Thursday, 23 February 2012 08:13
Darren Sproles Helped Saints Not Cry Over Reggie Bush Departure
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Before Darren Sproles, the Saints had Reggie Bush, whose career had been disappointing given the massive hype with which he entered the NFL, and drafted second over-all.

Even though Bush hadn't developed into the star they hoped her would be, coach Sean Payton wanted to keep him because he was the kind of player that the Saints offense needed.

Bush left for the Dolphins where he became their featured back and gained more than 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. Bush, often injured during his Saints career, wanted to go to another team to prove he could be a featured back, so the Saints traded him.

So the Saints, on the wish of Drew Brees, signed ex-Charger Sproles within 24 hours of Bush's departure, believing that he could be the new Bush. Both are space players.

Sproles not only replaced Bush he set the NFL record for all-purpose yards. He rushed 87 times for 603 yards (6.9 avg.), and 2 TDs, caught 86 passes for 710 yards and 7 TDs, returned 29 punts for a 10.1 yard average and 1 TD and ran back 40 kickoffs for 27.2-yard average.

Payton takes advantage of the three ways to use space players. First are the screen passes -- plays designed to get the receiver into open space, preferably with blocker ahead of him.

Until Payton arrived in New Orleans, Saints teams couldn't use screens as a weapon. Fans begged the coaches to take the screen out of their play book.

Second, is the space player's role as an underneath receiver, where he provides an easy option for Brees while drawing coverage away from downfield receivers. Finally, a space player can be a runner on draws and sweeps after the earlier plays have forced the defense to substitute favorable of the offense's personnel. When the defense adjusts kits personnel to cover screens and quick passes to Sproles, it opens an opportunity to run the ball at quicker, pass-concerned defenders.

Sproles really benefits Brees because he adds an extra dimension to his downfield passing game. Brees' favorite play is known as "four verticals," in which four receivers streak downfield. It looks like an all-deep pass play, but it really means to stretch the defensive zones and divide coverage.

Finally, maybe the spot where Sproles is the biggest improvement over Bush is as a runner. For his career, Sproles averaged 6.9 yards per carry last season, about 2 yards better than Bush with the Saints. His runs are situational -- Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory -- handle the short-yardage and inside plays.

The best run play for Sproles is the draw, but they have used him in a variety of other runs, including toss sweeps and anything else that gets him into space. He is the perfect fit for the Saints offense.

Other than Brees, there aren't any stars on the Saints offense because everyone gets a chance to succeed in ways that fit their skill sets. The Saints offense puts them in situations that allow them to play their best as tight end Jimmy Graham showed last season.

The Saints are happy to spread the ball around and when there's open space the ball seems to find Sproles and often he finds the end zone.


Players will run a 40-yard dash at the Combine to determine the country's fastest potential NFL star.

Bo Jackson is rumored to own the event's fastest Combine time with a mark of 4.12 seconds at the 1986 Combine. On the flip side, 40 times were known to be exaggerated before the use of electronic started in 1999.

But speed isn't everything. In 1999, Rondel Menendez from Eastern Kentucky, set a record a record at the Combine 40 that has yet to be broken at 4.24 seconds. He couldn't make an NFL team.

Titans running back Chris Johnson ran a 4.24 at the Combine, the fastest time among current NFL players.

New Orleans Hornets

NBA commissioner David Stern reported on the progress of the Hornets in getting a new owner and the state's contribution under a new lease. Here's a transcription by Stern on the progress (via At the Hive): "We're moving on dual tracks on a buyer and with the state's contribution under a new lease that likely will be completed, both of these, by March 1. The deal itself can't close until the legislature confirms the role of the state, and the legislature convenes in March." At least two individuals, who placed bids for the franchise have been identified; former Hornets minority owner Gary Chouest and Saints owner Tom Benson...

SOME hither, others yon: LSU defensive backfield coach Ron Cooper has taken a job with the NFL Buccaneers. LSU is known as "Defensive Back University" and has had three All-America cornerbacks the past two years in Patrick Peterson, and Mo Claiborne. Redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen Callais is advertised as the Tigers' next great corner. He was a prep track star, but don't look for him to overtake Tharoid Simon in the race to replace Claiborne, but he'll be a big factor in the defensive backs rotation.

by Ed Staton

Get your sports jerseys from Louisiana Sports Talk

Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  


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