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Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange
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After spending more than four weeks on the sideline with a foot injury that required him to wear a walking boot, rookie wide receiver Nick Toon was expected to play in the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans.

Toon, the Saints' fourth-round draft pick, practiced just one week before injuring his foot three days before the Hall of Fame Game and was one of several wide receivers who were hurt in camp.

Adrian Arrington (knee) and Andy Tanner (ankle) remain out, however,

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Luke McCown had his contract terminated because he couldn't jump third-stringer Sean Canfield on the depth chart. McCown quickly signed on with the Atlanta Falcons, where he reunited with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter from their days together in Jacksonville.

--DT Remi Ayodele, who was with the second-team defense at the start of training camp, was released in part because of the rapid development of rookie Akiem Hicks.

--DT Swanson Miller, who has spent time on the Saints' practice squad, was waived because of a logjam at the position.

--WR Marques Clark, a 28-year-old who had never been in an NFL camp, was released on Aug. 27 after spending four weeks with the team.

MEDICAL WATCH

--LCB Jabari Greer should be close to returning to practice after missing four weeks of practice to rehab from sports hernia surgery on Aug. 2.

--MLB Curtis Lofton has a sprained left ankle, but should be ready for the season opener against the Washington Redskins.

--WLB David Hawthorne had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 20, but interim coach Joe Vitt remains hopeful that he'll return for the opener.

--LB Ramon Humber remains sidelined with a hamstring injury that he suffered in practice on Aug. 21 and starts the season on the suspended list.

--WR Adrian Arrington continues to rehab from surgery to repair a torn meniscus on Aug. 13 and his return to practice is not known.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Rd. 3/78, DT Akiem Hicks, Regina -- Thick and long-armed, he impressed in the preseason and has settled in as No. 3 defensive tackle.

Rd. 5/162, CB Corey White, Samford -- Received a lot of quality reps early because of injuries and showed knack for making plays.

Rd. 7/234, T Marcel Jones, Nebraska -- Worked with second-team offense from first day of camp and could be a backup.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS
Starter -- Drew Brees. Backups -- Chase Daniel.

While it'll be next to impossible for Brees to put up the kind of numbers he did in earning NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors last season remains to be seen, but he will give it a try after being given a new five-year, $100 million contract. He broke Dan Marino's single-season passing record with 5,476 yards in becoming the first player with a pair of 5,000-yard seasons, but the other numbers were just as big with 46 TDs and a passer rating of 110.6 while hitting on 71.2 percent of his passes. Daniel will serve as the backup for a third straight season even though he doesn't have a lot of experience in the regular season because of Brees' durability.

RUNNING BACKS
Starter -- RB Pierre Thomas, FB Jed Collins. Backups -- RB Darren Sproles, RB Mark Ingram, RB Chris Ivory, RB Travaris Cadet, FB Korey Hall.

With a deep and solid group of halfbacks, the Saints hope to take pressure off the passing game after moving up 22 spots in the league rankings from the 2010 season and finishing sixth a year ago with 132.9 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Thomas, Sproles, Ingram and Ivory combined for 2,013 yards and 13 TDs with the top three each gaining at least 450 yards. The Saints also rely on them heavily as receivers with Sproles and Thomas combining for 1,135 yards and eight TDs. Ivory and Cadet, an undrafted free agent who had a surprisingly solid preseason, may be fighting for the final roster spot here. Collins won the fullback job a year ago and is a capable blocker who can also gain some tough yards when needed.

TIGHT ENDS
Starter -- Jimmy Graham. Backups -- David Thomas, Daniel Graham.

After a monster breakout season in 2011, Graham is looking for more this year even though he made the Pro Bowl after catching 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 TDs as one of Brees' main downfield threats. Graham's use of his 6-foot-7 frame and speed usually give him an edge against the slower linebackers and smaller defensive backs. Thomas is a valuable blocker and receiver, but is trying to come back from two concussions. Higgins was a find as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but he and Daniel Graham, a superior blocker, could be vying for one roster spot.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Marques Colston, Devery Henderson. Backups -- Lance Moore, Courtney Roby, Adrian Arrington, Joe Morgan.

The Saints know what they have in Colston, who caught 80 passes for 1,143 yards and eight TDs, Henderson and Moore, but the coaches' task of finding a fourth receiver to replace Robert Meachem was complicated early in camp with injuries to Arrington and Nick Toon, who is on injured reserve. Roby, who's mainly a special-teamer, made the most of his opportunities on offense early in camp and may get a roster spot.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Ben Grubbs, C Brian de la Puente, RG Jahri Evans, RT Zach Strief. Backups -- T Charles Brown, G Eric Olsen, T Marcel Jones.

The Saints had solid line play in 2011 as they helped block for Brees, who set a NFL record for passing yards, and a run game that ranked sixth in the league with 132.9 yards per game. They had three players voted to the Pro Bowl and Evans and Carl Nicks were All-Pro picks although Nicks is no longer with the team. Grubbs, who should fill in nicely for Nicks, is a blue-collar worker and should fit in well with Evans, de la Puente and Bushrod, another Pro Bowler. The main backups should be Brown, Tennant and Olsen although none of them have distinguished themselves when called upon.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LDE Cameron Jordan, DT Sedrick Ellis, DT Brodrick Bunkley, RDE Junior Galette. Backups -- DE Turk McBride, DT Akiem Hicks, DT Tom Johnson, DE Martez Wilson, DT Tyrunn Walker, DE Will Smith (four-game suspension).

The Saints will be looking for a more productive pass rush this season even though their best player coming off the edge, Will Smith, will be suspended for the first four games of the season. Still, Jordan and Galette, the probable starter in Smith's absence, could be forces in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme either pressuring the quarterback or dropping into coverage on zone-blitz calls. Ellis and Bunkley should anchor the middle as the Saints try to do a better job against the run, while McBride and Hicks should provide depth for the rotation outside and inside. Johnson and Wilson, a converted linebacker, are also expected to provide depth.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- SLB Scott Shanle, MLB Curtis Lofton, WLB David Hawthorne. Backups -- MLB Barrett Ruud, WLB Jonathan Casillas, SLB Will Herring, LB Ramon Humber (three-game suspension).

The Saints are excited about what they have in Lofton and Hawthorne even though both were injured in the preseason and missed practice time and games. Both players give them more playmakers at the position to go with Shanle, a dependable veteran who year in and year out is one of their top tacklers. Ruud came to the team in a training camp trade, while Casillas and Herring are capable backups who will be counted on after top reserve Chris Chamberlain, who played all three positions, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- LCB Jabari Greer, FS Malcolm Jenkins, SS Roman Harper, RCB Patrick Robinson. Backups -- CB Johnny Patrick, CB Corey White, CB Elbert Mack, FS Isa Abdul-Quddus, S Jonathon Amaya.

After taking a big step backward and ranking 30th in allowing 259.8 passing yards a game, the Saints will play a lot more zone coverage this season with a goal of cutting down the big plays. Greer, their top cover corner, Jenkins and Harper, who's had trouble in man coverage, form the nucleus of a solid group, while Robinson becomes a full-time starter for the first time in his three-year career following the departure of Tracy Porter. Patrick, a 2011 third-round draft pick, is the likely starter in the nickel, while White, a promising fifth-round draft pick, and Abdul-Quddus will challenge for playing time in the dime.

SPECIAL TEAMS
K Garrett Hartley, P Thomas Morstead, LS Justin Drescher, KOR/PR Darren Sproles.

The training camp battle between Hartley and Kasay, who capably filled in last season when Hartley was sidelined for the season with a hip injury, went down to the wire with Hartley having a slight edge. Morstead is a valuable weapon who averaged 48.3 gross yards and 43.1 net yards and led the NFL with 68 touchbacks on kickoffs. Sproles was a nice addition to the special teams with a threat to take it all the way in averaged 10.1 yards on punt returns and 27.2 yards per kickoff return. Drescher has been an accurate and dependable snapper since joining the team in 2010.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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