Saints blind to Brees' protection

By By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

After giving Sean Payton and Drew Brees a new toy, the Saints dedicated almost the rest of their draft to Rob Ryan.

If you thought all the talk of a new-look, power football team was a mirage, think again.

The Saints’ “remodeling” was in full swing this week and into the weekend.

Finally, with the 202nd pick of the draft, and the last one for this year, the Saints addressed what seemed to be their biggest

need going into the annual college football pickfest, the offensive line.

At 35, Brees is no spring chicken. Last year the All-Pro quarterback spent more time than usual under pressure and ultimately

on his back.

Brees was sacked 37 times during the regular season, 40 if you count the two playoff games.

That doesn’t include all the other times he was hit just after throwing the ball.

All those whacks add up, especially on a 35-year-old body.

And let’s face it, if the Saints don’t keep Drew Brees healthy, they aren’t going anyplace. So protecting Brees should have

been at least 1-A on the Saints list. Or you would think so.

Yet after trading up seven spots to get Brandin Cooks, a speedy receiver from Oregon State, New Orleans gave Ryan the better

part of the rest of the draft.

Even the move to get Cooks, who Payton called a “playmaker,” was strange considering how deep this draft was at wide receiver

to begin with.

Still, you can never have enough playmakers in today’s NFL so the Cooks pick, especially with all the speed the Saints released

for financial reasons in the offseason, makes sense.

Surely after that they would pick help for an offensive line that has no starting center and more than a few problems at the

most important left tackle position.

But New Orleans stayed blind to the blind side of Brees, using its next four picks to take defensive players.

Ryan, the defensive guru who lifted the

Saints to fourth overall on that side of the football last season after

years of struggles

stopping anybody, was given more pieces to a puzzle he has done a

pretty good job at already putting together.

After Cooks the Saints picked a cornerback, two linebackers and a safety. This after spending a good sum of cash to upgrade

the defense in the offseason.

Before the draft, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis may have shown his cards a bit when he said: “I’m not concerned about

the age of our offense, I’m concerned about the performance of our offense,” and it has been pretty darn good.

“Am I going to trade out our offense for a younger one? No, I am not.”

Staying true to that, he didn’t address the offensive line until his last pick, No. 202.

That’s when the Saints took Tavon Rooks, who played tackle at Kansas State. He is 6-foot, 5 and 299 pounds and listed as the

69th best tackle by NFL Draft Scout.

Perhaps a reach, but at least he does fill a need even if Brees doesn’t think so.

“Obviously as you get older there are other things week to week, the challenge of keeping your body ready to play at the highest

level, that type of thing,” Brees told the Saints website at the end of last year.

“That’s Mother Nature catching up with

all of us, but I don’t feel like I’ve (lost anything) physically,

mentally, psychologically.

I still feel like I’m on this upward tick. I certainly won’t let

myself believe otherwise.”

Whether Brees believes it or not, it’s only human to slow down after a certain age and so many hits.

There is still the entire rush on free agents that could help the Saints. They have been good over the years at getting the

right guy at the right position.

Remember, the Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl last year with 22 free agents on their roster, so you don’t have to do all

your remodeling through the draft.

But the Saints say they want to become a physical run football team, one that can pound away at an opponent. It is a formula

that has given them trouble over the years.

However, it is not easy going from high flying to smash mouth. It takes a change in attitude, one that starts up front both

on offense and defense.

It comes by way of nastiness. The Saints defense has seemed to make that shift already.

On offense, that change comes from snarling, mean linemen who would rather block for power runners than do anything else.

That’s where the real remodeling will still have to be done.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at