August 20, 2004

Hodge Suspended Four Games: Former 3rd round pick was competing for starting job

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Sedrick Hodge has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Because of player privacy regulations, the nature and specifics of Hodge's violation were not released at this time. A four-game suspension means that Hodge has advanced to stage two of the league's drug policy discipline system. Hodge will also pay a fine of four game checks.

Hodge will miss the Saints' four-game stint against NFC West teams and return in time for the Saints' NFC South opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome. He will be able to practice with the team and play in the team's preseason games, although his role will be reduced in favor of snaps to his replacement as backup strongside linebacker.

Hodge was battling James Allen for the starting strong side linebacker job. Until Hodge's suspension, the Saints were considering using a committee at the spot, using Allen on running plays and inserting Hodge, who is tall with safety-like speed, on passing downs. In the past the Saints have used Hodge in a variety of nickel and dime package roles, including man-to-man coverage on receivers and deep zone assignments. Hodge had started the past two seasons for the Saints, but missed seven games due to a broken leg last season.

In his fourth year, Hodge was resigned to his restricted free agent tender and will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. This misfortune comes days after the Saints' other 3rd round pick in 2001, DT Kenny Smith, was lost for the season because of shoulder surgery. This suspension, and the public knowledge that Hodge is now in the highly monitored second stage of the league's program, will certainly cost him free agent contract dollars.

While the Saints are certainly not above the mean of NFL teams with player discipline issues, their record of players with substance abuse suspensions is worth noting. Hodge is the latest in a string of Saints with run-ins with the league's policy. In May of 2004, Jay Bellamy was arrested for a DWI, an offense which apparently has not drawn a suspension. Last season, reserve cornerback Keyou Craver served a similar four-game suspension.

In 2002, G Wally Williams drew a four game suspension after a DWI. CB Dale Carter served a nine game suspension, for an incident that occurred before the Saints signed Carter to a seven-year contract. In 2001, then-Saint reserve CB Michael Hawthorne was arrested for a traffic incident and possession of marijuana.

In the 2000 offseason, police found drug paraphernalia at Ricky Williams' house. At the time Williams blamed it on a friend, dubious in light of his recent four game drug suspension and subsequent retirement from the NFL.

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