© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
Team works on improving chemistry
It wasn't a matter of talent. The Saints had plenty of that last season. But off-the-field problems conspired to wreck what started out as a promising 2001 season, leaving them with a 7-9 finish after ending the season with four losses in a row.
The Saints are just as talented this season and appear to have weeded out their team chemistry problems that quarterback Aaron Brooks said destroyed them a season ago.
Among the incidents were a player who allegedly stole money from a teammate and a player who allegedly had an affair with a teammate's wife.
"It was bad. It wasn't outspoken to the point where no one got along," Brooks said. "It was just quiet. And you saw the team deteriorate quietly. I can't say it was a time bomb. It was more like the gas chamber, a slow death. You'd see people fall off one by one."
As a result, the Saints made wholesale changes, departing with 17 players in the offseason. Coach Jim Haslett said the team paid special attention to a player's character when signing replacements this offseason.
"We wanted younger guys who can run, smarter guys and better character players, and I think we accomplished all three of those things," Haslett said. "You're always looking to make the team better. By the process of elimination we got better in some areas, mostly in character."
TALK IS CHEAP: The Saints are one of those teams that lately seems on the verge of being a serious playoff contender. Once again, the Saints are expecting big things, but they realize few people will listen until they back it up.
"Everybody has to step their game up and step their level of play up to become superior in this league," receiver Joe Horn said. "If you don't, you'll always be labeled the same old Saints until you start whooping people's (behind)."
NO LOVE LOST FOR RICKY: With 1,000-yard rusher Ricky Williams traded to the Dolphins in the offseason, the Saints will be under the microscope that inevitably gets pointed at any team that trades one of its superstars.
Is it possible the Saints are a better team with unproven running back Deuce McAllister as the starter instead of Williams, who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in New Orleans? The Saints say yes.
"We'll be better with Deuce," Brooks said. "Ricky was weird. He's a weird dude. ... No disrespect to him, but we didn't get what we wanted out of him. We were always in second-and-long and third-and-long.
"He worked hard in practice, but he didn't do enough of the things to better himself. He was tired of New Orleans. He wanted out. The publicity was shifting from him to myself and Joe (Horn). He didn't like that."
BOMBS AWAY: The Saints were one of the higher-scoring teams last season. Even with the team's many personnel changes this offseason, the Saints expect to be even more explosive, partly because of the addition of rookie receiver Donte Stallworth and the emergence of McAllister, who has breakaway speed.
"We're going to do some different things, try to spread the field a little more and use some of our talent and the versatility of some of our players," McAllister said.
Added tight end Boo Williams: "It's going to be more wide open."