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Remade defense must learn system, find cohesion

2007 season recap

Opening month blues: The 2006 Saints advanced farther than any team in franchise history, losing in the NFC Championship Game to the Bears. In 2007, they were predicted by many to advance deep into the playoffs again and were a chic Super Bowl pick. That was all undone immediately, as they lost, 41-10 to the Colts in the NFL's Kickoff game. They went on to start the season 0-4 and despite rallying to 4-4, were never able to get over the hump and finished a disappointing 7-9.

Key camp questions

Will all of the defensive additions pan out?
The Saints' defense dropped from 11th in 2006 to 26th in 2007 and that was a primary cause for their precipitous drop in the standings. They responded by acquiring several high-profile defensive players in the offseason. They traded for former Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma of the Jets, they moved up in the draft to grab USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and they signed former Patriots cornerback Randall Gay and ex-Jaguars defensive end Bobby McCray. In order for these veterans to make the impact the franchise is expecting, they need to figure out their roles and learn the system in training camp.

Can McAllister return from another torn ACL?
Reggie Bush demonstrated last year that he is not necessarily an every down between-the-tackles type runner and backups Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker are solid players, but not the caliber of McAllister when he is healthy. McAllister is a big, potentially dominant rusher that can grind out the tough yards, but after his second torn ACL in three years, he may not regain that power. The Saints need him as a complement to the speedy and explosive Reggie Bush. Without McAllister the Saints become more one-dimensional and lack a player who can consistently convert in short-yardage situations. McAllister will have to prove in training camp he can get back to his 2006 form.

How will Jeremy Shockey fit in?
New Orleans agreed to a trade with the Giants for four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey. That deal changes the dynamic of a Saints offense that has become one of the league's best in the past two seasons. How the team's established offensive stars are able to deal with Shockey's combustible personality will go a long way in determining how successful the trade turns out. QB Drew Brees, RB Reggie Bush, RB Deuce McAllister and WR Marques Colston are all media savvy and rarely engage in public controversy. Shockey, on the other hand, is an outspoken lightning rod who is known to stir up commotion. If Shockey is able to mesh with his new teammates in training camp, his presence makes the Saints even more explosive.

Key position battle

DT Sedrick Ellis vs. DT Hollis Thomas: New Orleans did not take Ellis so high in the draft to have him sit for long, but Thomas is coming off a productive season and at 34 still appears to have plenty left in the tank. With Brian Young established at the other tackle position, Ellis and Thomas will wage a fierce competition in training camp to win the starting job. Regardless who wins the spot, however, the Saints are in good position with a solid trio of defensive tackles to rotate in and keep fresh.

Rookie spotlight

CB Tracy Porter: The Saints have no clear nickleback on the roster and Porter is well positioned to win the job. Mike McKenzie and Gay are the starting cornerbacks, but Jason David is trying to rebound from a poor season and Aaron Glenn and Jason Craft are on the downside of their careers. If Porter can pick up the defense quickly in training camp and display the skills he flashed at Indiana, he could wind up being the team's nickleback and earn significant playing time as a rookie.

Player on the spot

C Jonathan Goodwin: The Saints chose to let Jeff Faine depart during the offseason, leaving the starting center position to Goodwin. Faine is regarded as one of the best centers in the league, while Goodwin has started more than three games just once in his six-year career. Goodwin did play well when filling in for an injured Faine twice last season and according to a report, starting QB Drew Brees said the team did not miss a beat with Goodwin starting. The pressure is on Goodwin to illustrate in training camp that he can be a full-time regular starter for the first time in his career.

Fantasy focus

RB Reggie Bush: Bush proved last season that he can't handle the duties of a true featured back, but the return of McAllister will lighten the load. The USC product will be drafted as a No. 2 fantasy back and has added value in leagues that reward points for catches.

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