One of the big questions entering the 2012 campaign is how the New Orleans Saints will respond to one of rockiest offseasons in memory.
Losing your head coach for the season might whip another team off the tracks, but the Saints insist Sean Payton's absence won't derail Drew Brees and the offense. One reason for that is the presence of offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., whose partnership with the quarterback dates to 2002, when he was an assistant with the San Diego Chargers.
"Nobody knows Drew Brees as well as Pete. Nobody knows Pete as well as Drew Brees," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt told The Times-Picayune. "They were tied at the hip in San Diego, so they speak a common language and common verbiage."
We saw Carmichael shine as a play-caller last season after Payton injured his leg, silencing questions about any potential master-to-student falloff. The way Carmichael handled the promotion thrust him onto the short list of the league's hot young coaching candidates. In New Orleans, that freak injury to Payton might have been a blessing in disguise, according to general manager Mickey Loomis.
"(Carmichael's) in tune with Drew, and he's in tune with Sean and what he is looking for offensively in terms of rhythm as well as scheme," Loomis said. "Sean's been able to mentor him as he's come along. He's grown each year, and he did a fantastic job last year when Sean was down. If not for that, I think that would've been an uncertainty with us -- we'd think Pete could do a good job, but now we know."
Carmichael's immediate challenge: Installing the offense without Brees, who's mired in a contract standoff with the team. Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield are the only quarterbacks on the roster, but Carmichael told the newspaper it's business as usual.
Assuming Brees and the team hammer out a long-term deal, the Saints' offense doesn't figure to look much different in 2012, which means trouble for the NFC South and the conference at large. Anyone writing off New Orleans might be in for a surprise.