Scouting report: New Orleans Saints

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Quarterback Drew Brees leads the Saints' potent offense.

The New Orleans Saints are coming into the 2008 season looking to improve on a 7-9 record from 2007. One of those losses came against the Texans on Nov., 18 at Reliant Stadium.

Sean Payton returns for his third season as head coach of the Saints and 13th season in the NFL. After the 2006 season, Payton was voted Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America, The Sporting News and the Maxwell Club.
OFFENSE

Quarterback: Drew Brees leads a team who has ranked first and fourth in total offense the last two seasons, respectively. In 2007, Brees passed for 4,423 yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Long considered too small to play quarterback in the NFL, Brees has proven his critics wrong by becoming one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league and earning three trips to the Pro Bowl since becoming a starter in 2004. Long-time veteran Mark Brunell serves as Brees' backup.

Running back: After an injury sidelined starting running back Deuce McAllister in early 2007, running back Reggie Bush filled in with the help of Aaron Stecker. The two backs combined to rush for 1,029 yards and nine touchdowns in 2007. Bush is also a dynamic receiving threat out of the backfield, constantly garnering extra attention from opposing defenses because of his breakaway speed and elusiveness. Second-year running back Pierre Thomas has been praised by coaches this offseason and looks to be a candidate to steal carries from the other running backs. This Saturday, the Saints expect McAllister to get his first game action since his knee injury last season.

Wide receiver/tight end: In his second year in 2007, Marques Colston led all Saints receivers with 98 receptions for 1,202 yards, taking 11 of those in for touchdowns. The Saints are counting on him to improve on those numbers in his third season in 2008. The Saints list Devery Henderson as the team's second receiver, but are hoping Robert Meachem, their first-round draft pick in 2007, will step up and make big plays this season. A recent trade with the New York Giants brought in tight end Jeremy Shockey to round out the passing game. Shockey is one of the most dominant tight ends in the league when healthy but is coming off a broken leg sustained in the Giants' playoff run last season. Ex-Texan Billy Miller offers insurance at the position if Shockey isn't able to play.

Offensive line: As the Saints' first-round draft pick in 2005, left tackle Jammal Brown protects Brees' blind side. Brown was voted to the AP All-Pro team and was an NFC starter in the Pro Bowl in 2006 after starting all 15 games he appeared in. Brown's hard-nosed demeanor brings toughness to the entire offensive front. Left guard Jamar Nesbit opened all 16 games last season at left guard and teamed with Brown to give New Orleans a solid duo on the left side. Jonathan Goodwin brings experience to the center position and right guard is locked down by Jahri Evans, who has been a starter since being drafted in the fourth round in 2006. When Brown moved to left tackle last season, John Stinchcomb took over on the right side and gave the club bookend tackles on the offensive front.

DEFENSE

Defensive line: Defensive end Will Smith anchors the Saints' defensive line. Smith was credited with seven sacks in 2007. Complementing Smith on the other side of the line is defensive end Charles Grant, who finished last season with two-and-a-half sacks. Nose tackle Kendrick Clancy, a free agent signing by the Saints in June, adds depth and experience to the interior of the defensive front. Behind him is rookie Sedrick Ellis, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2008 draft out of USC. Defensive tackle Brian Young has been a mainstay on the Saints' defense since he signed with the team in 2004.

Linebacker: Newly acquired linebacker Jonathan Vilma looks to bolster the Saints' linebacking corps. Vilma was the 12th overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft and has earned a reputation as one of the finest young linebackers in the game. Scott Fujita and Mark Simoneau round out a talented group of linebackers that also includes Scott Shanle.

Secondary: The Saints' secondary is led by cornerback Mike McKenzie, who had three interceptions last season, taking two back for touchdowns. Jason David enters his second season as the Saints' starter at right cornerback, previously holding that position as an Indianapolis Colt. Free agent signing Randall Gay, formerly of the New England Patriots, and ex-Texan Aaron Glenn provide solid depth at the corner position. Helping out over the top is strong safety Roman Harper, who last season registered three interceptions, four sacks and one defensive touchdown. Kevin Kaesviharn was signed away from the Cincinnati Bengals in the offseason to play free safety for the Saints.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicking: All extra point and field goal duties are assigned to nine-year veteran Martin Gramatica, who owns a Super Bowl ring from his days of kicking for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has been named to the NFC Pro Bowl team once. Gramatica also handles kickoffs for the Saints. Steve Weatherford earned the starting punter spot in training camp in 2006 as an undrafted free agent.

Returning: Running back Reggie Bush handles the punt return duties. Running backs Aaron Stecker and Pierre Thomas are the Saints' main kickoff returners. All three backs bring speed and quickness to this vital part of the team's game plans.

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