Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Orleans Sports Scuttlebutt 6-28-09

Posted By on Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 1:40 PM

click to enlarge Gregg Williams

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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Last year the Saints were derailed by an inexplicable rash of injuries and an even more inexplicable penchant for giving up big plays on defense. New Orleans went extended periods without impact players like Marques Colston Reggie Bush, and All-Pro pass rusher Charles Grant. Colston and Bush are back now and hope to put it all together this season, but as versatile as those guys are, they can't play defensive end.

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The Saints finished the second half of the '08 season without Grant, and it looks like they'll be starting the '09 season without him as well.  New Orleans has exhausted all of their options, lodging appeal after appeal in efforts to prevent a four game suspension for defensive ends Grant and Will Smith. Last year Grant and Smith tested positive for the banned diuretic bumetanide, found in the weight loss supplement Star Caps.

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This puts a huge damper on what was to be a defensive renaissance for the Saints. No, the '09 Saints aren't the "Dome Patrol" and no one expects them to be. All they have to do is hold teams long enough so that when the fourth quarter comes, Drew Brees can hand the ball of to Bush or Pierre Thomas to run out the clock.

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But with the absence of Grant and Smith, who've accounted for 40 percent of the team's sacks since '04, New Orleans has to find a way to get pressure on the quarter back. DT Sedrick Ellis is looking to improve in his sophomore season, and this could be his chance. Ellis had only four sacks last year but has gotten the attention of the Saints coaching staff in their recent OTA's.

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The maturation of Ellis would be huge for the "Black and Gold,"(both literally and figuratively) but the Saints are confident that second year Saint  Bobby McCray will help sure-up the defensive end position. Before last year McCray was considered a "situational pass rusher"-but don't tell him that.

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“I am not a situational guy,” McCray said. “That’s just a little topic that has stuck with me. People like to write stories about that. That’s never been me.”

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When Grant got injured McCray got the chance remove "situational" from his title. Misnomers aside, the 260 pound speed rusher's twenty-nine tackles and six sacks last season proved that his size, or lack there of, was a non issue.

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It'd be asking a lot to expect McCray to fill the shoes of the Saints' two Aces but New Orleans does have a wild card. DE Anthony Hargrove is trying to resurrect his career and for both he and New Orleans, it couldn't have come at a better time. Hargrove spent the '08 season in a drug treatment center after being suspended for violating the league's drug policy. Drafted in '04 by the Rams Hargrove's best season was in '05 when he racked up 51 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

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His troubles began in 06' when without any explanation Hargrove went "A-Wall" for two days. The Rams were unamused. After being traded to the Bills  Hargrove's production began to slip-relegating him to the bench. Hargrove was unable to return to form in '07 and was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

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Now one year removed from exile Hargrove finds himself filling in for one half of a Pro Bowl tandem  in the middle of a war for the NFC South. It almost seems like fate or a really cheesy Holly Wood script. But as dramatic as it sounds, he could be big part of the supporting cast that finally makes it to the big show. Hargrove seems contrite and ready to turn his career around. He's on his third strike and so are the Saints for that matter. The only question is can the former outcast ,along with an under achiever, and a "situational pass rusher" help New Orleans keep it close until their home run hitters return? Only Hargrove, McCray, and Ellis can answer that.

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