stills explained. “Especially when you go through the offseason and you’re so excited to get back and play - to get hurt in the first day was rough for me.  I had to kind of go through that whole dealing with patience, and learning patience. So that’s been rough, but I’m happy to be here and I’m feeling good. Hopefully I can continue to progress and feel better."

Stills, like Brees, plans on playing Saturday in Indianapolis for preseason game #3.

Running back Mark Ingram is looking to make a mark on the team and the league this season, and it’s not just because he happens to be in a contract year.

“I think people over-exaggerate it,” Ingram stated. “I mean it’s important obviously, but every year is important.  Just to say I’ll put more emphasis on this year then the past three years just because it’s my contact year is ridiculous.”

Ingram seems to really be running the football with a lot more confidence this season. Another important added facet to his game has been getting more involved in the passing game: “Trying to take advantage of the reps so that I have a chance to do it, just to show that I’m capable of doing it,” said Ingram.  “I like to be involved in every aspect of the game!"

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