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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Saints needs: Building up backfield, beefing up D


Veteran defensive end Will Smith could use lots more help providing pass rush. (Getty Images)  
Veteran defensive end Will Smith could use lots more help providing pass rush. (Getty Images)  

That's too easy an excuse for the disappointing season the New Orleans Saints had in 2010.

A slow start, a slew of injuries and a tough division led to the Saints being a wild card team after winning the Super Bowl the year before, falling short of some predictions.

Even so, they were considered a dangerous playoff team. So what happens? They go to Seattle and get blown out by a Seahawks team that finished 8-8 and was a team the Saints dominated earlier in the season.

The Saints once again had an explosive offense last season, but it wasn't quite as crisp as it was in the Super Bowl season. They had injury issues at running back, with the injury to Reggie Bush really impacting the offense, and Drew Brees wasn't as sharp without him.

"We were not as good obviously as the year before," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Forget the end result. We got into the tournament, but we weren't as good on offense. We weren't as good scoring. We weren't as good rushing. We didn't have near the takeaways. We had to manufacture a pass rush at times. So I think you have to look at those areas."

Five possibilities: Saints
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: If he's truly like Emmitt Smith, which some think, he would be a nice addition to the running game.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: He isn't a pure speed rusher, but he'd be a nice fit at left end. He excelled in the Sugar Bowl in the Saints' stadium.
Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: They could use a speed player at linebacker and Houston can run. Some scouts think he can play with his hand on the ground.
Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: He's another linebacker who would be an upgrade. He has a lot of speed, which coordinator Gregg Williams loves.
Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina: He is coming off an injury, but he is an athletic linebacker who would fit the New Orleans scheme. He won't be a first-round pick.
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As long as Brees is throwing the passes and Payton is calling the plays, the Saints will be in the playoff mix. But to have a chance to get back to the Super Bowl, they have to run it better and they have to rush the passer better. Expect those two areas to get some focus in this year's draft, even as early as the first round.

QB: Brees got off to a slow start last season, but played well in the second half. Brees was asked to do more, and he threw a franchise-record 658 passes. He did throw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns. But he wasn't as good as he was the past couple of seasons, throwing 22 interceptions, the highest total of his career. Chase Daniel is a young backup, but does it matter who plays if Brees goes down?

RB: This has been a trouble spot for a while, and injuries hurt the position in a big way last season. They have a lot of bodies, but no stars. Reggie Bush missed a lot of time with injuries, and he's more of a third-down back. Pierre Thomas finished the season on the sidelines as well, but he was re-signed to a four-year deal this month. Rookie Chris Ivory showed well when he played, but he had some fumbling issues. Heath Evans is a good fullback.

WR: They have a nice group. Marques Colston remains the top target, but Lance Moore isn't far behind. He could be a free agent. Moore does most of his work in the middle of the field, making him perfect for this offense. Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson offer the deep speed. Both have inconsistencies catching the football. This is not a need area.

TE: The Saints let Jeremy Shockey go, which means Jimmy Graham, a 6-foot-8 player who showed well as a rookie, will take over as the starter. Graham excelled in the red zone last year because of his size. He needs to block better. David Thomas is a backup who can also catch the ball. They need to add a blocking tight end, although backup tackle Zach Strief fills that role some.

OL: The interior of the line is among the best in the NFL, but right guard Jahri Evans didn't play up to his normal standards. He had too many holding penalties. Center Jonathan Goodwin is the underrated player of the group. Left guard Carl Nicks is a mauler. The tackles struggled at times. Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb went to the Pro Bowl in 2009, but he isn't that type of player. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod struggled with speed rushers. Strief is a nice backup. Second-year player Charles Brown could push for time at tackle.

DL: They need to improve the outside pass rush. Will Smith is a good player, but he's getting up in years. Alex Brown is more of a run player at left end. They need more speed off the edge and could take an end early in the draft. Sedrick Ellis played at a high level last season at tackle and Remi Ayodele is a good run player. The addition of Shaun Rogers as a free agent will help the run defense inside at tackle -- if he is motivated. Jimmy Wilkerson provides backup help at end along with Jeff Charleston.

LB: Jonathan Vilma is the glue of the defense inside at middle linebacker. He plays the run well and he has the speed to help out in the passing game. Scott Shanle is serviceable at one outside spot, but he doesn't run that well. Danny Clark and Jo-Lonn Dunbar are just guys at the other spot. They need an upgrade there. Losing Jonathan Casillas to injury hurt this group last season. He probably would have been a starter.

DB: This is a good group. The emergence of free safety Malcolm Jenkins last season was a big plus. He is a rangy safety who can also excel against the run. He will be Pro Bowl player. Roman Harper had a tough go of it in the playoff loss, but he's a decent player opposite Jenkins. Corners Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are a solid duo, but they were bothered some by injuries last season. Look for second-year player Patrick Robinson, a 2009 first-round pick, to push for time. He is raw and struggled at times when on the field, but he has the speed to be a good cover man.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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