Some would say that the 2008 season for the New Orleans Saints depends on the health of or more specifically, the return of health for key players. Unfortunately, health has been an issue on both offense and defense. Depending on what happens in the next 6 weeks, could be make or break for New Orleans.
There are several players on this side of the ball that need to be at, or close to 100% for the Saints to be running full speed. Probably the most important person of this group is Deuce McAllister. Noticeably the biggest difference from 2006 to 2007 was the running game (or lack there of). Most believe that without the threat of an inside run game, the Saints became one dimensional. With all the pressure on Drew Brees and the passing game, the offense was not able to sustain drives which put more pressure on an already porous defense. If Deuce can come back healthy from his ACL tear as he did in 2006, the offense will be much better off than they were last year.
McAllister is not the only key player coming back from a set back last year. Both Reggie Bush and newly acquired Jeremy Shockey are getting ready for a better year in 08. Reggie, having to deal with more carries due to the loss of McAllister, eventually went down himself with 4 games left to play. With several competent backs, Payton should have the opportunity to split time between them to keep legs fresh. Shockey has also been working slowly to get back to form after a broken leg late last year. Jeremy has been told to take it slow for precautionary measures but should be ready to go by the start of the season, and hopefully back to Pro Bowl form as well.
In my opinion, the defense has less room for error but has a few players hoping to be injury free as well this year. Mike McKenzie was one bright spot for the defense last year with two interceptions returned for touchdowns as well as 52 tackles. These numbers could be even better if he had not gone down with an injury himself in week 16 vs. the Eagles. Luckily for us Saints fans, he has been out on the practice field and is expected to start week 1 vs. Tampa Bay.
Jonathan Vilma may be just as big a piece to the puzzle as McKenzie, relative to his play making ability and leadership. Vilma was brought in via a 4th round pick and conditional pick in 2009, but the Saints believe he is worth much more. Those who have watched practices this training camp have been praising him for his play even during “7 on 7” drills. Vilma claims to not be quite at 100% but is very close, and has been moving around well. He should be a very important part of the defenses success this year.
Now, I know I missed a few players and a few minor injuries, but I pointed out the ones that I felt were most important and have the most impact on the team’s success. Overall, all of these players have been doing well in camp and are on pace to play by game 1 in the Superdome. The 2008 season has the potential to be magical, but may be largely dependant on the health of these key contributors. The offense is just as potent as ever and the defense is much improved. But unless the two come together, it could be a long season. In my opinion, the Saints may just make it longer for anyone in their way.