Secondary is the primary concern
This is the 14th in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his NFL training camp tour.
Saturday, Aug. 11
Team: New Orleans Saints
Site: The Minnesota-New Orleans preseason opener at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Not bad, as domes go. But I can only hope there's never an NFL team playing in this arena regularly. Man was not put on earth to play sports in domes.
Five observations from practice that you just can't get anywhere else:
1. Saints secondary, you worry me. You worried me last year. You worry me this year. If I'm the Saints after their 28-21 loss, I'm thinking I wish we'd taken Wisconsin corner Jamar Fletcher instead of Ole Miss running back Deuce McAllister with the 23rd pick in the first round in April.
2. Smashing homecoming for Ricky Williams, who played his first game in Texas sine leaving the University of Texas after the 1998 season. His first-quarter runs: minus-1, minus-2, minus-5, 2 and 4 yards. Yeeeesh. "He's been great in every way so far this camp," Jim Haslett told me Saturday afternoon. "He's happy, he has a great attitude, and he never wants to come out of practice. The other day, he got a wisdom tooth pulled out and came to practice, ready to go. I sent him back to his room. But it was just a sign of how much he wants it."
3. If you think there's a competition between Aaron Brooks and Jeff Blake for the starting quarterback job -- either before or after Brooks' 10-for-10 laceration of the Vikings' defense -- you're crazy. This has been Brooks' job since last season ended. The Saints know this. They just can't say it yet.
4. Poor Jeff Blake. He came in with the second team, facing many of the Vikes' first-liners because Minnesota needed its top guys to get a good workout in, and got absolutely creamed a few times. He was sacked twice and grew so frustrated near the end of the first half that he threw the ball in one of his tormentors' faces, drawing himself an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
5. If there's a sacks category in your fantasy draft, I have a good mid-round pick for you: New Orleans left end Darren Howard. What a burst around end.
His 11 sacks last season were no fluke, and I voted him Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Opinion/factoid that might be interesting only to me: Some 6.3 percent of the Saints' roster is comprised of Williamses. Brian Williams, the former Packers linebacker, Arkansas free-agent tight end Eddie "Boo" Williams and guard Wally Williams join Ricky and Richard Williams, the running back and free-agent wideout, respectively.
The food: Chose not to eat at the Alamodome, a decision I believe was for the best because the spread looked like the leftover Mexican stuff I used to eat at Ohio University my senior year, the stuff we scraped out of the pot Saturday night and Saran-Wrapped in the fridge so we'd have something when the munchies struck Sunday night. Ate room service at the Marriott Rivercenter in downtown San Antonio:
Dear NFL Junkie ...
Love the preseason. You know why? In my job, it's important to have contact with coaches and players. In the regular season, most of that contact is cut off the night before the game -- and for many teams, two days before the game. But here in San Antonio, I arranged to meet Haslett over at the team hotel, the Hyatt, just after his workout on the 11th-floor pool deck (which is actually outside, way up in the sky) at 12:45 this afternoon. And then La'Roi Glover, the fine defensive tackle, met me around 2:15 by the New Orleans meeting rooms. The game started at 7. That's why I like the preseason. I've always thought it silly that players and coaches close themselves off to the outside world as if what they're doing is some great, dark mystery. What they're doing, actually, is killing time. And probably, as Jimmy Johnson used to tell me, "laying there belly-laughing at the Flintstones. At least my players are."
Anyway, a couple of Saints' points. "You know," Haslett said, the sweat dripping down him after he exercise-biked, "we've heard a lot of talk about the heat lately. You want to know how hot it was at our camp (in Thibodaux, La.) the first four days of camp, measured on the field? The heat index was 141, 137, 134 and 133. There's no hotter place that I've ever been, and I've played and coached in a lot of places." The Saints have been practicing regularly in the morning and evening, skipping afternoon work. And most of the players do something smart for part of the afternoon: They nap.
Alex Stern, the superb statistician for the Elias Sports Bureau, has asked me for a player from each camp who the coaches really like but whom we haven't heard much about. So here is the new category, thanks to Alex:
Player from this camp who the coaches really like whom we haven't heard much about: Linebacker Sedrick Hodge, a 6-foot-4, 244-pound runner from North Carolina who was the team's third-round pick in the April draft. "Now I don't think we'll have a lot of rookies make a big impact on defense," Haslett said, "but this guy's going to be a player." Well-built kid, doesn't overrun plays like a lot of rookies, very active.
Next up: Philadelphia