2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Despite going 7-9, Saints liked their resilience

    2012-12-31 19:21

(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - As Saints players dumped belongings from their lockers into huge brown bags, right tackle Zach Strief said he wished he could look forward to a new season devoid of questions about the bounty scandal.

The seven-year veteran and offensive captain knows better than that.

He expects everything the Saints do when Sean Payton returns in 2013 to be compared to how the team struggled while its coach was suspended in 2012.

``I'm sure it'll come up again next year when it's not even an issue because now it's his first year back,'' Strief said. ``So it'll probably take two years to really get away from it.''

That doesn't mean it will take two years to return to the playoffs.

Although the Saints (7-9) never did quite recover from an 0-4 start, those first four losses all were by single digits, and they went 7-5 the rest of the way.

Given that Drew Brees passed for a whopping 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns, and that both Marques Colston and Lance Moore surpassed the 1,000-yard mark receiving, the offense doesn't appear to need much work.

Even New Orleans' historically bad defense, which gave up the most yards (7,042) ever in a single season, demonstrated progress under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and registered the club's first shutout in 17 years earlier this month.

So while the Saints will take a hard look at what went wrong defensively this season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, doesn't expect a complete overhaul.

``Extreme makeover - I don't know about that. I really don't, but that's why we're in the evaluation process now,'' Vitt said Monday. ``We'll make sure that we're putting the right players in the right positions to make plays. We'll match the proper calls with personnel groupings and do a hard evaluation of ourselves, that's only fair.''

The Saints dealt with unprecedented punishment and distractions in 2012. Not only was Payton suspended the entire season, but Vitt was suspended six games and general manager Mickey Loomis eight games. The Saints also lost second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013. Even though player suspensions for linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive Will Smith never came to pass - they were thrown out on appeal - those players spent much of the season taking part in a legal effort to overturn their bounty sanctions.

While the Saints never used the bounty fallout as excuses during the season, they figured it took some sort of toll.

``I don't know how drastic of an effect it had ... but there was some effect there and there was a whole bunch of combination of things to equal the 7-9 record,'' linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.

The Saints' experienced team of assistants sought to take the same approach in terms of scheduling and routines that Payton had during the previous six seasons. They even had an expansive mural of a glaring Payton placed in the indoor practice facility to remind players of their banned coach's intensity, and that he was there with them in spirit.

Still, it was obvious that they missed Payton's ability to gauge the pulse of the team, motivate players and determine what needed to be fixed when things went wrong.

After winning more games than any team during the previous three seasons combined, the Saints had their first losing season since 2007 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.

``We certainly want coach back as soon as we can get him back,'' Strief said. ``We've said all along he's an important part of this organization. He's the leader of this organization, so you don't want to lose that guy.

``I know that he's going to be revved up. He's got 12 months of aggression wound up for us so I'm sure he'll be ready to go.''

The Saints will have a few key personnel issues to deal with when Payton returns, likely after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Several regulars will be free agents, including left tackle Jermon Bushrod, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, receiver Devery Henderson and Casillas. The Saints appear ready to part with veteran linebacker Scott Shanle, a former starter who was a healthy scratch the past eight games.

Saints players said Monday they hoped most of them will remain, citing the bond created in the locker room among players who never quit on a season that seemed doomed from the start. First, New Orleans rallied from 0-4 to 5-5, then responded to a late-season three-game skid by winning two straight and helping to knock Dallas out of the playoffs.

``The underlying story should be the resilience and the courage of our men in this locker room,'' Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. ``It was: Never give up on each other. Never give up on our team.

``We know that the business of football is unforgiving and we live in a production-oriented business,'' Greer added. ``Obviously, that changes every year and we realize that.''

Vitt, likewise, has said that the 2012 Saints was among his favorite teams in a career spanning more than three decades, and that he believes the way they handled the stresses of 2012 set them up for a very competitive 2013.

``We can sit and whine and sit here in self-pity and talk about coulda, shoulda, woulda, or we can try to get this thing behind us as soon as we can and move on to the business of getting better,'' Vitt said. ``That's what our players want to do. That's what our coaches want to do. That's what Sean would demand.

``But I have more respect now for this group of players and these coaches and our organization than I ever have,'' Vitt added. ``I'm proud to be a part of it.''

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Pierre ThomasOct 30 07:22p

New Orleans Saints RBs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (shoulder) are both inactive in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Oct. 30.

David HawthorneOct 30 07:12p

The New Orleans Saints have declared LB Austin Johnson, LB David Hawthorne, C Jonathan Goodwin, RB Khiry Robinson, WR Nick Toon, RB Pierre Thomas, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste inactive for Week 9.

Amini SilatoluOct 30 07:12p

The Carolina Panthers have declared OG Amini Silatolu, CB Bene Benwikere, OT Byron Bell, RB Fozzy Whittaker, WR Philly Brown, FS Thomas DeCoud, OG Trai Turner inactive for Week 9.

Brandon BrownerOct 30 04:32p

New England Patriots DT Alan Branch (non-injury related) and DE Chandler Jones (hip) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Nate Ebner (finger), DL Dominique Easley (knee), OL Cameron [ More ]

Brandon ThompsonOct 30 04:22p

Cincinnati Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and OG Kevin Zeitler (calf) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DT Domata Peko (toe) and OT Andre Smith [ More ]

Dwight FreeneyOct 30 04:22p

San Diego Chargers LB Manti Te'o (foot), CB Jason Verrett (shoulder) and S Jahleel Addae (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) was limited. CB [ More ]

Donald BrownOct 30 04:12p

San Diego Chargers RB Donald Brown (concussion) practiced fully Thursday, Oct. 30.

Terrell SuggsOct 30 04:02p

Baltimore Ravens WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (foot) and LB Terrell Suggs (neck) all did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OG Marshal Yanda (knee) [ More ]

Brett KeiselOct 30 03:52p

Pittsburgh Steelers DE Brett Keisel (non-injury), SS Troy Polamalu (non-injury) and SS Ross Ventrone (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB Ike Taylor (forearm) and FS [ More ]

Bruce CarterOct 30 03:22p

Dallas Cowboys LB Bruce Carter (finger) suffered a broken ring finger during practice Thursday, Oct. 30, but expects to play in Week 9. He will wear a splint on his finger for protection.

Cullen JenkinsOct 30 03:12p

New York Giants DT Cullen Jenkins (calf) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (back, hamstring) and P Steve Weatherford (ankle) were both limited in practice.

Brandon BoykinOct 30 03:12p

Philadelphia Eagles FS Nate Allen (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. TE Brent Celek (back) and WR Brad Smith (groin) were both limited in practice. CB [ More ]

D'Qwell JacksonOct 30 03:12p

Indianapolis Colts LB D'Qwell Jackson (toe), DT Arthur Jones (ankle), LB Erik Walden (quadriceps) and LB Josh McNary (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB Vontae [ More ]

Rashad JenningsOct 30 02:42p

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) said he is on track in terms of his rehab, but there is no timetable for his return. Jennings said he has [ More ]

Jordan CameronOct 30 02:32p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Anthony CollinsOct 30 02:32p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Oniel Cousins is working at left tackle with the first-team offense during practice Thursday, Oct. 30, because OT Anthony Collins (foot) is sitting out practice.

Doug MartinOct 30 02:22p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (ankle) is not participating in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Jason VerrettOct 30 01:52p

San Diego Chargers CB Jason Verrett (shoulder) is expected to miss two to three weeks with a torn labrum, according to two sources.

DeAngelo WilliamsOct 30 01:52p

Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle) will start the team's Week 9 game against the New Orleans Saints Thursday, Oct. 30, according to head coach Ron Rivera.

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 01:42p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) received most of the work with the first-team offense during practice Thursday, Oct. 30, and will start in Week 9 if he [ More ]

Jaylen WatkinsOct 30 01:32p

Philadelphia Eagles SS Earl Wolff, FS Chris Maragos and CB Jaylen Watkins could be options to start at safety if FS Nate Allen (hamstring) is not able to play in Week 9.

Giovani BernardOct 30 01:22p

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Tony RomoOct 30 01:02p

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back) didn't take part in the walk-through Thursday, Oct. 30, and will not practice with the team. However, head coach Jason Garrett remains hopeful [ More ]

Trent RichardsonOct 30 12:42p

Indianapolis Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring) is participating in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Reggie WayneOct 30 12:42p

Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne (elbow) is not participating in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Tony RomoOct 30 12:22p

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo's (back) status is making head coach Jason Garrett feel optimistic about his availability for Week 9.

Dallas ThomasOct 30 11:43a

Miami Dolphins OG Dallas Thomas would be the most likely candidate to start at left guard if OG Daryn Colledge (illness) is not able to play in Week 9.

Rashad JenningsOct 30 11:12a

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) has been ruled out for Week 9.

Phil BatesOct 30 10:52a

The Cleveland Browns signed free-agent WR Phil Bates (Seahawks) to the practice squad and released CB Marcus Cromartie Thursday, Oct. 30.

Charles SimsOct 30 10:13a

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Charles Sims could have 10 or more touches in Week 9, in the opinion of beat writer Greg Auman.

Ryan MathewsOct 30 09:52a

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (knee) is likely to sit out of the Week 9 game and return after the Week 10 bye.

Dennis PittaOct 30 09:52a

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip) may never be able to play football again after two surgeries on a fractured and dislocated hip in as many seasons.

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