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Read It & Weep - Saints Will Roll In 2012


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Seems a knowledgable NFL man thinks it's all good down in New Orleans afterall.....

Saints still look like contenders despite trying offseason


  • By Gil Brandt NFL.com
  • Senior Analyst
  • Published: June 12, 2012 at 11:22 a.m.

METAIRIE, La. -- One of my favorite things to do is visit minicamps in the spring, after the draft and most of free agency have played out. It's a great opportunity to see how teams are attacking the game differently, how rookies are integrating into the NFL and how the pieces are fitting together in a general sense.

This offseason, no team piqued my interest more than the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are the NFL's most embattled team these days. From the bounty scandal to the resulting suspensions to the Drew Brees contract stalemate, New Orleans has become a beacon for drama over the past few months. A lot of folks wonder if this team will crumble under the strain of adversity. Consequently, I didn't know what to expect on my trip to the Big Easy last week and would not have been surprised by a sloppy showing from a depleted coaching staff and dispirited group of players.

I observed just the opposite.

This is a team that has won 41 games (playoffs included) since 2009 -- including the franchise's first Super Bowl title -- and seems destined to continue this successful run in 2012, despite surrounding turmoil. Spending two days at Saints OTAs, experiencing everything from practice to film sessions with the coaching staff to cafeteria downtime, I saw an extremely focused team that should once again be a Super Bowl contender.

Here are five reasons why:

1. The depleted coaching staff's adjusting remarkably well to life without Sean Payton.

Bounty punishments took Sean Payton from the Saints for the entire 2012 season (beginning in April). Assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt has been tasked with filling in for Payton, but he faces a six-game suspension once the season begins. For now, though, Vitt looks like the perfect man for the job. This is a guy who has spent his entire, 33-year coaching career in the NFL, learning from some of the game's finest figures, including Chuck Knox in Seattle. Although he's never been a full-time head coach, his extensive experience, toughness and brutal honesty allows him to form a strong rapport with players. But he also has a fantastic relationship with the rest of the coaching staff, allowing everyone to perform their respective duties without interference.

Despite a brand new coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo, the defense looks very much in sync. After running an extremely aggressive defense based on man coverage under Gregg Williams, the Saints are settling into more quarters (zone) coverage with Spagnuolo at the helm. And the players have responded very well to this change in philosophy, particularly safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, who have both immediately picked up the new scheme. New middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a man with increased importance due to Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension, looks 10 pounds lighter from a season ago. Lofton's playing quicker in general and performing better in pass coverage. After observing practice, I joined the defensive staff for a film session and was amazed to see how well the unit's already operating. I was shocked by how few mistakes/corrections were being made. It was not an intense critiquing session at all -- just some tweaks here and there. Spagnuolo and Co. are very well-organized, presenting a clear game plan for a defense eager to improve on last year's lackluster showing. (From 2010 to 2011, New Orleans fell from fourth to 24th in total defense.) The Saints' defense looked above average for this time of the year.

Offensively, with Payton out of the picture, this is Pete Carmichael's show. Just 40 years old, Carmichael has the makings of an NFL head coach going forward. He's a very bright, forward-thinking offensive mind. Clearly, this is a completely different team without Drew Brees at the helm, but Carmichael has done a nice job orchestrating the offense with Chase Daniel behind center. The Saints are even incorporating some of the things Daniel excelled with during his college days at Missouri -- half rolls, generally moving the pocket -- as an emergency plan, just in case Brees' holdout continues. All in all, the offense is in good hands with Carmichael.

With Spagnuolo, Carmichael and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer essentially vying for a six-week head coaching position (once Vitt's suspension begins), it's easy to imagine this staff fracturing. But that's not the case at all. This is a very cohesive bunch that doesn't have trouble dividing up duties.

2. New Orleans has received enviable player commitment this offseason.

As mentioned before, the Saints' contract dispute with Brees is ongoing. But of the players under contract and healthy, the Saints report 100 percent attendance at offseason workouts. The general training regimen has been stupendous. One player who particularly stands out is Will Smith. The ninth-year veteran defensive lineman has been suspended for the first four games of 2012 for his involvement in the Saints' bounty system. A lot of times, when players are put in tough positions -- whether they're going through divorce or, in this case, a league reprimand -- they tend to slack off. But Smith has responded by getting in the best shape I can remember since he first entered the league in 2004 out of Ohio State. He performed fluidly in drills and generally looks like a man on a mission. Smith has responded admirably to difficult circumstances -- a common quality on this Saints roster.

Brees received great praise -- and rightfully so -- for organizing Saints workouts during last summer's labor dispute. But he's certainly not the only leader on this Saints roster, so nothing's breaking down in the absence of the franchise quarterback. Smith, Harper and Jenkins continue to carry the torch on the defensive side of the ball, while the offense has a number of true professionals, including running back Darren Sproles, who displays a quiet leadership. This team has a very strong core, which is a godsend with all the distractions that have presented themselves. Through all this turmoil, the Saints have really come together as an organization.

3. The Saints remain focused on the task at hand, not outside distractions.

Despite the emotional toll this team has taken, there are no lingering effects from the NFL's unprecedented punishments. Contrary to what many may think, it's not even a topic of conversation around camp. Spending time in the locker room and cafeteria, I didn't hear a single mention of "Bountygate." This team has not gone astray at all. There's no feeling of gloom and doom. Just a group of single-minded players going about their business.

On the field, the team's focus was outstanding. During the two days I attended practice, I didn't witness a single false start, offsides or failed QB-center exchange -- three things that can go awry at this time of year. The season's still three months away and the temperature's in the triple digits, but nobody's lollygagging at the back of the line or halfheartedly going through the motions. This team is locked in.

4. Chase Daniel is doing his best Drew Brees impression.

One thing I'll always remember from my Cowboys days is how much Tom Landry stressed QB-WR harmony. He thought this was the most important relationship on the entire team, having quarterbacks and receivers annually report to camp three days before everyone else for "Quarterback School." The main focus was to develop proper timing.

For this reason, Brees' absence is certainly not ideal. That being said, Daniel looks as close to Brees as you can get for a stand-in. He's worked hard to improve his upper-body strength and throws a very nice ball. Daniel routinely hit the back-shoulder fade that Brees has mastered over the years and reacted well to the blitz. Thus, despite Brees' absence, Saints pass catchers are getting a lot out of these workouts with Daniel at the helm. Daniel's certainly not Brees, but he does a fantastic job playing Brees' role in this offense.

Of course, Daniel was involved in a bit of a scuffle with Lofton that drew national headlines. Truth be told, it's very seldom that a day goes by without a little dustup in team workouts -- especially when it's 100 degrees outside. These things happen. And three plays later, I noticed Daniel and Lofton joking around with each other. No big deal.

5. Jimmy Graham displays unlimited upside.

No player was more impressive than third-year tight end Jimmy Graham. The former Miami Hurricanes basketball player is still just scratching the surface of his potential. He's unbelievably fluid for a guy who stands at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and makes outstanding adjustments on the ball. A lot of people compare Graham to Antonio Gates because of his basketball background, but his body type and smoothness are more reminiscent of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow.

Graham broke through last season with 1,310 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 99 catches. This year, I can see him eclipsing 100 receptions. He's that good. We're looking at a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.

* * * * *

The drama swirling around New Orleans this offseason could bury some organizations, but the cohesive effort I witnessed last week couldn't have been more encouraging for the team's prospects in 2012. It goes without saying that everything relies on Brees returning to the team. So long as No. 9 is behind center, though, this team will remain highly formidable in the fall.

While the NFC South looks to be one of the toughest divisions in football, I predict the Saints will take their third division title in four years. Despite what some may think, this team will be in the hunt for Super Bowl XLVII, which just so happens to be in New Orleans ...

Edited by SaintRay
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Saints have targets on them. While they might have a chip on their shoulder, the Bucs and Panthers will be looking to knock it off as well as the Falcons. Winning the South may be easier said than done for them. This year isnt the same as the last few years. The schedule is brutal and the saints walk in with out the HC.

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I'm thinking about writing for NFL.com as a summer job. I already have a great article on five reasons this will be the year Miami stops sucking.

1. Ryan Tannehill can throw a football even better than he can catch one.

2. The offense won't be as cluttered with receiver talent as in years past and can concentrate on running the ball with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas

3. Better coaching blah blah more creative blah

4. They didn't draft Brandon Weeden, even though they technically could have.

5. **** YEAH SEAKING!!!

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Saints will be fine this year.

Brees isnt in camp yet. That doesnt really matter, but it sure would help.

Payton gonna be out all season

Vitt half the season

The schedule is outright brutal

Vilma (i dont care what saints fans say) was a main leader on D and very smart player. Gone

Nicks (while they got grubs, you still dont know how that will work out.) But Nicks was probowl

Then you got the Bounty stuff. Im sure teams like Panthers will be out looking for revenge.

Enter Lofton. The run D will improve but 3rd downs will leave them exposed

Then a new DC and new scheme. Should be fine here. But still a odd factor.

The Saints have a lot of question marks. While there is no reason they cant be the same dangerous Saints. Its still a lot to over come. Then factor in location of the SB and no one seems to make it when its in their home city. Had The staff stayed i think they would have been they right coaches to change that. Payton would preach it.

I know ive predicted the Saints to still win the South, but it wont be easy as it was the last few years and they scratched at times then trying to keep it away from the falcons. Now you got the new bucs who actually took out the Saints twice and the "prolific panthers" (im trade marking that. Oh yeah... someone is gonna try and jack that.) getting hot with a year under their cap.

Its hard to say and playing the Easy and some of the odd teams. Its really gonna be a dog fight.

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Brees isnt in camp yet. That doesnt really matter, but it sure would help.

Payton gonna be out all season

Vitt half the season

The schedule is outright brutal

Vilma (i dont care what saints fans say) was a main leader on D and very smart player. Gone

Nicks (while they got grubs, you still dont know how that will work out.) But Nicks was probowl

Then you got the Bounty stuff. Im sure teams like Panthers will be out looking for revenge.

Enter Lofton. The run D will improve but 3rd downs will leave them exposed

Then a new DC and new scheme. Should be fine here. But still a odd factor.

The Saints have a lot of question marks. While there is no reason they cant be the same dangerous Saints. Its still a lot to over come. Then factor in location of the SB and no one seems to make it when its in their home city. Had The staff stayed i think they would have been they right coaches to change that. Payton would preach it.

I know ive predicted the Saints to still win the South, but it wont be easy as it was the last few years and they scratched at times then trying to keep it away from the falcons. Now you got the new bucs who actually took out the Saints twice and the "prolific panthers" (im trade marking that. Oh yeah... someone is gonna try and jack that.) getting hot with a year under their cap.

Its hard to say and playing the Easy and some of the odd teams. Its really gonna be a dog fight.

No one is pretending that its going to be easy, but its not like they dont know how to do their jobs.

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No one is pretending that its going to be easy, but its not like they dont know how to do their jobs.

Exactly, it's not like they will all of sudden forget how to play the game. Oh, and that brutal schedule, well the rest of the division teams play almost the same schedule, so the other teams in the division will have just as hard of a time with their schedule as we could with ours.

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Exactly, it's not like they will all of sudden forget how to play the game. Oh, and that brutal schedule, well the rest of the division teams play almost the same schedule, so the other teams in the division will have just as hard of a time with their schedule as we could with ours.

Most fans either dont get this or choose to ignore it.

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Brees isnt in camp yet. That doesnt really matter, but it sure would help.

Payton gonna be out all season

Vitt half the season

The schedule is outright brutal

Vilma (i dont care what saints fans say) was a main leader on D and very smart player. Gone

Nicks (while they got grubs, you still dont know how that will work out.) But Nicks was probowl

Then you got the Bounty stuff. Im sure teams like Panthers will be out looking for revenge.

Enter Lofton. The run D will improve but 3rd downs will leave them exposed

Then a new DC and new scheme. Should be fine here. But still a odd factor.

The Saints have a lot of question marks. While there is no reason they cant be the same dangerous Saints. Its still a lot to over come. Then factor in location of the SB and no one seems to make it when its in their home city. Had The staff stayed i think they would have been they right coaches to change that. Payton would preach it.

I know ive predicted the Saints to still win the South, but it wont be easy as it was the last few years and they scratched at times then trying to keep it away from the falcons. Now you got the new bucs who actually took out the Saints twice and the "prolific panthers" (im trade marking that. Oh yeah... someone is gonna try and jack that.) getting hot with a year under their cap.

Its hard to say and playing the Easy and some of the odd teams. Its really gonna be a dog fight.

All I have is two things to say. Grubbs was a pro bowler himself and pete carmicheal will be running the show as he did the last 11 games so I have no worries.

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Most fans either dont get this or choose to ignore it.

What ever. Go back and look at team predictions here and i talked about how there could be no dominant team this season in the South because of the schedule.

But you of course missed that, because it was like a month back before you got here to talk about Romo.

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All I have is two things to say. Grubbs was a pro bowler himself and pete carmicheal will be running the show as he did the last 11 games so I have no worries.

Thats cool. Im just satying with Brees not there and Grubs being new. You all in everything and its a lot of change for a team in 1 offseason. Then the schedule is brutal. I dont see the saints being the same saints with Payton there. Maybe im wrong. But it would be impressive if they went through all that and still won the South.

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Exactly, it's not like they will all of sudden forget how to play the game.

Thats all it takes to win the South. Then i guess there will be a 4 way tie. As long as the requirement is just knowing how to play. Glad nothing else factors in. (madden)

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Thats all it takes to win the South. Then i guess there will be a 4 way tie. As long as the requirement is just knowing how to play. Glad nothing else factors in. (madden)

Did anyone mention them winning the South? What is going on in that head of yours? I think you must think that the Saints will resemble the Colts from last year. If that is true, you will be sadly mistaken.

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Did anyone mention them winning the South? What is going on in that head of yours? I think you must think that the Saints will resemble the Colts from last year. If that is true, you will be sadly mistaken.

Its in bold in the first post!

While the NFC South looks to be one of the toughest divisions in football, I predict the Saints will take their third division title in four years. Despite what some may think, this team will be in the hunt for Super Bowl XLVII, which just so happens to be in New Orleans ...

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Dude, you knew exactly what I meant by that.

Its not like the Eagles did nor the Giants (before they got hot) or SD or the bears. Just because a team is good doesn't mean they can walk through **** and come back and look just as good. Doesn't mean they cant, but the distractions are piling up way more than they did last season.

2 years ago how many people predicted the colts wouldn't have manning? 1 year ago how many people predicted that the broncos would have Manning and not have Teebow? Crap happens, and a lot has happened to the Saints this offseason.

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Its not like the Eagles did nor the Giants (before they got hot) or SD or the bears. Just because a team is good doesn't mean they can walk through **** and come back and look just as good. Doesn't mean they cant, but the distractions are piling up way more than they did last season.

2 years ago how many people predicted the colts wouldn't have manning? 1 year ago how many people predicted that the broncos would have Manning and not have Teebow? Crap happens, and a lot has happened to the Saints this offseason.

That's why it's called a prediction because no one knows what will happen once the season starts, With that being said even without Payton, this is a team that has a lot of veteran leadership, and have been in the system for years. Before you even mention Brees, everyone involved has guranteed he'd be there this season, so there is no use in holding your hat on him not being there in June. Lastly, they improved their defensive personnel, to go with a new DC. Now does all that spell repeat? Of course not, but it doesn't mean there going to fall off the map either.

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On the prediction note: Panthers feel Cam has a year under his belt and they are getting healthy and should improve. The Bucs fans feel they have a new staff and picked up some key parts and they will improve. The falcons feel they got most of their team back and got some new staff to help them improve.

The Saints have been under nuclear assault all offseason. It would be understanding why they might not be as good this year. If nothing else losing your HC for a full season is tough.

All im saying. Im not saying the Saints cant win. But you ask fans of any other South team and they are happy with the stuff they have going for them. Had the Saints not had the bounty gate drama i bet they would be feeling a lot more comfortable with what they have done and their chances this year. But its the negative stuff that makes people wonder. Thats all i was saying.

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On the prediction note: Panthers feel Cam has a year under his belt and they are getting healthy and should improve. The Bucs fans feel they have a new staff and picked up some key parts and they will improve. The falcons feel they got most of their team back and got some new staff to help them improve.

The Saints have been under nuclear assault all offseason. It would be understanding why they might not be as good this year. If nothing else losing your HC for a full season is tough.

All im saying. Im not saying the Saints cant win. But you ask fans of any other South team and they are happy with the stuff they have going for them. Had the Saints not had the bounty gate drama i bet they would be feeling a lot more comfortable with what they have done and their chances this year. But its the negative stuff that makes people wonder. Thats all i was saying.

It's making the fans and media wonder, not the team and staff. The other teams has all the right in the world to believe they can win not only the division, but the Super bowl too, and as a matter of fact, every team can have that feeling in June. Regardless of what happened this offseason, the Saints are a very talented, veteran lead team that's not going to just crumble because of what has happened. I'm not saying they should punch there ticket to the Bowl, however, I do feel they are still the team to beat in the South, and will be there battling for the South at the end of the year.

Edited by meezy0236
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You said the saints would "win another last season" SR...so we do not hold our breath when it comes to you and the saints!

last time I checked I didn't see any Falcons fans predict the Falcons to suck against teams with a winning record last year and to completely embarrass themselves in the playoffs either

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It's making the fans and media wonder, not the team and staff. The other teams has all the right in the world to believe they can win not only the division, but the Super bowl too, and as a matter of fact, every team can have that feeling in June. Regardless of what happened this offseason, the Saints are a very talented, veteran lead team that's not going to just crumble because of what has happened. I'm not saying they should punch there ticket to the Bowl, however, I do feel they are still the team to beat in the South, and will be there battling for the South at the end of the year.

But the Saints think SB. Its in their backyard in the swamper dome. Those chances dont come around often but the fact is the odds of getting there in your own home town is slim. Every year the team that hosts it, think they have a shot. Then they fall short.

I doubt the Saints think winning the south is good enough. Its SB or bust. Winning the South would clearly put them 1 step closer. But this season the South and the East collide and we get many of the other big name QB`s like manning and River.

The injury toll alone from these games could knock any team out of contention. This entire season is a run of playoff caliber teams. Means pack your lunch because its gonna be a long day at work. This year is really clash of the titans. Someone from the South has to win, but its likely to be the team with less injuries. Not the most offseason talent.

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You said the saints would "win another last season" SR...so we do not hold our breath when it comes to you and the saints!

I didn't proclaim anything here....Gil Brandt did.

I cut and pasted his article for commentary.

By the way, I "perhaps' .....

Did you omit that important word purposely?

Edited by SaintRay
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But the Saints think SB. Its in their backyard in the swamper dome. Those chances dont come around often but the fact is the odds of getting there in your own home town is slim. Every year the team that hosts it, think they have a shot. Then they fall short.

I doubt the Saints think winning the south is good enough. Its SB or bust. Winning the South would clearly put them 1 step closer. But this season the South and the East collide and we get many of the other big name QB`s like manning and River.

The injury toll alone from these games could knock any team out of contention. This entire season is a run of playoff caliber teams. Means pack your lunch because its gonna be a long day at work. This year is really clash of the titans. Someone from the South has to win, but its likely to be the team with less injuries. Not the most offseason talent.

nobody can reasonably predict Superbowl for their team....there are just too many variables

the best you can do with any kind of reasonable certainty is to predict playoffs and be in the mix for it

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But the Saints think SB. Its in their backyard in the swamper dome. Those chances dont come around often but the fact is the odds of getting there in your own home town is slim. Every year the team that hosts it, think they have a shot. Then they fall short.

I doubt the Saints think winning the south is good enough. Its SB or bust. Winning the South would clearly put them 1 step closer. But this season the South and the East collide and we get many of the other big name QB`s like manning and River.

The injury toll alone from these games could knock any team out of contention. This entire season is a run of playoff caliber teams. Means pack your lunch because its gonna be a long day at work. This year is really clash of the titans. Someone from the South has to win, but its likely to be the team with less injuries. Not the most offseason talent.

Ok, but so does every other team. What are they suppose to think, " well it's in our dome, so since it's never been done before we shouldn't think we could be the first....especially since we've had a horrible offseason". The fact is the Saints have just a good a chance of getting to the Super Bowl as any other team.

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