New Orleans Saints Training Camp insider takes you inside the Saints with analysis of key quotes from head coach Sean Payton, key injuries and players that are rising and failing. Today we have updates on Jeremy Shockey, Martin Gramatica, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. Get the scoop right here.
New Orleans entered the 2007 season flush from a 3-2 preseason and ready to plow through opponents. Then the Saints lost four straight games.
Starting running back Deuce McAllister suffered a knee injury in the third loss. The team’s other top rusher, Reggie Bush, missed the final four games of the season due to a knee injury.
The Saints finished 2007 with a 7-9 record.
Quarterback Drew Brees bore some of the brunt of the criticism of the team, even though his individual number last season suggested that he had one of the best seasons of his career.
So players like Brees can be forgiven if they have a bit of a chip on their shoulder pads entering the 2008 season.
“We all have something to prove,” said Brees.
Brees was perhaps the brightest spot of the Saints 2007 season; he threw 440 completions for 4,423 yards and 28 touchdowns, all career bests. Then again, there was also the 18 interceptions Brees threw, half of which came during that 0-4 start.
Brees wasn’t immune from that disastrous beginning, starting in the season opener on Thursday night against Indianapolis. The Saints’ porous pass defense and Brees’ two interceptions played out in front of a national television audience.
And that disastrous start was the focus of plenty of offseason discussion.
“That’s kind of our No. 1 emphasis going into this year, being able to start fast and there are a lot of things that go into that,” Brees said. “Certainly I felt like we had a great camp last year, but it’s tough and grueling and by the time we got to the season we might have spent a little bit too much in training camp.”
McAllister and Bush are both back and both agree with Brees – the Saints are looking for redemption.
"I don't think it's an edge, I just think we have something to prove,” McAllister said. “We didn't win it all last year so I think we have something to prove right there.”
Many of New Orleans’ problems last season were on defense, where it allowed opposing quarterbacks to toss 32 touchdown passes and let 54 pass plays of 20 yards or longer get past them. The defense ranked 26 of 32 in total defense and was 30th against the pass. Because of that, Brees and the offense spent most games playing from behind and allowed Brees to set team records for attempts and completions in a season.
So the Saints emphasized defense in the offseason, trading for LB Jonathan Vilma, signing free agents like DE Bobby McCray and CB Randall Gay, and spending their first two draft picks on defensive players — DT Sedrick Ellis and CB Tracy Porter.
Brees says that increased competition will mean whoever starts against Tampa Bay in the season opener will have earned it. And he’s not worried that the defense will hold back his offense.
“This is a complementary game; we feed off of them and they feed off of us,” he said. “There are going to be those games that we win 13-10 and there are going to be those games that we win 41-40. For us as an offense, we just have to score one more point than the other team and certainly we work together on that."
That doesn’t mean the Saints ignored the offense. The Saints acquired tight end Jeremy Shockey in a trade with the Giants just before training camp, giving Brees the best bulls-eye the quarterback has had with New Orleans.
“He's such a big target and he has that — a lot of the great players when they get close to the end zone have that switch that goes off in their heads —‘ he seems like one of those guys and he'll be another weapon down there,” Brees said.
So far, practices have been stellar, Brees said, and he’s confident this could be the Saints year.
“The fact is that guys went home after mini-camp and they did everything they needed to do -- every guy -- to get ready to have a great year, a special season and one that we'll always remember,” Brees said. “I think that just goes to show you the commitment level and where everybody's head is at."