It’s football season and once again college football guru, draft expert, and one if the classiest guys in all of sports journalism Mike Detillier was kind enough to field some questions Friday about the 2016 New Orleans Saints, touching on quarterback Drew Brees’s future with the Black and Gold, projecting the teams that will play in the Super Bowl, offering his thoughts in Airline Drive’s “LSU-free zone,” and a number of other topics on the minds of the Who Dat Nation.
1) The Saints dropped a close one Sunday against the Raiders. It was a hard loss for a lot of Who Dats but some observers thought the team played better than expected. What’s your take?
Offensively the surprise was just how well the offensive line played as a unit. Terron Armstead just stoned Khalil Mack in one-on-one spots and the rest of the group played well until the fourth quarter and then there was some leakage. Max Unger really played well also at center.
The WR’s Willie Snead, Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks all had strong games. Cooks really plays well in the SuperDome.
As usual Drew Brees was Drew Brees. He is just phenomenal to watch throwing the ball with his accuracy skills and touch. No more talk about how much money he is getting. That’s foolish talk anyway.
Defensively I really liked what I saw from Kenny Vaccaro. Kenny had a really good game.
2) One big issue that was resolved on the heels of the regular season was a contract extension for Drew Brees. How long do you see #9 sticking around Airline Drive?
Brett Favre told me this in the summer, “It’s not a big deal to sign one year deals, I did it my last few years.” It was the smart thing to do and really I think Brees finishes out his football career in New Orleans. I think Drew has 3 really good years in him, unless a major injury happens. He gives you better than a fighting chance each week to win. Mike,when you get rid of someone you better be damn sure you have someone equally as good. The Saints don’t have that guy on the roster. I hear people say trade him off, but the way this team has messed up draft choices could you trust who they pick even be in the same football zipcode? The answer is NO. Garrett Grayson who was suppose to be the heir-apparent was cut loose, all 31 other teams passed on him and he was signed back on to the practice squad. It was the right decision for both sides
3) It appears one of the biggest deficiencies w this team is at offensive line. The Saints invested an early first round pick in OT Andrus Peat in ’15. Is that a selection the Saints front office are regretting?
Well Peat is struggling, no question. He had some good plays vs. the Raiders and he missed on some assignments on others. They are trying to salvage him at left guard. It’s between the ears with him. My old friend Ed Reed, who may be the greatest free safety in the modern era of pro football told me this years ago, ” In this league they don’t care how big you are, how smart you are in the classroom, what college credentials you have from High school and college. They test your mental toughness each week in the NFL. Opposing teams want to break you down mentally and then you make physical mistakes trying to over compensate. He is struggling because he was always a cut above, he’s not in the NFL. He’s struggling and you can’t afford to make that type mistake with an early 1st round pick. Peat is questioning himself and he is making mental mistakes to overcompensate.
4) Sticking with the Draft, with training camp, the preseason, and the lead off game behind us, what’s your tentative view of the ’16 draft class?
Best draft class since 2006. Sheldon Rankins is a really good player. He would have started game #1 if healthy. Rankins pushes the inside pocket well and he has good trackdown skills in run support. Michael Thomas has a chance to be special at WR. Vonn Bell is a good athlete and he will be the starting FS in 2017. Daniel Lasco has really helped out well on special teams and eventually he will be a good all-purpose back. David Oneymata is a project player, but he is immensely gifted.
I told you the story that his head coach from Manitoba recruits Louisiana and we exchange information and he told me the story of Onyemata three years ago. Athletically he has everything you want in a defensive lineman, but he needs technique work and playing time. Smart kid, tough, he rarely makes the same mistake twice and he has a passion for the game. He will be a good player in 2017.
This draft is really good for the Saints.
5) Is Mickey Loomis allergic to LSU?
I would not put that on the back of Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton has a whole lot to say on who this team drafts and signs. But it is obvious that there is something there that this very talented team just up the road from them and they have passed on a number of really good LSU players. All I know is that years ago when Jim Mora came to New Orleans this team had Bobby Hebert, Eric Martin, Dalton Hilliard, Buford Jordan, Gil Fenerty and John Fourcade and they were pretty good. Not all those guys were LSU players, but they were local.
6) Looking at the roster trim made, is there any one player you believe the team should’ve held on to?
Bobby Richardson who saw plenty of action last year was the surprise for me. I thought he would have made the 53 man roster.
7) What kind of season do you believe TE Coby Fleener is going to have? What will he have to do to earn his contract?
He is clearly not on the same track as Drew Brees at this stage. Sean wants the tight end to be a major part of the offense due to the size, athletic matchup downfield and Coby has not clicked with Brees yet. On this team he should be a 75-plus catch tight end with 8 scores. Fleener has to work to gain rapport with Brees. Right now Drew Brees trusts Willie Snead more than anyone and then it’s Cooks and Michael Thomas. Fleener would be the 4th guy. He has not played up to that contract yet. But he’s a good player who needs a fire lit under him. He has a very laid-back personality.
8) Speaking of earning paychecks, will FS Jairus Byrd finally show some value this season?
No. Byrd was a dominant player in Buffalo. He was just not good, but a 1st class playmaker. No one can question that, but we have never seen that player in New Orleans. I think all of us thought based on his play in Buffalo that he would do for the defense what Drew Brees did for the offense and that is not even close. He avoids contact and just sits playing centerfield. He has lost his grip on being a playmaker. There is no way he returns to the Saints in 2017. You don’t pick a player like Vonn Bell in the 2nd round, if you think Byrd would be around.
9) How much better will the defense be under new DC Dennis Allen?
Where they are better is in run support up the middle. Tyeler Davison, Nick Fairley, when Sheldon Rankins gets healthy and James Laurinaitis in the middle. Kenny Vaccaro is much better closer to the line of scrimmage. They are still in need of an ace pass rusher to compliment Cam Jordan and they have been devastated by injuries at cornerback, but I like short-term and long-term right up the middle. It will be a little better, but without a consistent pass rush the improvement will be just marginal.
10.) Biggest disappointment on defense?
It has to be Stephone Anthony. He has all the physical gifts to excel at the NFL level and he has struggled to grasp the new “Sam” spot at linebacker. Anthony is physical, tough, he tackles well in space and he is a sure openfield tackler, but he takes bad angles to the ball and he has trouble in the pass coverage part of the game. Michael Mauti played more in Game #1 than Anthony did. He is hesitant with his initial move up the field or in reverse. I really like Stephone and we have done a few TV shows together, but I thought he would be more of a difference-maker for the team in 2016. Its’ early, so I hope he can come around, but if healthy Dannell Ellerbe and Craig Robertson have played better. Anthony is a 1st round pick and so the pressure is on him to play and start in the league and be a difference-maker.
11.) What about the cornerback spot which looked to be so strong to start the training camp period?
It has just been devastated due to injuries. Keenan Lewis has just never been able to get healthy from hip/groin injuries and was released. Damien Swann had concussion issues and then got a core muscle injury that ended his season and Kyle Wilson was hurt even before the training camp period started. Now, the broken fibula on Delvin Breaux, who I think is the best cornerback this team has ever had, and you are missing the top four cornerbacks from a year ago.
P.J. Williams has played pretty well and I think he is going to turn out to be a competent starting cornerback in the league, but the kids are going to get tested over and over. Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris are going to be thrown to the fire and teams will go after them. Sterling Moore is a journeyman player. Major concern for this team now and no one can bail you out of this jam. You can see why this team made a hard run after Josh Norman when he was cut loose by the Carolina Panthers.
12.) What kind of season do you think the Saints will have?
They are a middle of the road team in the NFL. 7-9.. Sean Payton is a really good head coach in the NFL, but Sean Payton the talent evaluator has hurt Sean Payton the coach.
13) Who do you see playing in the Super Bowl?
I like the Pittsburgh Steelers to win it all over the Arizona Cardinals.