The 2012 season will be tough challenge for the New Orleans Saints. Bountygate has potentially crippled the infrastructure of the coaching staff with a shuffling of sorts.
Will the Saints persevere or has the hammer struck down from commissioner Roger Goodell virtually sealed the fate of the team this season? Here are three questions coming into training camp.
Coaching Identity Crisis
The year-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton has left the Saints with assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer to serve as the interim head coaches. Vitt will be in charge in the preseason and in the latter half of the season from games 7-16 due to his own suspension for his complicity in the scandal.
The biggest issue to ask here in this scuffle, “What would Sean Payton do?” No to criticize either Vitt or Kromer provided that Payton resists the urge to enter random texts or have middle men forward playcalling, but fans have to wonder how this will effect chemistry.
They both might be able to run Payton’s system, but ultimately the tough close calls must be theirs to make in uncertain situations.
Goodell also suspended team leader, linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the year and took away the Saints’ second round choice in this year’s Draft to add more insult to injury. Whether or not you agree with the ruling, the chips are stacked against the team.
One thing about being the center of controversy like the Saints were is how you deal with it afterward. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo might have a chip on his shoulder to contend with if officials are taking an extra eye to the Saints’ play. The paranoia might be enough for some players who were held over from the Gregg Williams era to be hesitant from making plays if it meant certain repercussions in the form of penalties and/or fines.
The additions of linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne should bolster a defense that had problems defending the pass ranking 30th last year giving up an average of 259 yards a game. Spagnuolo’s scheme heavily focuses on zone and if the defense doesn’t pick up on it, expect more of the same. The Saints gave up 99 big plays last year consisting of runs of 10 or more yards and passing plays of 20 yards or more. They aim to drop that to 75 or less.
Will Mark Ingram finally break out?
The Saints used a running-back-by-committee approach in 2011 with the efforts of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory combining for 2013 yards of rushing with 13 touchdowns. Thomas and Ingram both led the team with five touchdowns each and Sproles led the team in rushing with 603 yards on 87 carries.
Ingram was drafted 28th overall by the Saints in 2011, but his production was marred by injuries which some blame on the lockout. Ingram ran for 474 yards on 122 carries which is respectable rookie numbers, but hardly for a first rounder.
If he’s going to be the long-term answer at running back, he’ll have to step it up this year or he may never be the guy. The team might have to lean on the running game more to help get through any growing pains, the defense has.
Make no mistake about it, the Saints will always be a dangerous offensive team and with Drew Brees back into the fold with his new contract, they will be for some time. While it’s preseason, it would seem that Brees in his initial drive just picked up where he left off to remind us how much we miss football.
As originally posted here