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2 new Orleans Saints
Michael Silver
September 03, 2001
Ricky Williams is primed to run wild after getting a not-so-subtle message
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September 03, 2001

2 New Orleans Saints

Ricky Williams is primed to run wild after getting a not-so-subtle message

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PROJECTED LINEUP
with 2000 statistics

COACH: Jim Haslett; second season with New Orleans (10-6 in NFL)

2000 RECORD: 10-6 (first in NFC West) NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 8/14/10; defense 10/10/8

OFFENSIVE BACKS

QB

Aaron Brooks

42*

194 att.

113 comp.

58.2%

1,514 yds.

9 TDs

6 int.

85.7 rtg.

RB

Ricky Williams

36*

248 att.

1,000 yds.

4.0 avg.

44 rec.

409 yds.

9.3 avg.

9 TDs

RB

Deuce McAllister (R)#

184*

159 att.

767 yds.

4.8 avg.

18 rec.

190 yds.

10.6 avg.

16 TDs

FB

Terrelle Smith

281*

29 att.

131 yds.

4.5 avg.

12 rcc.

65 yds.

5.4 avg.

0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

WR

Joe Horn

51*

94 rec.

1,340 yds.

8 TDs

WR

Albert Connell#

86*

39 rec.

762 yds.

3 TDs

WR

Willie Jackson

194*

37 rec.

523 yds.

6 TDs

TE

Cam Cleeland?

176*

26 rec.

325 yds.

1 TD

K

John Carney#

233

27/27 XPs

18/25 FGs

81 pts.

PR

Deuce McAllister (R)#

184*

17 ret.

11.2 avg.

1 TD

KR

Deuce McAllister (R)#

184*

20 ret.

17.0 avg.

0 TDs

LT

William Roaf

6'5"

312 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

LG

Wally Williams

6'2"

321 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

C

Jerry Fontenot

6'3"

300 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RG

Chris Naeole

6'3"

313 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RT

Kyle Turley

6'5"

300 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

DEFENSE

LE

Darren Howard

51 tackles

11 sacks

LT

Norman Hand

53 tackles

3 sacks

RT

La'Roi Glover

65 tackles

17 sacks

RE

Joe Johnson

47 tackles

12 sacks

OLB

Keith Mitchell

85 tackles

6� sacks

MLB

Charlie Clemons?

44 tackles

3 sacks

OLB

Darrin Smith

92 tackles

2 sacks

CB

Kevin Mathis

77 tackles

1 int.

SS

Sammy Knight

101 tackles

5 int.

FS

Jay Bellamy#

87 tackles

4 int.

CB

Fred Weary

52 tackles

2 int.

P

Toby Gowin

74 punts

41.1 avg.

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Rankine (explanation on page 119)
?1999 Statistics

Ricky Williams, the Saints' dreadlocked, oft-knocked running back, knows what you were thinking on draft day, and if it's any consolation, he was thinking the same thing. On April 21 Williams was kicking back on the couch at his San Diego beach house, playing a baseball video game on his TV when he decided to do some channel surfing. He reached for his remote control and stopped cold on ESPN: The Saints were on the clock, preparing to make their first-round draft choice.

When Paul Tagliabue announced New Orleans's selection of Mississippi halfback Deuce McAllister with the 23rd pick, Williams was as stunned as the rest of the football world. The way he has responded to that selection has generated unbridled optimism among the rejuvenated Saints, who hope to use their playoff victory last December—the first in franchise history—as a springboard to bigger and better things. On draft day, however, Williams was as unclear about what the future held as WebVan.

"It was kind of shocking," Williams says. "I thought we'd take a receiver or a defensive back, but a running back? No way. I just sat there saying, 'Huh?' I'm not going to lie: It was a little disturbing. Then [analyst] Joe Thiesmann kept calling me 'stupid' on TV, which didn't help. I was upset and, most of all, confused."

Williams turned off the television and telephones, opened his patio doors and stepped out onto the South Mission Beach boardwalk. Minutes later he was cruising through Point Loma on his Schwinn GT mountain bike, pondering the ramifications of the pick. Had he just lost his starting job, despite averaging 100 rushing yards per game in 2000? Was New Orleans about to get rid of him? Was the organization trying to send him a message?

The answers, it turns out, were no, no and maybe. Whatever general manager Randy Mueller's intent in drafting McAllister, Williams reacted the way his employers hoped he would: He pedaled the bike to the health club where he'd been working out regularly, showed up for the following week's minicamp in terrific shape and reminded his coaches and teammates why, when healthy, he's one of the NFL's most dangerous running backs.

"The guy was ripped, huge and ready to rumble," says Kyle Turley, the Saints' All-Pro right tackle. "On the first play he took a handoff and blasted up the middle, and even the coaches were, like, All right, we'll keep our mouths shut about Ricky from now on and let him do his thing." Center Jerry Fontenot says Williams "looked better than I'd ever seen him, even in college."

Williams credits Jim Haslett, New Orleans's popular second-year coach, with having eased his mind by giving him a vote of confidence upon his arrival at minicamp. "I like Ricky? Haslett says. "I have no problem with the guy. He's been working his butt off, and I think he's a great back."

One source in the Saints' organization says the would-be competition between Williams and McAllister was "not even close," meaning McAllister is likely to be used primarily as a change-of-pace substitute and slot receiver in third-down formations. There's one scenario in which Deuce will become the New Orleans ace: if Williams can't stay healthy, which has been the case frequently during his first two seasons. Injuries limited him to 12 games and 884 yards as a rookie, and he had just reached the 1,000-yard plateau in the Saints' 10th game last November when a broken left ankle ended his regular season. Though that injury was flukish, Williams shies away from contact the way Jesse Jackson ducks television cameras. "The dude is a head-buster," star New Orleans wideout Joe Horn says of Williams, "and that's probably why he gets hurt. He runs over people and doesn't try to avoid anyone—and I love that attitude."

Only four NFL backs have exceeded 2,000 yards in a season, but Turley says there's a feeling among the Saints that Williams can reach that level in 2001. "The guy is a monster," Turley says. "He's a f——— bowling ball, and people are flat-out afraid of him. If you told me he'd definitely stay healthy, I'd be picking out the size of my ring."

That's not totally far-fetched. New Orleans has a fast, physical defense, a burgeoning star in third-year quarterback Aaron Brooks and a standout offensive line anchored by the ultra-aggressive Turley and the well-rounded William Roaf, perhaps the league's best tackle tandem. "Our line is so incredible and dominates so many people that my job is easy," Williams says. "Then, when I punish people, it sends a message that when you play us, it's going to hurt. I don't think I could be less physical even if I wanted to."

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