New Orleans Saints Ready for Cincinnati Bengals
Saints fans, who have watched their team lose two dress rehearsals in a row, will see New Orleans play the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night in Pal Brown Stadium. Kickoff is 6:30 and the Bengals are favored by three points.
Richie Petitbon, who played at Jesuit and Tulane before joining the Chicago Bears and the Rams and the Redskins, knows how to put pre-season games in the best prospective when he once said, "Pre-season is the biggest mirage in pro sports." Petitbon was an assistant coach with the Houston Oilers and the Washington Redskins before he became head coach of the limping 'Skins.
"NFL teams show you very little formations and plays you will see during the early part of the regular season. Pre-season is all about getting your starters' timing down at a certain speed, seeing what you have as backups and on special teams and just how fast rookies adjust to the NFL.
"You like to see a certain rhythm of play on offense, aggressive play on defense, solid open field tackling and playmakers on special teams, but more importantly, it is primarily a time to get your team's mind in the right frame for the regular season.
"People say you see a lot more blitzing packages today than they did years back, but the game has changed also. There are a lot more chance taking now than in the past, but it is still pre-season. That is not what fans want to hear, but that's the way it is."
The Saints are 0-2 in this pre-season and their fans are beginning to question the hype leading up to the season. Peter King, the Sports Illustrated NFL guru and Saints season ticket holder, selected the Saints and the Colts to meet in the Super Bowl. "I'm going to have to 're-think' my Super Bowl selection," said King the other day. "I'm not changing it, I'm just 're-thinking it.' "
The Saints were beaten soundly by the Steelers 20-7 and executed better, but lost to an average Bills team 13-10 last week. Remember, at this last season, many of us questioned if the Saints could win five or six games. You will recall that the Saints were 1-3 last pre-season, same as the Super Bowl champs Colts. The Raiders were 4-0.
Reggie Bush and Drew Brees were the star attractions when the Saints arrived at Pa; Brown Stadium for two practices on Thursday. But the Saints brought with them four players with significant Cincinnati connections. Middle linebacker Brian Simmons played with the Bengals for nine years. Safety Kevin Kaesviham spent almost six seasons with the Bengals. Second-year Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief played at a nearby high school and Troy Evans, the new Saints special teams star, and linebacker, played at the University of Cincinnati .
Kaesviham. listed as the No. 2 free safety, actually is running with the ones at strong safety. "So far, I can't complain," he said. "There is going to be a change, and you have to find a way to fit in and adapt."
He made one of the big hits in Thursday's practice when put a mean lick on Bengals receiver Reggie McNeal and knocked the ball away on an attempted pass. A good sport, Kaesviham helped him to his feet.
Simmons was Bengals' first-round draft choice in 1998. He signed with the Saints after the Bengals terminated his contract. He is coming back from knee surgery and is running as the No. 2 middle linebacker.
Strief is starting in place of the injured Jammal Brown at left tackle.
"Special teams player, backup guy," said Evans of his role with the Saints. He signed with the Saints as a free agent after five seasons with the Houston Texans. He took some teammates to his family's home for dinner on Thursday night.
Sean Payton said his team was happy to get away from the heat in Jackson . On Thursday, the high in Cincinnati was 98 degrees. It was 94 in Jackson .
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said one of the benefits of the no-tackling practice was to get a closer look t the players at the end of the Saints' roster. The Saints are deep at running back and the Bengals could be in the market to sign a tailback to work into their rotation.
Country music star Kenny Chesney was expected to participate in parts of Friday's practice, running under some Brees passes. Payton is a big country music fan and has been with Chesney for years. Peyton Manning is also friend with Chesney and appeared on stage with him several years ago at the Superdome during a George Strait concert. Chesney, who earns $80 a year as an entertainer, was a high school receiver in Tennessee . So was Elvis Presley, who was an end at Hulmes High in Memphis . I met Elvis in Roswell , N.M. , at a Hank Snow show.The Saints, compared with other teams, have had few injuries this pre-season. Players like defensive end Rob Ninovich, Brown, wide receivers David Patten and Devery Henderson, defensive tackle Brian Young, outside linebacker Scott Fujita and center Jeff Faine have missed practice with injuries, but all are expected back by opening day.
I believe the Saints got a reality check against the Steelers when they were a leg-weary team. They got a wakeup call.
They were much quicker and mentally alert against the Bills. Their first team was strong with Brees hitting 12 of 14 passes for 142 yards in the first quarter.
Defensively, the Saints defensive starters put pressure on Bills quarterback J. P. Losman and limited their runners to little yardage.
The Saints devoted practice time to improving their specials teams before leaving Jackson . Penalties on special teams in the first two games have given Payton and his coaches something to really work on in the next few weeks, but there are some encouraging signs on special teams play. The Saints have uncovered a gem in Evans, who looks like a quality specials teams player and a capable backup linebacker. You can say the same about rookie middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell, a seventh-round draft pcik from Tennessee .
Wide receiver Lance Moore has struggled as a return man, but kicker Olindo Mare has a strong leg. Mare had a kick blocked by a 6-foot-8 Bills tackle, but his kickoffs have been excellent.
The off-season additions of Evans, Mitchell and Mare along with the play of second-year running back Jammal Branch, should upgrade the special teams.
Bush looks quicker, stronger and faster than a year ago and you have to impressed with the play of receivers Marques Colston, Henderson and Terrance Copper.
The return of safety Roman Harper will help the Saints' defense more than the presence of any other player. Harper was in on four tackles against the Bills and seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. The second-round draft pick from Alabama (2006) is an excellent open-field tackler. He will be a playmaker on defense.
Another addition to the defense who will help is defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, who is a disruptive player and plays with a purpose. Several teams were interested in Clancy, a former Arizona Cardinals defender out of Ole Miss, but he liked what he saw in the Saints and wanted to stay close to home.
Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson said it best when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers: "It's just practice guys, not a real game, we are talking about practice here."
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