Two stories have dominated the Saints’ summer headlines. The word bounty has taken on negative connotations, stirring up images of Kurt Warner and Brett Favre to name a few, lying face down on the field, have been rocked by a New Orleans’ defender, looking to make a few extra bucks.
Gregg Williams, and to an extent depending on your point of view Sean Payton, have begrudged the 2012 Saints to having no full time head coach and no defensive captain. Payton and linebacker Jonathon Vilma, both suspended for the year by Commissioner Roger Goodell, will have to wait and watch as their team tries to win the Superbowl. A fate that should it come to pass, will seem very cruel indeed. Superbowl XLVII will be held in the Superdome.
While Goodell handing the Lombardi trophy over to the team he has torn down may appear a dream scenario, both Payton and Vilma will have to live with the knowledge that they had little to do with it. Instead, they will be buoyed by the fact that the Saints will be the most motivated team in 2012, wanting to win it all for the team, for their fallen comrades and the city of New Orleans…in New Orleans.
That’s where the other story of the summer comes in. Brees. Is. Back. With a massive contract finally in place, Drew Brees, the current record holder for the most passing yards in a single season, will have nothing to worry about other than winning. And wining is what Brees does best. However with mounting pressure and the absence of his mentor, Brees and the entire Saints team will have to rise to the challenge, defend their NFC South crown and take back the NFC.
2011 Record: 13-3
Head Coach: Joe Vitt/Aaron Kromer
Off. Cord: Pete Carmichael Jr.
Def. Cord: Steve Spagnuolo
Drew Brees finally got the massive contract he wanted and let’s face it deserved. Brees is a monster. His 2011 stats prove that. With 5476 yards he set the new passing yardage record for a single season relegating Dan Marino. He was only 5 TDs away from breaking Tom Brady’s single season touchdown record with 46.
He averaged over 330 yards a game and was intercepted 14 times. Brees ended the season with 110.6 passer rating. More importantly however, Brees could not halt the resurgent 49ers in the playoffs. In 2012, Brees will need to contend with the absence of Sean Payton and the expectations of a buoyant fanbase that will expect an elite Saints team to not only make a Superbowl hosted by the party capital of America, but to win it for the second time in three years.
In the Backfield
The diverse Saints do not have a dominant franchise running back. Instead they have Darren Sproles. And Pierre Thomas. And Mark Ingram. And Chris Ivory. Perhaps the most talented running back committee in the league, these four players offer the Saints the strength and speed to run the rock, but also the skills necessary to flare out into the flats and wait for dump off pass or a cheeky screen that the Saints love to utilise.
Last season saw Darren Sproules, an all-rounder really, gain more all-purpose yards than anyone has before. This versatility shone through as he ran for 603 yards, caught 86 passes for 710 yards and scored 10 TDs in total (one off a return).
Thomas (562 yards), Ingram (474 yards) and Ivory (374 yards) all contributed 2 TDs each and the group as a whole only lost 2 fumbles. This quartet is primed to continue its success. Sure it’d be nice for one of the group to gain 1000 yards, but in Brees’ offense everyone gets their chance to shine, and all four of these players do just that.
Like the running backs, there is no true number one receiver on the Saints roster. In fact there are two of them. Wideout Marques Colston continues to provide Drew Brees with a consistant target on the outside catching 80 balls for 1143 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns.
The other big threat comes from third year tight end Jimmy Graham. The rivalry between Graham and the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski will be a great one as both these young players will dominate the position for years to come. In 2011, Graham led the Saints with 1310 yards and 11 TDs. The sky is the limit for this man and with one of the best in the game throwing him the ball, Graham will definitely continue to improve.
As if Colston and Graham weren’t enough, New Orleans also utilised Lance Moore and Devery Henderson to great effect, with the pair contributing 10 TDs between them. Incoming rookie Nick Toon will see some action as he tries to fill the void left by new San Diego Charger Robert Meachem.
The Big Uglies
Like the wide receivers with Meachem, the o-line saw Carl Nicks leave to become a Buccaneer. The role was not filled by the draft however; instead the Saints looked to free agency and grabbed the more than capable Ben Grubbs to restore the line to full strength.
The line last year allowed 24 sacks on Brees tied for second least in the league. Veterans of the Saints line such as Jermon Bushrod and Jahri Evans can take pride in the knowledge they are one of the best units in the NFL, but the pressure will be on to continue their success in a home Superbowl year. The loss of Nicks might prove more devastating if Grubbs doesn’t get up to speed, but 2012 looks like another good year for the golden men in the trenches.
When the leader of your team in sacks is a safety, you know you need defensive help. Leading the charge is veteran Will Smith with 6.5 sacks in 2011 backed up by second year player Cameron Jordan and the disappointing Sedrick Ellis. All three players will have to step up in 2012 to ensure they still have a job in New Orleans in 2013.
In the middle promising youngster Junior Galette with 4.5 sacks last year will team up with the new acquired Broderick Bunkley. While Bunkley himself isn’t overly qualified, perhaps a new change of setting will inspire him to play at a level we have not seen yet.
With the influential Vilma lost for the season, the Saints made it a priority to sign linebackers that would help offset the loss. First, they poached Curtis Lofton from the Falcons then signed David Hawthorne, the former Seahawk. Both of these signings are indications that the Saints are not intimidated by the punishment handed down by Goodell. An even scarier thought is what will happen in 2013 when they are back to full strength.
Veteran Scott Shanle will as always provide a stable presence in the second level, while the Saints hope to see even more improvement in young Jonathan Casillas who notched up 3 sacks last year.
Superbowl hero Tracy Porter has left the Big Easy for a new home in Denver. The core group of Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins were all in the team’s top four in tackling in 2011. They weren’t as efficient when it came to intercepting opposing quarterbacks however. Only Greer grabbed an interception, one interception.
The previously disappointing Patrick Robinson showed promise however as he picked the ball off 4 times. He is poised to step up and replace Porter in the starting line-up, with the entire unit needing to improve in order to take some pressure off the offense. Not that the offense can’t deal with the pressure mind you.
With 1089 kick-off return yards and 294 punt return yards, the Saints can sleep well in the knowledge that so long as Darren Sproules is healthy, their special teams needn’t worry. Sproules, as he routinely showed in San Diego (often against the Colts in the post season), is a wicked kind of fast. His low center of gravity and turn of direction allow him to evade even the most determined defender and will once again pose a similar immense threat in 2012.
2011 kicker John Kasay may find himself cut if the returning Garret Hartley can prove he has recovered from the injury that cut short his season. Punter Thomas Morstead should continue punting, you know, on those occasions where Drew Brees can’t make a first.
You can’t spell Saints without sins, and the Bounty Scandal that has rocked the organization will stay with them the entire 2012. It has robbed them of the head coach and talismanic middle linebacker. It has also made them determined.
The Saints will be extra eager to receive the Lombardi trophy from Roger Goodell at the end of the season in New Orleans. Let’s face it, the team is talented enough without Vilma to accomplish such a feat. Brees is tied up for the foreseeable future. He is ready and focused. He will be on fire in 2012, orchestrating an offense akin to those run in Green Bay and New England.
It will be up to the defense to step up and provide ample support while Vilma is gone. The coaching staff itself will also have to adapt. They cannot and should not try to replicate Payton’s mannerisms, rather accept that this season will be different and move on. In 2012 however, I fully expect the Saints to move on….to the post season.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Heavy in the Games.
Delivered to your inbox
|Best of Yardbarker||NFL News||MLB News|
Today's Best Stuff
Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.
What is Yardbarker?