The Saints began practice for the upcoming regular season on Sunday with a new attitude. Eager to put their successes from 2009 behind them, the team has already switched gears and turned their focus to the tough opponents waiting in line to dethrone them, starting with the Minnesota Vikings.
Even though they are the defending Superbowl champions, the Saints know that the level of competition facing them is going to be fierce, making their quest to repeat as world champs just that much tougher–a challenge that they seem to welcome wholeheartedly.
With the Vikings rematch just three days away, you can best believe that the Saints are putting together a gameplan at all levels to rival those of their most recent playoff and Superbowl appearances–even though the team will be slightly different than it was then.
For starters, they will have at least three new defensive starters in the lineup. Malcolm Jenkins replaces Darren Sharper at the free safety spot; Alex Brown is a new defensive end, and some reports speculate that Jo-Lonn Dunbar will be playing at the strongside linebacker position.
And because the status of ProBowl linebacker, Jonathan Vilma is still uncertain, it’s kind of up in the air at this point just who will be playing at middle linebacker. However, Vilma did have this to say, “Unfortunately, we did lose some guys, but I think we have a good group coming back,” Vilma said. “It’s three new starters, but if you look at it the other way, we have eight old starters. On top of that, we have guys that have played. Malcolm Jenkins played a lot for us last year.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar played a lot. Alex Brown? Come on, a ninth-year wily old vet? He knows what to do. I think the chemistry is not going to be as much an issue as execution from everybody, not just the new guys.”
Can we deduce from his statement that he will in fact be on the field Thursday? It sure sounds that way. I hope I’m not reading too much into it, or perhaps even wishfully thinking.
All I know is that the defense needs its general on the field come game time. His leadership is irreplaceable when it comes to getting players lined up just where they need to be, particularly the less-experienced ones.
I, for one, am anxious to see how well Malcolm Jenkins is going to perform against the Vikings’ high-powered offense. While I feel that he is quite capable of holding it down, I’d be willing to bet the farm that old Brett is going to test the waters more than once.
Jenkins is a very smart player who is still in the growing phase. Hopefully, his speed and on-the-field instincts will be enough to keep him from becoming Viking food out there.
But Coach Sean Payton isn’t the least bit worried about his new corner-turned-safety. This is what he said about Jenkins,
“Number one, he has good athleticism. We feel like he has a real good football I.Q. He has good awareness. You see his range, he’s a good tackler and he has good ball skills. Those would certainly be the things that we’ve seen in him after one year.”
As the Saints continue their preparations this week, they will no doubt stick to the fundamentals of the game, extracting those that will be most beneficial to their success as a team.
Sure, this game is already more hyped than probably any other season opener in recent years, mostly because of controversy still swirling about the NFC Championship Game. But one thing we know for sure is that the Saints know how to tackle adversity and come out on top.
If they can stay focused on the task at hand, I think they will do just fine, despite being bitten by the injury bug early on. They have world-class coaches, elite players, and some of the greatest fans in all of football. That’s a perfect recipe for success.