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Team Players

New faces hope to breathe new life into the Saints' lineup.

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The Jim Haslett era for the Saints has usually meant a very busy offseason each time around. Major free agency moves and high-profile (and bigger-contract) draft picks have been the norm. But this year, the front office and coaches seem satisfied with the team's talent level and focused instead on filling a few holes in hopes of making a championship run. Gambit Weekly asked the new Saints their impressions of the team, the city and the season. The college kids were adjusting to the rigors of the NFL, while the veterans were transitioning to a new club and a new philosophy. All seemed optimistic about the Saints this season.

AARON STECKER, RUNNING BACK
Stecker is entering his fifth year in the NFL -- previously all with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- after playing college ball at Western Illinois. Stecker hopes to solidify the backfield behind star Deuce McAllister.

Q: What's the biggest difference between the Saints and the Bucs?

A: The training camp is different. You're in pads more here. But there are a lot of similarities to when I came into Tampa that Super Bowl year. The core group of guys was there, but they just needed to add a few more pieces to the puzzle. Everybody came together, [there was] great camaraderie from the start, and that's how it seems here this year.

Q: What game are you looking forward to the most this season?

A: The two that we play Tampa. Especially the first one we play (Oct. 10). It'll be fun. I can't wait to go play in Raymond James, the stadium where I played for a few years.

Q: What's your favorite thing about New Orleans so far?

A: I'm all work right now. But I've seen a few things. I've been down to the Quarter and seen all the big, fancy houses. It's definitely different; the culture is definitely different. People here are very nice and have responded very well to me since I've been here. It's been a good time.


MIKE KARNEY, FULLBACK
The Saints selected Karney from Arizona State in the fifth round of this year's draft. The team signed Karney to a three-year contract to replace Terrelle Smith, the departed free agent signed by the Cleveland Browns. New Orleans hopes to cash in on Karney's reputation for intelligent, yet hard-nosed, play.

Q: What's the biggest difference between the Saints and Arizona State?

A: The biggest difference is the complexity of the offense, knowing that at my position we have a lot more at hand than in college. There's a lot more reads, a lot more film to look at. Since we started camp, I've seen how the defenses are disguised and how we try to sneak up on them. It's been a big difference when it comes to that part of the game. Other than that, football is football. It's physical, and I like to hit.

Q: What game are you looking forward to most this season?

A: There are two. We play Seattle first, and I'm from Seattle. That'll be fun. Growing up I was a big Seahawks fan, and to have the opportunity to play against them is just unbelievable for me. Then we go back to Sun Devil Stadium (in Arizona). That's where I played my college ball. The Cardinals use our stadium. That's another big game for me, personally.

Q: What's your favorite thing about New Orleans so far?

A: So far, I haven't seen much beyond camp. But, I've been to Bourbon Street once. Other than that, it's driving from the hotel to here. I do know it's hot and humid.


COURTNEY WATSON, MIDDLE LINEBACKER

The Saints added Notre Dame graduate Watson to an already strong linebacker corps. A native of Sarasota, Fla., Watson is highly regarded for his size, toughness and instinctive play.

Q: What's the biggest difference between the Saints and Notre Dame?

A: There's a whole different mentality. This is a professional team, and a lot of things go on here that didn't go on at Notre Dame -- like getting paid, obviously. But it's interesting how you can feel the same chemistry, the same camaraderie on the teams.

Q: What game are you looking forward to most this season?

A: The first one against Seattle, because it will be my first NFL game. Then when we play Tampa. I'm from 45 minutes away from Tampa. But I'm looking forward to all of the divisional games, because unlike most of the guys here I didn't play in a conference in college, so I've never had those quote-unquote rivals and big games all the time.

Q: What's your favorite thing about New Orleans so far?

A: I haven't seen much. I've only been here a little time. Right now, I'm just trying to learn the defense. So, I really haven't had a chance to enjoy New Orleans at this point. I'm just trying to catch up on sleep.

JASON CRAFT, CORNERBACK
The Saints' Achilles heel for the past few season has been vulnerability in the defensive backfield. The team looked to strengthen that area with the acquisition of Craft, a five-year veteran with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Craft played in only seven games last season due to injury, and wasn't on the field for the Saints' miraculous "River City Relay" play in December.

Q: What's the biggest difference between the Saints and Jaguars?

A: The schedule, as far as training camp, is different. This is set up more to help you out. You get a lot done, but you give your body a little bit more rest. In Jacksonville, we didn't get too much rest. We'd have morning practice, break for just a couple hours, and then head back out. Here you're actually getting more hours to rest your legs. Not that we're not getting all our work in, but also just getting more rest.

Q: What game are you looking forward to most this season?

A: Carolina. They were in the Super Bowl, and they beat us last year in a close game.

Q: What's your favorite thing about New Orleans so far?

A: I checked out downtown, did the Bourbon Street thing. I always wanted to see that; I'd always seen it on TV. I've never been down here during Mardi Gras, but at least I got to check it out now. It's a nice city. Really historic.

BRIAN YOUNG, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The Saints now have four first-round draft picks on the defensive line with the addition of Young, now entering his fifth season in the NFL -- previously all with the St. Louis Rams. Young is known for his relentless play, and last year had 10.5 sacks.

Q: What's the biggest difference between the Saints and Rams?

A: There's a lot of talent down here. The defense is going to be better than anything we ever had up in St. Louis. For us, it's just a matter of getting everybody on the same page.

Q: What game are you looking forward to most this season?

A: The Super Bowl.

Q: What's your favorite thing about New Orleans so far?

A: The food. And the fans. The fans so far have been just unbelievable. You hear everywhere else that everybody has these fair-weather fans. That's not the case in New Orleans. They haven't won a lot of games every year here, haven't made in the playoffs in a few years, but the fans are still unbelievable how much they support the team.

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