June 23, 2003

Saints Claim AFL Product, Offseason Notes

Pettis Signed

The Saints claimed athlete Will Pettis off of the transactional list over the weekend, signing him to a minimum deal away from the Arena League's Dallas Desperados. Pettis, 6'0, 195, who played cornerback and receiver, will likely be given a shot at special teams as a wide receiver. Pettis, 25, had 69 catches and three interceptions for the Desperados as one of many two-way players in the indoor league.

Pettis was at one point a starting cornerback at the University of Houston before being suspended for a season for smoking marijuana. Instead of sitting out he transferred to tiny Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, ended up in the Arena Football League 2 and worked his way into the AFL and was a standout rookie this past season.

The Dallas Cowboys, who signed Pettis to a minimum deal, had to wait 10 days before acquiring him due to NFL rules concerning signing players out of the AFL, which just ended its season. All 31 other teams had a chance to sign Pettis in those 10 days away from the Cowboys, and the Saints acted.

NFL Europe Boys Back

The Saints already welcomed back their NFL Europe allocated players last week. Of note, DL John Schlect returns to the states after winning the World Bowl with the Frankfurt Galaxy. Schlect was a starter at defensive end for the Galaxy for most of the 11-week NFL-E season.

WR Kerwin Cook, a Tulane product, suffered a broken ankle in the final game after a successful NFL Europe season. Cook had 29 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns, but already faced a very difficult battle in his efforts to make the Saints final roster in training camp. The Saints have four receivers who are all but guaranteed spots on the roster, and invested two late draft picks in receivers who will also likely make the team, should the Saints keep six receivers. Cook also returned 20 punts for 104 yards for the FC Barcelona Dragons, who finished 5-5.

Also playing for the Dragons was QB Chris Finlen, who was a backup and also battled a minor injury this spring. On the season, he finished 25 of 45 for 197 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Finlen will compete with 2002 sixth round pick J.T. O'Sullivan for the third QB job in training camp. This time last year, Finlen was a scout in training with the Chicago Bears.

O'Sullivan, who was the Saints #3 QB last season as well, may face competition from a veteran before training camp comes. The Saints nearly signed free agent QB Akili Smith last week before Smith signed with Green Bay.

DT Jovon Bush played eight games of the Europe spring season with the Berlin Thunder and two games with the Amsterdam Admirals and collected 12 tackles as a reserve. G Melvin Paige, taken first overall in the NFL Europe draft by the Dragons, started the season opener at right tackle but was demoted to backup before starting a single game at guard late in the season.

Paige, the former South Carolina standout, along with all the players sent to Europe by the Saints, was signed off the street in January after spending the 2002 season out of football.

Local Prospects Receiving High Marks

Louisiana is not generally regarded as a hotbed for NFL prospects around the country, but there's no hiding the talent that has come from the state, including St. Louis Rams runningback Marshall Faulk, Falcons runningback Warrick Dunn, a pair of NFL starting QB's in Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox, and possibly a third in Jake Delhomme. Louisiana universities this season are looking to send more stars to the pros, and several are already getting attention from pro scouts.

Among the seniors to keep an eye on: Grambling S Octavious Bond, Louisiana Tech WR DJ Curry, Grambling WR Tramon Douglas, Louisiana Tech T Michael Gilmore, LSU P Donnie Jones, LSU DT Chad Lavalais, Tulane QB J.P. Losman, Louisiana Tech QB Luke McCown, Tulane RB Mewelde Moore, LSU G Stephen Peterman, LSU G Rodney Reed, McNeese State MLB Roderick Royal, McNeese State CB Keith Smith, LSU DE Marcus Spears, UL-Lafayette QB Jon Van Cleave, and Tulane WR Roydell Williams.

Rodgers Stepping Right In

It's a three-headed battle for two starting outside linebacker jobs right now between newly-acquired Derrick Rodgers, second-year James Allen and last year's starter at strong-side in Sedrick Hodge. The youngsters in Allen and Hodge are big and fast, and are fighting off the steady veteran in Rodgers. A long-time Miami veteran and New Orleans native, Rodgers isn't as physically gifted but is a more mature player and less susceptible to the mistakes of youth.

Arena Ball

The next time the Arena Football League takes the turf, it will be with a franchise in New Orleans. The long-awaited AFL franchise will finally begin play in February of 2004 as the Voodoo, and will be coached by former AFL coach Mike Neu. The high-scoring game and low-priced tickets are expected to provide a cheaper, off-season football sporting event, and will play in the New Orleans Arena.

The Voodoo will also train at the Saints headquarters and use the new indoor training facility, set to open up and be in use this August for the Saints' training camp. Saints GM Mickey Loomis will also manage the Voodoo.

Tickets On Record Pace

The Saints have already sold 46,000+ season tickets, nearly a third of the total capacity of the Super Dome. They are on pace to break the franchise record, and are 14,000 tickets ahead of their pace last season. They are roughly 7300 tickets away from the franchise record.

L.A. Rumors Swirling

The NFL will likely have a team in Los Angeles in time for their new network television contract after the 2005 season. In a receding economy, even the media juggernaut that is the NFL will need another bargaining chip at the table in order to sell its goods to ABC, CBS, FOX, and ESPN.

Rumors about moving franchises will always contain the Saints, who are in one of the NFL's smallest television markets. The latest rumors also swirl around the Minnesota Vikings, the Indianapolis Colts, and the San Diego Chargers. All four teams, naturally, are wrangling with their home cities over new stadiums or existing leases. The Saints, who have a brand new 10-year incentives agreement with the state, aren't out of the woods but aren't the most likely candidate.

Jerome Benson Passes

Advisor and brother of Saints owner Tom, Jerome Benson died last week after a long battle with lung disease. New Orleans Pro Football would like to send condolences to the Benson family. The Loyola graduate was a successful automobile dealership owner alongside his brother, and was the owner of Honda Town in New Orleans. Funeral services were Monday the 23rd, in Metairie.

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