With their backs against the wall, Saints still making all the right moves
By Keith Null
While it’s easy for New Orleans Saints fans, and analysts covering the sport, to write off the team in 2012 in the wake of the “bounty gate” suspensions, don’t rush to judgement just yet as this team should still be competitive next season.
Yes, loosing your head coach for an entire year is serious business. But the Saints will figure it out as they currently house several coaches that received plenty of attention as potential head coaches.
Aaron Kromer, the teams running back/offensive line coach, was said to be a candidate for several head coaching vacancies, as was offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.
The teams new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, was a head coach for the last three years with the St. Louis Rams. He knows what it takes to coach in this league.
Which ever person the Saints decide to place as interim head coach, the team should get along just fine in 2012.
Drew Brees is still the quarterback and one of the best in the NFL.
Regardless of all the chatter about a hold out and his unhappiness with the franchise tag, he will play next season — you can bank on it.
New Orleans entered into the off-season with little cap space and plenty of questions surrounding the return of several key players.
They lost wide receiver Robert Meachem to the San Diego Chargers, but they still have plenty of talent in their wide receiver core and were able to re-sign Marques Colston, who is clearly among one of the best receivers in the NFL.
It was a big blow when Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks signed with the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A day later the Saints came to terms with former Baltimore Raven Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs to replace him, and many feel that Grubbs is a better fit in the Saints offense given he is a but more agile to “pull” on rushing plays than Nicks.
Re-building the defensive line was also a priority for the Saints this off-season considering the team was likely not to return defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin for a second season.
Again, with little cap room, the Saints were able to get the leagues best 4-3 run stuffing defensive tackle in Brodrick Bunkley, signing him away from the Denver Broncos.
Bunkley represents a huge upgrade on the Saints defensive line, a tough physical presence that penetrates up field, and not only can he stop the run but can apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
With all do respect to defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, Bunkley is the best defensive tackle the Saints have had on the roster since La’Roi Glover who made two Pro Bowls with the team in the late 90’s and recorded 17 sacks in one season — the second most ever by a defensive tackle.
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been solid in his years with the Saints, leading the defense and registering 100 or more tackles every season besides 2011.
But he is declining, expensive, and likely facing a lengthy suspension for “leading” the on-field bounty program.
With his future with the team in serious jeopardy the Saints needed insurance of sorts for his expected absence, enter former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton.
General manager Mickey Loomis somehow found the cash to sign Lofton to a five-year deal late last night. He is versatile enough to play outside linebacker, but it appears imminent that he will take over for Vilma in the middle of the Saints defense.
Lofton was considered by many to be the top middle linebacker available in free agency this year, and among all the adversity the Saints are currently experiencing, to sign him is an enormous accomplishment for the front office that exhibits their will to assemble a winning team.
Perhaps the most under the radar signing the Saints have made came just a few days ago when the team came to terms with free agent outside linebacker and special teams standout Chris Chamberlain.
Chamberlain started 13-games for the Rams last years in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense and responded by notching 82 tackles, two sacks, one interception, and a forced fumble.
Spagnuolo recognized that Chamberlain is a young, up and coming linebacker with tremendous potential. He should complete for the starting weakside linebacker position with the Saints this year.
So what have the the Saints really accomplished while being disassembled by the NFL?
Just re-vamped the linebacker core, traded on Pro Bowler for another on the offensive line, and strengthened the defensive line thanks to the stellar signing of Brodrick Bunkley.
All is not lost in New Orleans, and the sky is surely not falling.
The defense will be better in 2012 given the new additions, and you can be sure the offense will be as potent as ever. Not bad for a team with no money, and no hope, right?