|Drew Brees and the Saints still boast one of the league's most potent offenses. (US Presswire)|
2010 RECORD: 11-5 (Second, NFC South)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Seattle, 41-36, in NFC wild card
COACH (RECORD): Sean Payton (49-31 in five seasons with Saints, 49-31 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Pete Carmichael Jr.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gregg Williams
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OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 28th rushing, 3rd passing, 11th scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 16th rushing, 4th passing, 7th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: DT Aubrayo Franklin (from 49ers), C Olin Kreutz (from Bears), DT Shaun Rogers (from Browns), RB/KR Darren Sproles (from Chargers), DE Turk McBride (from Lions), LB Will Herring (from Seahawks), S Jonathon Amaya (traded from Dolphins), DE Cameron Jordan (first round, California), RB Mark Ingram (first round, Alabama), LB Martez Wilson (third round, Illinois), CB Johnny Patrick (thrid Round, Louisville)
KEY DEPARTURES: RB Reggie Bush (traded to Dolphins), TE Jeremy Shockey (released, to Panthers), DT Remi Ayodele (to Vikings), C Jonathan Goodwin (to 49ers), DT Anthony Hargrove (to Eagles), CB Randall Gay (released), S Usama Young (to Browns), LS Jason Kyle (released)
LIFE AFTER REGGIE BUSH: Sean Payton's first-ever draft pick with the Saints undoubtedly helped bring football life back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as Reggie Bush came to the Saints as possibly the most hyped college football player in history. Now Bush resides in Miami, as salary demands and questionable skills pushed the Saints to trade Bush to the Dolphins. The thing is, though, that the Saints may be better off without Bush considering what the team has assembled in the backfield, and the battle for carries has already commenced. The Saints traded back into the first round to select Mark Ingram, re-signed Pierre Thomas to a four-year contract and acquired Darren Sproles during free agency. Thomas and Ingram can present the one-two punch the Saints missed in 2010, while Sproles is a more consistent Bush who can be a weapon in the running and passing games along with being just as explosive in the return game. If Chris Ivory can recover quickly enough from foot surgery and a sports hernia procedure, the Saints will possess possibly the deepest backfield in the NFL. So life after Bush will go on without a hitch, but who will be "the guy" remains to be seen.
BACK TO BEING BREES: The touchdown numbers for Drew Brees last season (33) were still top notch and his passing yards (4,620) and completion percentage (68.1 percent) ranked among the league's elite quarterbacks. Something just wasn't exactly the same for Brees in 2010. So the sparkling statistics didn't shine as bright as one would imagine. For starters, Brees threw the ball 144 more times last season than in 2009. That helped his interception numbers spike from 11 in 2009 to a career-high 22 in 2010. Questions abounded surrounding an early season knee injury and how much it actually affected Brees on the field throughout most of 2010. But Brees is fully healthy entering the 2011 campaign. He also led one of the best attended and comprehensive player workouts in the league during the offseason. Players re-signed and new free agents landed in New Orleans because of Brees. He's still one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and with any semblance of a running game to complement his skills, Brees could mirror 2009 rather than 2010.
DEFENSIVE LINE FACELIFT: The Saints defensive line will look far different coming off the bus in 2011 than it did last season -- in a good way. A severe lack of pass rush help drastically cut the amount of turnovers the defense created, and that's what the Saints feasted off of in their 2009 Super Bowl run. To put things in perspective for the Saints, the team's top four defensive ends -- Will Smith, Alex Brown, Jeff Charleston and Jimmy Wilkerson -- combined for 12 1/2 sacks ALL of last season. Six NFL players racked up at least 12½ sacks individually, which has to have defensive coordinator Gregg Williams still fuming. So the Saints drafted Cameron Jordan in the first round pick and acquired Turk McBride in free agency to fill out the rotation with Smith and Brown. New Orleans also beefed up at defensive tackle, signing veterans Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers. Franklin was one of the best tackles available, and the Saints snuck in at the last second to nab him away from three other teams. Rogers has the reputation of being a malcontent, though, and the Saints are hoping his attitude and work ethic will be improved now that he's playing for a winner.
VILMA AND ...: Jonathan Vilma is the unquestioned leader of the Saints defense at middle linebacker, but the battles to fill out the rest of the linebacking corps will be intriguing. The Saints re-signed starting outside linebackers Scott Shanle and Danny Clark, but both of their jobs could be in jeopardy. Clark started at strongside LB last year because Shanle had to shift over to the weakside after Jonathan Casillas sustained a season-ending foot injury in the preseason. Clark and Shanle manned their starting spots once they were able to practice in training camp. But Casillas may re-earn his starting role at WLB, and the Saints drafted Martez Wilson in the third round with the hopes of him eventually winning the starting gig. The Saints also added Will Herring in free agency and drafted Nate Bussey. So other than Vilma, the LB spots could be pretty wide open.
FINAL WORD: There's no Super Bowl-hangover excuse anymore. The Saints are back to being the hunter, with the Packers the hunted, and the shocking loss to the Seahawks in last year's NFC wild card game still lingers in the New Orleans locker room. The Saints wheeled and dealed during the offseason to keep many of their own free agents as well as adding crucial pieces from outside their walls. They're a team that's built to make another Super Bowl run now, and that's the overriding expectation inside the Superdome and out.