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Monday, May 25, 2009

New Orleans Sports Scuttlebutt 5-25-09

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2009 at 10:59 PM

In 2008 the New Orleans Saints had the number one ranked offense in the league, posting an impressive 6,571 yards. Unfortunately, their running game accounted for only 1,594 of them- less than a fourth of their total. Deuce McAllister now gone, the Saints have turned to the draft and free-agency to reignite a running game that helped them come within one game of the Super Bowl in 2006.

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Recently, New Orleans has been looking at former Arizona Cardinals' running back Edgerrin James. But the Saints' running backs say there's no need to sign anyone else. This despite having the 28th ranked rushing attack last season- a season that saw New Orleans literally two yards away from being 10-6 and potentially in the  playoffs  instead of 8-8 with an early vacation.

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In week two against the Washington Redskins the Saints were up 24-22 on their own 37 yard line. With 4:34 left in regulation Pierre Thomas was stopped on a critical third and one that would have allowed New Orleans to burn more clock, or even add to their lead. Instead, the Saints were forced to punt. They were torched on the very next play for a sixty-seven yard game winning touchdown from Jason Campbell to Santana Moss.

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The following week New Orleans was faced with a similar scenario. This time down 32-34 to the Denver Broncos with 2:19 left to play, the Saints' drive was stalled on the Denver twenty-five yard line after, for the second straight week, Thomas was unable to convert on an important third and one-resulting in back-to-back losses for the "Black-and -Gold."

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“The times we did get stopped, I took that personally,” Thomas said. “That was on me. I should have gotten it. That’s the mentality you have to have. If it’s third and one, fourth and one, they call your name you have to get it.”

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Thomas' contrition for his calamitous start to the 2008 season made the un-drafted back out of Illinois work harder to be the short yardage  power back the Saints are looking for. He's clearly bulked up,  adding about 10 pounds to his 215 lb frame-mostly in his legs.

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“I’ve been trying to work on my legs, get more explosiveness in my legs, and just try to get that chance when it’s third and one and they call my name, and they know I’m going to get it for the,” Thomas said.

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So far coach Sean Payton seems pleased with his corps group of running backs. “I felt, and I’ve said this before, I think those guys understand their roles and understand what they’re competing for,” said Payton.

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As of now, including Thomas, the Saints have eight backs on their roster: Darian Barnes (Buffalo), Mike Bell (returning), Reggie Bush (returning), Herb Donaldson( Western Illinois), Lynell Hamilton (San Diego State), P.J. Hill (Wisconsin), and Aaron Stecker (returning).

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“I think the running back corps we have is very capable,” Hamilton said. “You haven’t seen much of me or Mike Bell... There are a lot of guys on the team that didn’t come out with big names. Pierre turned out to have a big name.

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Bush and Thomas aside, its too early to tell just who exactly will be manning the Saints' backfield on Sundays, and even those two are on the "hot seat." Fans are becoming less and less enamored with Bush as a utility back and Thomas' detractors are quick to point out that his '5''11 frame may not be able to support the weight of a sixteen game season.

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Even worse is the fact that the pair was 9-for-17 on third and one conversions last season-forcing New Orleans to become a one dimensional team. But in 2009 defenses will undoubtedly be ready for quarterback Drew Brees as he'll try to recreate the success he had in 2008.  One thing is certain, he'll need a balanced running attack to keep blitz-happy coordinators honest, or his new teammates could find themselves picking their Pro-Bowl quarterback up off the turf a little more than they'd like to.

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