By Bert Bartlett
This is the time of year when we know how things are, and how we wish or think they can be. Yet utmost, it’s the season to be grateful for what we have.
Though it was nice to see the Saints rally from 25 down against the Lions, and a breezy win over the Jags, the final tallies do not matter.
The season wasn’t without a few highs. Out of the abyss, and after as fine a preparation week as Coach Payton and his staff have had here, the Saints never let the 6 – 0 Falcons in the game on Poydras. At long odds, N’Awlins boy Michael Mauti’s punt block for a touchdown heart warmed us, reminiscent of Steve Gleason’s a decade earlier. The Black & Gold darn near posted Carolina their only loss. They came to play, did so for 60 minutes, and came up just short to a better team.
The next rounds of their drama are to quell the reckless speculation of whether Payton will return (foremost), and the re-evaluation of Drew Brees’ and other veteran contracts, out of balance with a well rounded team legitimate for a post season. Coach Payton, despite the just so – so 6 – 9 record, keeps saying he likes the work ethic of this bunch.
Regardless, the Saints do have a cadre of young promising talent on the roster that forebodes fine for 2016, which at the brisk rate of time’s passing, will get here before we know it.
Wide receivers Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman are nice additions to the corps. Snead has prototype size for the position, runs consistent routes in getting open, has decent hands, and now Brees’ trust. Coleman, an under the radar free agent from Rutgers, is a poor man’s Jimmy Graham insofar as his 6’6” height allows him to out maneuver defenders for the ball that other receivers simply can’t. He is coming along and digesting whatever the offense feeds him. We wondered why he didn’t get playing time last year while Marques Colston had an exorbitant case of the drops.
Brandin Cooks is not a top tier league receiver as hoped after being drafted so high, but still can be. His route tree is slowly but surely improving, and is a legit deep threat “as is”. The diminutive one also tries hard, like he wants to be great.
Out of that jewel of a school that is Stanford, offensive lineman Andrus Peat appears to be an able bodied protector, and is not expected to draw many mental errors or flags.
Barring injury, the Saints are downright deep at running back, by committee. Tim Hightower was out of football and on the shelf, for 3 years with a major ACL injury. Now the former Richmond Spider is displaying burst and versatility, filling in just fine for Mark Ingram.
Defensively, though he is not the tackling machine that Curtis Lofton was, Stephone Anthony has good range at linebacker, and a nose for the ball. Edge rusher type Hau’oli Kikaha is short and stocky, but revs up with plenty of motor. Tyeler Davison (Fresno St.) subbed in at nose tackle late in the season and made an immediate impression as a run plugger. At 6’2” and 309 lbs., he has obviously spent lots of time in the weight room for his opportunity and may be the most sculpted guy on the team.
Youngsters Obum Gwacham (DE, Oregon St.) and Kasim Edebali (LB, Boston College) are not yet acclimated to the pro game but bang around out there with desire and a learning innocence when given a chance. Those are good places to start.
The Saints don’t appear to have to hold many auditions for kicker next summer as Kai Forbath (UCLA) seems like a consistent, accurate type with a decent leg. And returner Marcus Murphy, out of Mizzou, is our poor man’s Darren Sproles.
New Orleans native Delvin Breaux is respectable in man to man coverage at corner and has upside. Though it doesn’t seem like it, safety Kenny Vaccaro is in only his 3rd season, this one better than his last.
Snead & Coleman.
Gwacham & Edebali.
Forbath & Murphy.
These are the motley surnames of many of the New Saints, and the more fans become familiar with their pronunciations and jersey numbers, hopefully the more they will be drawing attention in opponents’ film rooms.
The Mystery Man of the Class of ’15 is promising rookie quarterback Garret Grayson out of Colorado St. Scouts whispered he may be more NFL capable than the celebrated Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. He was not viewed as a “system” QB, and had shown the ability to audible well at the line of scrimmage. He’s looks taller than 6’2” in the pocket, has a big arm, and can dunk a basketball standing still.
The last few games are an ideal time to put him out there near the fireplace, see how he handles it, and get a feel for what he’s got. Instead, apparently #9 will or somebody else will be throwing to pad statistics, while risking getting hurt. We at Souls Of The Saints don’t get to make that kind of decision every now and then.
It really doesn’t matter what round these guys were drafted, or if drafted at all. League wide, the media stamps draft tags on players as expectancy, and keeps them there too long. Coaches also err in keeping guys around too long because of how high they were selected, relegating developing prospects to the bench at their expense. What matters is if these Young ‘Uns can play, and right now in New Orleans enough of them have passed eye tests to believe most of them can.
It is both unpredictable and scintillating when a group of young players gets it together and the force becomes with them. In advance of media and fans, even coaches, they can feel, smell it coming. The last electric example of this were Jimmy Johnson’s 1990’s Cowboys, who went 1 – 15 before they began rubbing Super Bowl rings for fun not long thereafter.
Lastly, we should be grateful to have the Saints to kick around at all. After Katrina, San Antonio would have gilded the Alamodome with renovations and packed in new suites to keep them. And in a league first, the city may have also built a sparkling new outdoor stadium, so that the home team could pick and choose where to play on a given weekend, ostensibly based on weather, and freeing up the dome for other events. This wouldn’t have been outlandish at all, given how knee deep the NFL has been in the new stadium and real estate business, which is about as much as they’ve been in the football business.
And fortunately for us, some other franchise is driving the roads paved with gold to Hollywood.
Former Saints Hokie Gajan (1981 – ‘85) and Rickey “City Champ” Jackson (1981 – ‘93) have gotten cancer. Our recovery prayers are with them.
And RIP, longtime press box announcer Jerry Romig. Foist Down, Saaiints…
Souls Of The Saints Sincerely Wishes You & Yours A Happy & Healthy New Year