We are just over a month away from the beginning of the 2012 NFL season. Though preseason, it’s hard to believe that the New Orleans Saints first game is August 5. There are a lot of things still undecided about the season, but I’m very hopeful about the coming season.
Even amidst all the uncertainty swirling around the Saints, (Sean Payton‘s impending divorce, Jonathan Vilma‘s lawsuit, and Drew Brees still being unsigned) there is still a positive attitude to the team, and there’s a reason for that. Drew Brees has said multiple times, most recently on David Letterman that he will sign this season. Beyond Brees, the Saints are looking good and vastly improved in other key areas thanks to a great free agent class this offseason.
Free Agent Additions:
Ben Grubbs – A beefy left offensive guard who was a first-rounder out of Auburn by the Baltimore Ravens, comes to the Saints ready to take over for the departed Carl Nicks. It’s difficult to say whether or not Grubbs will be an upgrade over Nicks, but I think Grubbs’ overall fitness regimen is much better than Nicks. Watching the two in action, Grubbs’ blocking and running ability seems noticeably better. I’m very excited to see how Grubbs will do, and I truly believe that he can be as good, if not better than Nicks. I don’t want to sound blasphemous, but look at the running back he blocked for and the tremendous success that Ray Rice has had in Baltimore.
Brodrick Bunkley – After not living up to his first round billing with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bunkley spent last season with the Denver Broncos, and enjoyed his best season since 2008. While I’d like to see him get after the ball and the quarterback more, I think he will at the very least be a solid rotation guy who can spell Remi Ayodele and Sedrick Ellis when needed. After OTAs, camp, and preseason, I think he may show enough to even be a starter.
Chris Chamberlain – I think Chamberlain might just be the wild-card of the group. Steve Spagnuolo having such knowledge of him as a player could prove to really benefit the Saints, and Chamberlain’s season last year was a good one, with 80 total tackels, 2 sacks, and an interception.
Curtis Lofton – Lofton slipped to the 2nd round in 2008, because many believed at just 6 feet that he was undersized. There is nothing undersized about Lofton’s play though. He has never had fewer than 94 tackles, and had an absolutely incredible season last year with 147 tackles, a sack, 2 interceptions, and a touchdown. He flies all over the field, and I hate to say it, but I think he’s a huge upgrade at middle linebacker over Vilma.
David Hawthorne – I don’t know much about Hawthorne, but his production has been incredibly solid over the last 3 seasons, with no fewer than 106 tackles since his rookie season. He also has 7 interceptions over the last 3 years, so he must have a knack for where the ball will be.
Elbert Mack – Departing rival Tampa Bay and coming to New Orleans, Mack comes with a knowledge of what to expect in the NFC South. He has had solid production when he sees playing time, and he will back Jabari Greer, and spell him when needed.
Adrian Arrington should get more playing time at wideout with the departure of Robert Meachem. Nick Toon also has shown steady progress and that he is a quick study of the New Orleans Saints complex offensive schemes.
Drew Brees has said that he would be absolutely shocked if he and the Saints can’t come to a deal by the 16th. Without Brees, everyone knows that the Saints are dead in the water, including management and all the higher-ups. There has been talk that the two sides aren’t far apart, and even with the media selling the Saints short by saying that they don’t value him enough, I find it impossible to believe the Saints staff undervalues Brees. They fully know what he’s capable of both on and off the field, and they won’t let this situation go unresolved.
Steve Spagnuolo is a huge upgrade over Greg Williams, and the fact that his players with the St. Louis Rams were always ball hawks makes for a lot of hopeful fans in New Orleans. Williams was good, but I think he took far too many risks. Spagnuolo has experience as a head coach as well, which could bode very well for the Saints who could otherwise seem out of sorts without a real veteran coach’s presence.
With all these new guys joining the already established core, there’s tremendous reason for joy coming into the 2012 campaign. My prediction: The New Orleans Saints will go 11-5, make the playoffs, and take Who Dat Nation on another wild ride to the Super Bowl. Call me crazy, but even with all the change, rumors, doubts, and concerns, I believe that there’s something very special about the coming year – a similar feeling that I had on the Saints magical run over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl in ’09!