August 31, 2006

Scouting Notes on Saints-Chiefs

Short notes and quick hits on the Saints' preseason finale

Starting lineups for the Saints: LDE Charles Grant, DT Brian Young, DT Hollis Thomas, RDE Will Smith, SLB Scott Fujita, MLB Jay Foreman, WLB Scott Shanle, CB Mike McKenzie, CB Fred Thomas, FS Josh Bullocks, SS Roman Harper. Offense: QB Drew Brees, RB Deuce McAllister, FB Mike Karney, WR Marques Colston, WR Jamal Jones, TE Mark Campbell, LT Jammal Brown, LG Jamar Nesbit, C Jeff Faine, RG Jahri Evans, RT Jon Stinchcomb.



Injuries and Notes: TE Ernie Conwell did not play.

Defensive Line : First snap for Chiefs is a simple counter play that caught entire Saints defense. McKenzie had to come up and slow down Chiefs RB Michael Bennett from the backside before others could haul him down. Second play was better, as Fujita and Grant stuffed Bennett... Will Smith beat former Saints Kyle Turley, a slimmed down version of his former self, to stuff another former Saint Bennett at line... On first drive, Brian Young cleared out the right guard and tackle for Charles Grant to cut inside him and drop Damon Huard for a sack. Not sure that was intentional, but it worked. RT Kevin Sampson showed poor form and might have been intimidated by Grant early in the game dropping too far back... Newly acquired DL Antwan Lake entered the game on the second defensive series. Not a reflection of the depth chart, but that the coaching staff only picked up Lake last week and they need to get some film on him. He played throughout the game and showed up a few times... Saw some good pass rushing by Josh Williams playing at DT. We know Williams can rush the passer at DE or DT, but can he play well against the run? His time in Indianapolis proved that he is a liability against the run... Great job by Willie Whitehead at RDT, navigating his blocker down the line of scrimmage on a sweep left to put the first hit on the runningback at the line. Whitehead showed superior strength and remarkable balance to shadow the runner down the line while driving his blocker at will. With veteran technique like that, you don’t have to be in possession of physically dominating size to play the run... Another great pass rush by Josh Williams that was a second late but probably helped redirect Croyle’s pass incomplete. Williams at least merits consideration for a role as an inside pass rush specialist... Here’s something you may see more of: long yardage down and fleet RDE Ninkovich drops off in coverage... The Chiefs buried the Saints on Smith’s goal line plunge. Only three Saint defenders were standing at the end, the rest were flattened... Ninkovich and Villareal dropped Griffin in the backfield in the fourth quarter. On the play, Villareal pushed his man all the way down the path of the run and disengaged to jump on the runner. Ninkovich simply cut inside the left tackle at the onset, ran parallel behind the line untouched and met Villareal on top of Griffin for a four yard loss. Next play, Javon Nanton whipped his man G Tre Stalling to get to Griffin first for a six yard loss. Villareal and Gleason were there to mop him up. Two snaps, two wholesale breakdowns for the Chief’s bottom-string offensive line against superior Saints defensive linemen, at least one of which will be on the roster... Late in the game, DT Minucci did a good job disengaging from blocker to wrap up on the runningback...

Linebackers: WLB Scott Shanle dragged down Bennett downfield after the defensive line was neutralized on toss right... Foreman started, followed by Simoneau and then Fincher... Great job by LB Bockwoldt pressing Svitek into the backfield to foul up a sweep right for Bennett. When Bennett rounded Svitek in the right open field, five Saints had run up to finish the slow-developing play for a loss... Fujita remained in the game on the second defensive series when most of the starters came out, perhaps just to help the second and third string guys out... Good tackle by Simoneau, his first as a Saint, on Michael Bennett in open field. Simoneau entered the game at MLB, where he struggled so much as a Eagle... If Terrance Melton makes this team, it will only be on special teams. A sloppy false start penalty on a punt reminds so much of the Haslett days, he should be cut on principle. This team has too much willingness to go out and bring in new players for Melton to make a mistake like that... MLB Mark Simoneau did a good job staying in his lane on an inside run, but had to hold on and get help to bring down 5’8, 196 pound McKenzi Smith... In the second half, the Chiefs are keeping the ends and backs in to protect Brodie Croyle against a tough Saints pass rush. Alfred Fincher would have either gotten a sack or drawn a holding penalty in the regular season on a good pass rush inside the left guard... Chiefs RT Kevin Sampson simply let Terrance Melton through for a clean shot at his quarterback in the third. He’ll have some explaining to do when he decided to instead block up Alfred Fincher, who was rushing in behind Melton. Melton drew an unsportsmanlike penalty for drilling Croyle into the turf, perhaps with his helmet, then stepping over him, perhaps catching Croyle’s facemask with his foot... Melton is trying to atone for his early Haslett-era mistake on special teams by getting active in the third quarter on the run game and the blitz... Late in the game, and Alfred Fincher gets carried away by his blocker, who meets him five yards downfield on a toss left. Huh, looks just like the beginning of the game...

Secondary: Mike McKenzie got completely turned around by Dante Hall early in the game for Hall’s long faux-reception, and FS Josh Bullocks was not in a position to make the play coming underneath. The low throw by Huard prevented that from being a long reception. Sure, McKenzie has faced some stiff competition so far in preseason in Terry Glenn and Marvin Harrison. But this is the NFL, there are very few weeks where McKenzie won’t face a premier athlete... Josh Lay just doesn’t look like he has the speed to play NFL cornerback. Anwar Philips has plenty of courage, and is probably the best of the three remaining rookie cornerbacks, but is clearly not ready to play in the NFL either... CB Josh Lay got there late again and KC WR Webb wrestled the ball away and stepped down the sideline for a 14-yard gain. The draft pick isn't looking good at all... Nice tackle by DB Bryan Scott at the end of the first half. We haven’t seen Scott play a lot, but considering the lack of depth at cornerback and Scott’s hybrid CB/S nature, he could be the Saints’ dime back if he makes the final roster. Last two plays of first half saw Scott make strong plays in run defense, nice to see. Scott had a special teams tackle on the Saints’ first kickoff of the second half... How many times have we seen Anwar Phillips get victimized on a deep out or comeback route tonight? The rookie from Penn State is playing far too loose... Bryan Scott continues a good night so far with a great fingertip interception while playing deep center field. Alfred Fincher should get some credit for providing the footsteps over the middle that made young receiver Jeff Webb miss the ball... Best catch of the night is by Omar Stoutmire late in the third quarter when he went up high and juggled the ball for an interception. Followed it with a nice return. But one of the rookie cornerbacks, Josh Lay, fouled it up again with an illegal contact penalty down field... Another nice hit by DB Bryan Scott in the final minute of the third quarter…

Receivers: Great catch by new starting wide receiver Marques Colston on the second snap – and pass – of the game for the Saints. Tremendous adjustment for a big guy, contorting around quickly to catch a quick pass. Couldn’t be more impressed with Colston this preseason... Got hands? Devery Henderson does. Fantastic catch on a ball high and behind with a defender on his back at the sideline. A great, athletic high-speed and mid-air correction converted the deep first down pass from Brees... Two plays later, great catch on a short pass by Jamal Jones that Brees stared down badly. When the quarterback looks his receiver all the way to the first down on a passing third, his receiver is going to get hit. Sammy Knight lit up Jamal Jones, who still managed to hang on to the pass... Chris Horn, you are a receiver, in this NFL game because you have quick feet. Instead of pulling your block with your arms and standing still, move yourself, get in his way and push. Horn’s fortunate he didn’t get a holding call for impeding the cornerback’s progress by pulling on his jersey... Martin was just playing pitch and catch with his buddies until Nate Lawrie fumbled at the Kansas City 21 after a nine yard first down catch. Lawrie got an earful and a shove from Payton on the way back to the sidelines. Entering the game Lawrie probably had the #3 TE job, not sure about that now... Devery Henderson has looked great so far, maybe he’s not pressing so much and playing more instinctively knowing he’s essentially won a job. 3:45 into the third quarter, six passes thrown Henderson’s way, and zero balls on the ground. One of those was a deep catch out of bounds... Chris Horn is getting bounced around like a pinball essentially after each catch. Tough 29-year old guy who finally got his shot in the NFL last season with significant playing time for the Chiefs... First Lawrie, now Hilton. Both of the Saints’ towering tight ends who are competing for the #3 TE job have fumbled. Regardless that the Saints’ recovered Hilton's fumble thanks to a fortuitous dive by Ben Archibald, the Saints reserve tight ends are not having a good night. Billy Miller, another potential #3 TE candidate, was guilty of holding earlier... Another penalty for Hilton early in the fourth quarter may have ended Hilton’s Saints career after years of development. Hilton was one of the few real coaching success stories of the Haslett era. In the broadcast, Rick Mueller suggested the Saints’ may keep Keith Joseph as a second fullback instead of a third tight end... TE Nate Lawrie is on the field late in the game. Why? The Saints want to give him a chance to win the job. He had a nice reception down the middle where he separated from defenders and provided a fine target...

Runningbacks: First snap for the Saints is a departure from the Haslett era when we would see run up the middle to start every game. The first play featured field-stretching patterns and a dump off in the middle to Deuce. It was a scary tackle with Deuce bent over backwards by a Chiefs low-high, but I was glad to see the big guy has retained flexibility despite the injury and got up fine... Second series, Brees still in and hands the ball off to Bush on a misdirection. Bush made a great cut to avoid LB Kendrell Bell in the backfield and plunge forward for a four yard gain. That's a special move... Next play, Bush shows great hands catching the ball out of the backfield. Bush drew an illegal hands to the face penalty on Bennie Sapp, who was trying to play enforcer on the rookie... Reggie Bush, get used to it. S Greg Wesley nailed him in the backfield on a dead run on one of Bush's carries. On the next play, Bush tried to do too much after catching a dumpoff pass, giving ground and reversing field until he was dropped for a five yard loss. He simply cannot give ground against fast linebackers like Derrick Johnson in the NFL... Bush is not finding much running room and is absorbing some good damage in a preseason game. Gotta wonder if he really needs to prove anything at this point, but the Saints starters remain in the game in the second quarter as the Saints embarked on a long, good-looking drive. Bush needs to get used to being stifled almost constantly, it’ll happen a lot in the NFL, especially considering the Saints’ mediocre offensive line... Pretty sad cut block attempt on the onrushing Jimmy Wilkerson by McAllister. Wilkerson just stepped over Deuce on the ground to sack Brees in a second and goal situation... Bush and Deuce each had four carries tonight, but either had much to do with them. Line must play better for this team to be competitive... Jamaal Branch had a good catch and fight for yardage on his first snap in the middle second quarter. Even if Branch doesn’t make this team, he’ll make somebody else’s roster. Good showing for a guy who was running out of shots on training camp rosters and NFL Europe allocations. Still wouldn’t mind to see a raw player like Branch return to NFL Europe after this season. His fumble on the next play shows just why he’s not quite ready to play in the NFL… yet. We’re going to see a lot of Jamaal Branch tonight... Branch is a pretty smooth runner... Keith Joseph entered the game as runningback in the fourth quarter, but can be expected to do much when linebacker Kris Griffin meets him right after the handoff. Next play, Jamaal Branch is stuffed for a similar loss. Next play, Bouman throws the pick to Griffin. A disastrous series for the Saints, who lost one, then two yards in the running game before throwing a pick and coming out of the red zone with no points, again. A painful trend this preseason that will doom the Saints if it is allowed to carry into the regular season... RB Keith Joseph getting some good playing time tonight. If the Saints were looking to sit him down and hide him from film to get him safely on the practice squad, that cover is blown. They are auditioning Joseph for the roster... FB Keith Joseph had a great block late in the fourth near the end zone. The rest of the team did a good job picking up their man on a toss sweep right with Jamaal Branch, except for Hass who missed his block on Bernard Pollard, which prevented the touchdown. Next play, Branch up the middle behind Goodwin, Ledford and Joseph for the short TD score...

Offensive Line: First snap, Chiefs DE Jared Allen ran past Jammal Brown, but Brown deflected him upfield, extending his orbit and allowing Brees time to throw. That kind of protection will work just fine- if Brees goes through his progressions and gets the ball out of the pocket with decision... Textbook turn and seal by rookie RG Jahri Evans on Reggie Bush’s first carry. He locked on, turned and froze DT Ron Edwards at the line. Great technique, Bush ran behind Evans. On the other side of the line, Nesbit wasn’t able to turn his defensive tackle, James Reed, who disengaged and made the tackle on Bush at the second level... On third and goal, RT Stinchcomb did a good job on his man and Jammal Brown good job on his in pass rush. But Jahri Evans couldn’t bottle up Lional Dalton, and probably deserved a holding penalty, but Dalton was still able to bat Brees’ pass down...Nice pull and block by Ledford on a toss right. Not sure about that call for tripping... Saints second and third string linemen, including Strief, Ledford and Goodwin, are toying with their KC counterparts. Branch is getting all the reward for it, gashing the Chiefs badly in the middle second quarter. Also a nice downfield block by Lance Moore... Jamie Martin enters the game. LT Archibald and RT Strief direct their pass rushers upfield and Martin steps up into the pocket. Perfect pass protection. Martin zips the ball over the middle to Chris Horn. Textbook. Next play, more great pass protection from the second string Saints offensive linemen against the Chiefs' pass rushers in the two minute drill... Archibald was quick to jump on Hilton’s fumble in the third quarter, but quicker to jump before the snap on the next play… Zach Strief did a good job on DE Jimmy Wilkerson in pass protection. Wilkerson got a paw up over him, but Strief held off a club move and an edge rush well, early in the fourth quarter...

Quarterbacks: Quarterbacks threw all game long, and Brees looked decent. Brees' deep comeback route to WR Jamal Jones on a scramble was low and away. A difficult throw that turned into an impossible catch, but one Brees can certainly make and Jones could convert if Brees provides... Next play on third and five, Brees drilled the ball into the ground, behind Jamal Jones and below Colston who were both going over the middle. Not sure where he was going there... Jamie Martin must be having flashbacks to his days in Mike Martz’s offense. But its not a matter of the Saints’ new philosophy as necessity: the Saints have lots of receivers who need to get on film, and only one runningback who is at this point a known factor. Simply from a scouting standpoint: the Saints need to pass the ball on almost every play... Martin got lucky – and he knows it – with a pass for Chris Horn that was tipped twice by KC defenders before harmlessly dropping to the ground. Other than that pass, Martin looked sharp tonight... There’s going to be a drop-off if Jamie Martin has to play this season, but he still looks poised, accurate and has been almost perfect in his decision making tonight... Croyle sure does look like a rookie, but a very promising rookie... I don’t think there’s any doubt about Jamie Martin being this team’s #2 QB, despite some speculation in other places this week. Bouman beats Martin in on-field experience, but Martin actually plays like a veteran. After looking better than average earlier in preseason, Bouman looked pretty bad tonight. A major regression in accuracy. Both Brees and Martin looked excellent and very efficient. Bouman? Not so much...

Special Teams: Great tackle on Gleason, getting lucky and catching the shoestring of Dante Hall with his own shoe in the open field on the Chiefs’ first punt return, just barely enough to bring him down. Here's hoping the Saints keep a guy like Gleason who without McAfee is now the soul of the special teams... Poor punt return for Jamal Jones on his second attempt. He froze in the face of oncoming tacklers and simply waded backwards until he was brought down. He made a good decision on his first punt return to get away from one of Chiefs P Colquitt's many rocket-powered punts... P Steve Weatherford has been extremely impressive. His first punt? He places it three yards from the goal line and five yards from the sideline, a 52 yard punt that was also high enough for the Saints cover men to bring return man Curry down at the 8. Beautiful placement by the rookie punter... Open kickoff of second half: who is that guy in #93? Is that a freaking defensive lineman running like that? Ninkovich has got to make this team and they've got to find ways to put him on the field... Steve Weatherford’s second punt was another great one, traveling 47 yards and placing the return man right in the teeth of the Saints’ gunner, Anwar Phillips. Phillips was blocked out of bounds on the play and the returner got loose a bit, but more work for this impressive rookie punter showing uncanny placement and great distance... Great kickoff return for Lance Moore, running into the empty space after the Chiefs’ touchdown. Jamaal Branch was Moore’s escort on the kick return. It appears that 25 year old Branch may replace 38-year old Fred McAfee... Another great punt by Weatherford, landing it at the 10 yard line with his coverage men close in. Melton made a good stick on the return man at the 20. Weatherford has made the most of his opportunities, safe to say. And have you seen the ink on his arm? Pretty badass for a punter... Lance Moore! What speed and vision on that 90-yard punt return. If Bethel Johnson is hurt, Moore makes the team as the returner. But to get slung down by the punter inside the five is not going to look pretty in the film room. That the Saints were stuffed, stuffed and picked off on the next three plays makes Colquitt’s tackle of Moore at the three pretty meaningful... Bryan Scott is playing special teams late in the game, a good indication that he may have won himself a roster spot tonight...

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