Saints enter 1998 with problems of 1997 season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 9, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 9, 1998

What did you do this summer? That is a common assignment given to students on the first day of school.

New Orleans Saints fans would probably like to hear the answer officials of the franchise would provide.

As the Saints entered the offseason, there were a number of areas of concerns for a team that had finished the 1997 season with a 6-10 record.

The quarterback situation was unsettled, the team needed play makers at running back and wide receivers, there was a void at tight end after Irv Smith left and the offensive line needed to be addressed. On defense, therewas a hole at middle linebacker after the departure of Winfred Tubbs.

As the Saints enter the 1998 season against St. Louis tomorrow, many ofthose same concerns still exist.

Billy Joe Hobert has been solid during the preseason but questions still exist about whether he is the long-term answer at quarterback. The firstteam offense did not exactly light up the scoreboard when it has been in against Green Bay, Denver, Tennessee and Tampa Bay.

Lamar Smith and Ray Zellars have shown flashes but need to be more consistent. Free agent pickups Quadry Ismail and Sean Dawkins have notprovided the spark expected of them. Tight end has been a revolving door.And while Kyle Turley looks to be a solid first-round draft pick, last year’s top pick, Chris Naeole continues to struggle.

The defense, which was the team’s strength last year, has suddenly become a major question mark. Rather than improving the defensive, theSaints have taken a step back with the retirement of Darren Mickell and the holdout of Joe Johnson.

The Saints’ plan to replace Tubbs with either Brian Jones and Keith Mitchell as not worked to date. To strengthen the linebacking corps, theSaints signed free agent Andre Royal from Carolina, a move that will go down as one of the worst moves made by a franchise that has made some bad ones in its history.

Controversy followed Royal from the very day he signed with the Saints and the distractions he caused could only hurt this young team. His tradeto Indianapolis this week could be seen as the organization’s way to get back at Jim Mora for his jumping ship in 1996.

The Saints have been predicted to win anywhere from one to six games this season. If Hobert can step up and become more consistent, if Smithand the receivers can make the plays they need to, if the line can give the quarterbacks the time to throw and the backs room to run, if the defense can contain the run and provide pressure on the quarterback, then maybe the dire predictions will be false.

But that is a lot of ifs. The Saints organization keeps saying it is going inthe right direction. This season will tell whether or not it will be going ina different one in the next offseason.

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