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Bright future

Saints hope to build on surprising year

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Posted: Monday January 08, 2001 8:16 PM

  Aaron Brooks, John Randle In just his second year in the league, Aaron Brooks replaced the injured Jeff Blake and lifted the Saints to the NFC West title. Elsa/Allsport

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The New Orleans Saints' best season in franchise history -- a turnaround from 3-13 to 11-7 and a trip to the second round of the playoffs -- was good, but not good enough.

"The biggest thing is we can get better," said general manager Randy Mueller. "We need a little more firepower, a little more depth and more speed at some positions."

Under Mueller and first-year coach Jim Haslett, the Saints shook off a string of non-winning seasons that dated back to 1992 and included a pair of 3-13 marks. It was a year of firsts, including the first playoff victory, a 31-28 win over the St. Louis Rams, the defending Super Bowl champions.

With a new staff and a team that included 31 new names on the final 53-man roster, the Saints won the NFC West for only the second time in franchise history, the first in eight years.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how quick things came together," Mueller said. "I attribute a lot of that to the offseason last year when we went to work in February and it kind of carried on all the way through to Thibodaux."

The Saints astonished many with their ability to overcome injuries. Eight starters were lost between training camp in Thibodaux, La., and the end of the season, including starting quarterback Jeff Blake and running back Ricky Williams, who became the first New Orleans player to gain 1,000 yards rushing since 1989.

"There are some things you can't control, and one of them is injuries," Haslett said. "But I think our players did a good job of really dealing with it and other guys stepping up and playing when they had to."

Haslett, The Associated Press Coach of the Year, quickly became known for his organization, attention to detail and hard work.

Many of the members of the team were first-time starters, many were undrafted or low draft picks. Yet they came together quickly and grew over the season, Haslett said.

The Saints ended up with four players selected for the Pro Bowl, two -- offensive tackle Kyle Turley and defensive lineman La'Roi Glover -- made The Associated Press All Pro first team, defensive lineman Joe Johnson was the Comeback Player of the Year, and defensive end Darren Howard was runner up for the defensive rookie of the year.

"The ultimate team in this business is the Steelers when they won all those championships and the San Franciscos when they won those championships," Haslett said. "You'd like to have your organization be like those teams and have successful runs for a long period of time. I think we have the building block, the nucleus of players and the foundation that we could do something like that."

The Saints' final game, a 34-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC divisional playoff game, showed that they still need to add some players, Mueller said, especially players with more speed.

"Teams win 10, 11 games and mistakenly think they have the thing fixed," Mueller said. "We need to keep adding, and we need to keep working. The one thing that this team did this year that really stood out to me was it really outworked people. We need to work this offseason like we did the last."

Related information
Statitudes: Divisonal Playoffs Preview -- By the Numbers
Vikings end Saints' playoff run with 34-16 victory
SI's Banks: Culpepper leaves a wide path
What We Learned: Saints-Vikings
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