It was another middle-of-the-road season for New
Orleans in 2003, as the team finished 8-8 and featured the league's 11th-ranked offense and 18th-ranked defense. In fact, head coach Jim Haslett's
team has compiled a 24-24 record the past three seasons, with no playoff appearances in that stretch. Ever-improving quarterback Aaron Brooks tossed
an NFL-low eight interceptions last season, and will again have Pro Bowler Joe Horn as his top target. The team also has high hopes for receiver Donte
Stallworth, who is expected to break out in 2004.
The running back position remains the domain of Deuce McAllister, who last season racked up a career-high 1,641 rushing yards (4th in the NFL), while
also picking up a career-high 69 receptions. Dependable tight ends Boo Williams and Ernie Conwell give Brooks short-yard options. On defense, the
Saints' defensive line will shoulder the load, and was boosted in the offseason by the free agent signing of Brian Young. However, holes exist at
linebacker and within the secondary.
Deuce McAllister (RB, 4th year, 6'1", 220 lbs); Joe Horn (WR, 9th year, 6'1", 205 lbs); Johnathan Sullivan (DT, 2nd year, 6'3",
315); Charles Grant (DE, 3rd year, 6'3", 280 lbs); Tebucky Jones (S, 7th year, 6'2". 218 lbs)
Brian Young (DT, 5th year, 6'2", 290 lbs, signed from St. Louis); Sam Gash (FB, 13th year, 6'0", 245 lbs, signed from
Dale Carter (CB, signed with Baltimore)
Donte Stallworth (WR, 3rd year, 6'0", 197 lbs); Aaron Brooks (QB, 6th year, 6'4", 205 lbs); LeCharles Bentley (C, 3rd year,
6'2", 300 lbs); Darren Howard (DE, 5th, 6'3", 280 lbs); James Allen (LB, 3rd year, 6'2", 240 lbs); Cie Grant (LB, 2nd year, 6'2", 220 lbs); Ashley
Ambrose (CB, 13th year, 5'11", 190 lbs)
Going into the 2003 season, it was widely believed the Saints would have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. This faith by fans was
never rewarded. The Saints did get another Pro Bowl year from McAllister, but inconsistency at quarterback and wide receiver was often frustrating.
Starting quarterback Aaron Brooks took a step forward by cutting his INT total for the season down to eight to go with 24 touchdown passes, but his 14
fumbles, 11 leading to turnovers, led the team. Also, his inconsistency and tendency to run hot and cold often led the coaches to consider benching
him. If he continues to show the lack of progression and maturity expected by an NFL quarterback from year to year, look for the coaches to replace
him with backup Todd Bouman or NFL Europe star J.T. O'Sullivan.
Wide receiver and tight end, thought to be
positions of strength before the season, were also a disappointment. Injuries to receiver Donte' Stallworth and free agent tight ends Ernie Conwell
and David Sloan prevented this group from ever developing chemistry with Brooks. Look for Stallworth to put his previous injury concerns behind him
this year, though, due to a revamped off-season workout regiment that has seen him drop his body fat from nine percent to three percent and has him
working daily with hamstring specialists. The tight end position looked much better in the second half of the season with the emergence of Boo
Williams, a fourth-year player from the University of Arkansas. Willaims caught 41 passes for 436 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, and looks to
show that his stellar second half wasn't a fluke. Williams will be the starter at tight end and will also be featured in two tight end sets with the
return of a healthy Ernie Conwell. Coaches also seem to feel they have turned a corner with receiver Joe Horn, who openly voiced his disapproval of
the firing of receivers coach, Hubbard Alexander. Alexander was replaced during the off-season with former Giants receivers coach, Jimmy Robinson.
The Saints are an "X"-factor in the NFC North, as it is entirely conceivable that they could finish anywhere from first to fourth. If Atlanta's
problems run deeper than Michael Vick can repair by himself, if Tampa Bay's myriad offseason changes don't have the desired effect, and if Carolina's
many free agent defections leave its talent base depleted, New Orleans could sneak up and steal the division. Haslett's team has the required talent
at the skill positions, in the secondary, and on special teams, but will need the new faces on both lines and at linebacker to settle in easily. The
Saints will also have to show up every week and play with intensity, even against subpar opponents, which has not been a team hallmark in the Haslett
era. New Orleans has the players to finish with anywhere between six and 12 wins, but if history is any indication, the Saints will fall somewhere in