The Boys Are Back In Town

Coming back from two serious knee injuries in the last three seasons, Deuce McAllister says not to count him out, yet.

Coming back from two serious knee injuries in the last three seasons, Deuce McAllister says not to count him out, yet. Courtesy New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints are back in town for the third straight year. They reported for training camp on Wednesday, July 23, and will begin practice on Thursday. They will practice twice a day at Millsaps College most days through Aug. 11. On Aug. 2, the Saints will hold a practice at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in conjunction with the team's annual Family Day.

"I have always been a proponent of holding training camp away, and Millsaps has done a wonderful job in hosting us," Saints coach Sean Payton said in a statement. "[T]he people of Jackson have been tremendously supportive."

The Saints will only practice at Millsaps through Aug. 11, at which time they will go home to Metairie.

Practices at Millsaps begin at 8:50 a.m. and 3:40 or 4:20 p.m. Admission is free, but Millsaps does charge a fee for parking on campus.

As the Saints prepare to open camp in the late July heat, there are four burning questions that need to be answered:

Were coach Sean Payton and the Saints a one-year wonder?
Payton led the Saints to an 11-7 finish during his debut season in 2006. The team reached the NFC Championship for the first time in franchise history where they lost to the Chicago Bears. Many expected even greater things from the Saints in 2007. It didn't happen. The Saints stumbled to an 0-4 start and wound up finishing 7-9.

The main reasons for the Saints' demise were running back Deuce McAllister's season-ending knee injury in Week 3 and a defense that went through stretches where it couldn't stop anybody. Questions about Deuce and the defense linger, but the Saints are many experts' choice to win the NFC South. And the Saints still have dependable Drew Brees at quarterback.

Has Deuce McAllister still got it after two severe knee injuries in the past three seasons?
Let's ignore for a moment the rumors that the former Ole Miss running back-turned-Jackson business tycoon will retire before the start of the regular season. McAllister has already made history by returning from 2005's ACL tear with a splendid season in 2006. The odds are against him doing it at age 29. But the man who's run for 1,000 yards four times in the past six years says not to count him out.

"I just look at this comeback as another challenge," McAllister told USA Today earlier this summer. "You hear people saying, 'Oh, he's had two knee surgeries. And he's 29 coming off two knee surgeries.' But I feel it's OK to defy the odds. It's OK to still want to be great."

Will Reggie Bush bounce back?
Running back/receiver/returner Reggie Bush was sensational as a rookie. But he obviously missed McAllister in 2007. Bush was a flop as the main running back, finishing with less than 1,000 yards total offense. His strength is his versatility, lining up as an extra back or receiver. Bush wound up getting hurt in 2007 and missing the final five games of the season.

If McAllister returns to form this year, so will Bush. And even if McAllister isn't the Deuce of old, surely the Saints coaches have learned their lesson and will let Pierre Thomas do the heavy lifting in the running game while Bush moves around. One positive sign: Bush spent much of the offseason in New Orleans far away from California and all those questions about NCAA violations during his USC days and "fiancée" Kim Kardashian.

What's the deal with the defense?
First, cornerback Mike McKenzie, the Saints' best defender, is coming back from an ACL injury, too. And he's 34. In short, the Saints probably don't know who's going to start at cornerback in Week One.

The Saints tried to overhaul their defense through free agency and the draft. New Orleans added linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Bobby McCray and defensive back Randall Gay. They are hoping that these guys and draftees like first-rounder Sedrick Ellis (provided he doesn't hold out) will help plug the holes on a defense that gave up yards and points in bunches in 2007.

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I'm pulling for the Saints this year.



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