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Mar

31

Returning home for training camp only moves New Orleans Saints where they should have been

Posted by John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune March 31, 2009 1:01PM

Not a single tear will be shed here over the Saints’ decision to relocate their training camp from Jackson, Miss., to the franchise’s training facility in Metairie. And the dry eye has nothing to do with any distaste for Jackson.


The Saints, whether because of economics or sentimentality, simply have opted to return where they belong.

The franchise never should have been working out three hours away from home in the first place, all the necessary amenities they needed sitting unoccupied as the team prayed it didn’t rain and hoped the heat index wouldn’t prohibit a decent day’s work in Jackson, where there is no indoor practice facility.

Now, if the Saints ever could’ve managed to produce a scientific study that directly linked regular-season and playoff success to holding training camp out of town, that’d been one thing. Starved as Saints fans are for a winner, they’d have gone for that in a heartbeat, would’ve probably provided gas money for the trucks that transported the needed items from New Orleans.

If the Saints could’ve proven, or made the compelling argument, that they were better served by vacating during the summer the facility they told the state they desperately needed – the one constructed to counter the very obstacles that were presented in Jackson – then we all cheerfully would’ve understood why New Orleans was minus its Saints for training camp.

But the truth is, training away from home never has guaranteed anything.

In three seasons in Jackson, the Saints followed with regular seasons of 10-6 in 2006, 7-9 in ’07 and 8-8 in ’08: One NFC South Division title and playoff win, one next-to-last finish in the division, one dead-last finish, respectively.

In that, there’s no pattern of success to hang a helmet on, nothing tangible with which to claim that going through the paces in Jackson was critical to improvement.

There seems to be nothing there but the football-old theory that distance and isolation create team unity and a distraction-free workplace. As if a team can’t work just as hard at its own place, that players can’t be isolated as effectively in their home city, that more than a few distractions and temptations can’t show themselves or be located by Saints players when they’ve trained in Jackson, Miss., or Thibodaux, La., or La Crosse, Wis.

Meanwhile, the fans that have combined to guarantee the Superdome is filled to capacity with season ticket holders, that have created such a demand that a franchise with two playoff victories in its history and consecutive non-winning seasons has a waiting list for season tickets, had been passed over in favor of another city.

Rather than happily cramping onto sizzling temporary bleachers in black jerseys to watch their favorite players run through drills in the heat of the day in Metairie, the die-hards who are 10- and 20-year season ticket holders had to make a six-hour round trip for the privilege.

And that seemed particularly thoughtless of the franchise after Hurricane Katrina, when it seemed the Saints should have been doing everything possible to reconnect with fans who’d watched them spend a season in San Antonio.

During the Saints’ absence, the relationship with New Orleans especially was tenuous. Nerves still were raw after San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger declared that the Saints absolutely wanted to move to his city, the announcement hardly being a stunner after the Saints, on several occasions during past lease negotiations, had raised the prospect of moving.

Well, this is a good move, from Jackson to Metairie.

Saints fans should, and will, applaud this one. They probably are filled with glee, and it has nothing to do with slighting Jackson. It never was about Jackson.

Always, it was about New Orleans. The closer to it are the Saints for training camp, the better. Because it only puts the Saints where they should have been all along.

Mar

31

Two killed at Long Island condo owned by New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma

Posted by The Associated Press March 31, 2009 9:09AM


Jonathan Vilma

NEW YORK — Police are investigating two execution-style slayings at a Long Island condo owned by New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a former member of the New York Jets.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said Tuesday that New Orleans Saints player Jonathan Vilma was not there at the time of the slayings and is not believed to be involved.

The victims were shot in the head Thursday night in Woodbury, N.Y. One body was later dumped in Queens and the other in Brooklyn.

Police believe the killings involved a money dispute.

Vilma’s agent Mitch Frankel told the New York Daily News that Vilma hadn’t lived in the $900,000 condo since November 2007 and believed the place was empty, and there is no evidence that Vilma was involved in the crimes, according to the report.

Frankel said the condo is for sale, and neighbors confirmed that Vilma has not lived there since November ’07. A police source, however, told the Daily News that a friend or relative of Vilma’s with use of the condo may have been connected to the crimes.

Vilma, 26, was traded from the New York Jets to New Orleans in February 2008. He signed a new five-year, $34 million with the Saints last month.

He also ran into legal trouble earlier this year in Miami when he was arrested for reckless driving and resisting arrest following a traffic stop. But Vilma disputed the criminal charges, which were later dropped.

Here is the New York Daily News’ story on the incident

Mar

30

New Orleans Saints to hold training camp at Metairie facility

Posted by The Times-Picayune March 30, 2009 3:46PM

Fans of the New Orleans Saints won’t have to travel up Interstate 55 to see their Black and Gold in training camp this summer, as the team announced Monday that it will hold camp at its Metairie practice facility.


Here is a copy of the release the Saints sent out Monday afternoon:

The New Orleans Saints announced today that the team will conduct their annual training camp at the team’s year-around training facility in Metairie, La., this summer. The announcement was made by Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis.

The team is tentatively scheduled to begin training camp on July 29/30. It will mark only the fourth time in the team’s history they have held training camp at their permanent facility. The team held training camp at the Metairie facility from 2003-2005.

“We, as an organization, look forward to holding training camp in our-state-of-the-art training facility,” said Saints Owner Tom Benson. “The fans in New Orleans and in our entire region from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles and from Biloxi to Pensacola will have the ability to come out and watch our team get ready for what will be a very exciting season. We are committed to our region and although Millsaps College was a great partner, we remain committed to doing our part to strengthen our state, our city and I believe this is another step in that direction.”

“Training camp in Jackson could not have been possible without the assistance and direction of Governor Haley Barbour’s office and the Mississippi Development Authority,” said Saints Owner/Executive Vice President Rita Benson LeBlanc. ‘In addition, we also thank BankPlus for their support during our three years there. Our involvement with our partners and fans in Mississippi will not end with the relocation of training camp. We look forward to continued participation with local events and youth football initiatives.”

The Saints have held their past three training camps at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., an arrangement that Loomis called ideal for the teams’ needs at the time.

“We first want to thank the people at Millsaps as well as our fans in Mississippi and Jackson, we had a first rate experience there. Millsaps proved to be a great location and we couldn’t have been treated any better,” Loomis said. “The dynamics and economics have shifted a bit and we have decided that holding training camp at our facility would provide us with enough quality fields to work on, an indoor practice facility in the case of inclement weather as well as access to the technology we have available at our headquarters in Metairie.

In making the decision to stay at their training facility during training camp, the Saints will become at least the 17th current NFL team to host their training camp at their primary operational base in 2009.
“As NFL training facilities evolve and develop, there is a trend to want to maximize the exposure your team has to all of the amenities that help make training camp successful,” Loomis added. “Training camp is a very physically and mentally demanding period of time for the players and by being able to utilize our facilities, we feel like it is the best decision that we can make for our team at this time.”

“Millsaps College and the Saints have established an exciting partnership in the past three years,” said Millsaps President Frances Lucas. “We’re delighted that our working relationship remains strong, mutually affectionate, and professionally beneficial. We look forward to their return. ”

The team will announce their formal training camp schedule following the NFL Draft.

Past Training Camp Locations:

· San Diego, California (1967-69) Cal Western University

· Bowling Green, Ohio (1970) Bowling Green University

· Hattiesburg, Mississippi (1971-73) University of Southern Mississippi

· Vero Beach, Florida (1974) Dodgertown

· Thibodaux, Louisiana (1975) Nicholls State University

· Vero Beach, Florida (1976-84) Dodgertown

· Ruston, Louisiana (1985) Louisiana Tech

· Hammond, Louisiana (1986-87) Southeastern Louisiana University

· La Crosse, Wisconsin (1988-99) University of Wisconsin LaCrosse

· Thibodaux, Louisiana (2000-02) Nicholls State University

· Metairie, Louisiana (2003-05) Saints Training Facility

· Jackson, Mississippi (2006-08) Millsaps College

Mar

30

Saints Announce 2009 Preseason Opponents

NewOrleansSaints.com
Monday, March 30, 2009 – 12:00 PM

The New Orleans Saints learned their 2009 preseason opponents today with four games set to be played against AFC opponents. Dates and times for all four matchups are yet to be determined and will be announced at a later date.

After traveling to Cincinnati in August each of the last two years, the Saints will open their ’09 preseason slate by hosting the Bengals at the Superdome over the weekend of August 13-17. New Orleans has won each of the previous two preseason clashes between the clubs.

In another reverse of the 2008 preseason, the Saints will travel to Houston to take on the Texans in the second week of action (weekend of August 20-24).

Week three of the preseason (August 27-31) will see the Saints return to Oakland to play the Raiders in California for the first time since the 2005 preseason finale.

The Saints will close the preseason schedule with a home game against the Miami Dolphins for the third season in a row and the fifth time in the past seven years. The contest will mark the 20th preseason meeting between the two teams and will be played during the weekend of September 3-4.

The NFL will announce each club’s regular season schedule in the coming weeks.

Mar

30

New Orleans Saints begin offseason workout program

New Orleans Saints begin offseason workout program

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune March 30, 2009 11:12AM

The Saints begin their offseason conditioning program today – their version of the “first day of school” for the 2009 season.

Players were required to report to the team’s practice facility in Metairie this morning. Starting this week, they will begin their official weight-training and conditioning programs, though most NFL players stay in shape year-round these days. Players aren’t required to stay in New Orleans during the offseason program, as long as they stick to the routine wherever they might be.
Unfortunately, the team has decided to shut down access to the media this year until May, meaning we won’t be hearing much from players over the next two months. Hopefully we’ll still get to squeeze in a few interviews from time to time.

The first actual on-field activity will be the rookie camp May 8-10, which is also closed to the media. The first full-team practices will be May 19, when the Saints begin five weeks of OTAs (organized team activities). The full-squad minicamp is scheduled for June 5-7.

Mar

26

New Orleans Saints agree to deal with veteran safety Pierson Prioleau

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune March 26, 2009 11:27AM

The Saints have agreed to a one-year deal with veteran free agent safety Pierson Prioleau, who will likely compete for a job as a backup and special teams contributor.

Prioleau, 31, is clearly a favorite of new Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He has spent a total of seven seasons playing under Williams – last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, with the Washington Redskins from 2005-2007, and with the Buffalo Bills from 2001-2003.
Prioleau played in all 16 games last year in Jacksonville with one start, recording 26 tackles and one pass defense. The 5-11, 188-pounder began his career in San Francisco in 1999, where he emerged as a part-time starter. He had his most productive season in Buffalo in 2002, starting all 16 games and recording 89 tackles.

The Saints needed depth at the safety position to join Darren Sharper, Roman Harper, Kevin Kaesviharn and Chris Reis. They’d still like to get younger in the draft, though, and Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that the free safety spot is still the Saints’ greatest area of need.

Mar

24

What about Will Smith and Charles Grant? It’s on fans’ mind in today’s New Orleans Saints mailbag

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune March 24, 2009 1:32PM


After a brief hiatus this weekend, I finally hundered down today and answered another round of questions for the Saints Insider Mailbag.

Today’s installment features several questions about the Saints’ current players and roster.

I’ll have another mailbag on Wednesday that will focus on the NFL Draft and the Saints’ possible plans there. Send any new questions to Saintsmailbag@gmail.com. And don’t forget to include your name and place of residence.

Until then, here’s today Q&A:
Q: Jeff, the Saints’ pass rush was awful last year. How can they expect to improve in this area with a front seven that will likely be almost identical to last year’s? Will Gregg Williams make that big of a difference? And, Jammal Brown may become an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season, depending upon whether a CBA agreement is struck. Do you think the Saints might go offensive tackle at No. 14 to replace Brown, who’ll be crazy expensive if he does, in fact, become a UFA? I love Brown, but Andre Smith would be a whole lot cheaper. Thanks, Robert Recard, New Orleans.

A: To answer your pass-rush questions, Robert, the Saints expect Will Smith and Charles Grant to be healthy for 2009 and they believe that will go a long way toward improving the production from the front seven. Williams’ scheme is going to help but he’s no miracle worker. There’s only so many different things you can do with X’s and O’s. Eventually it comes down to talent and players executing. That said, if given the green light by head coach Sean Payton, I expect Williams to be extremely aggressive with his pressure packages. Williams has never coached on a team with an offense as powerful as the Saints’ current unit. He can afford to take more chances with Drew Brees and company on his sideline. I think the biggest change Saints fans will see out of the defense under Williams is the multiple personnel packages he will employ. He’ll play every card in his deck at some point in the game. And he’ll be much more creative in how he chooses to pressure the quarterback. Williams will send more players from different places in the defensive scheme than Gary Gibbs did. As far as the drafting of an offensive tackle, I’d be surprised but not shocked if the Saints used their first-round pick on one. Brown is scheduled to become a UFA but in all likelihood he’s going to be an RFA because I don’t see any way that the league avoids an uncapped year in 2010. In that scenario, the Saints can retain Brown’s services with a first-round tender in the range of $2 million a season. That’s a bargain for a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle. Given the recent signing of Jon Stinchcomb at right tackle and the retention of reserve Zach Strief, I’m not sure why the Saints would invest more money into the position when they have so many other areas of need on the roster. And finally, you can forget about Andre Smith being a Saint. He’s the exact kind of player that Sean Payton detests. Lazy. Unmotivated. Disinterested in the game. There’s zero chance he plays for the Saints.
Q: Jeff, now that we have addressed our secondary concerns in this off season, I am concerned with our depth and productivity from the defensive end positions. Grant and Smith are making a lot of money, but it could be argued that neither player is living up to the size of their contracts. A lot of our issues with the secondary could have been a direct cause of a lack of a consistent pass rush. Do you think the Saints are looking to add depth to the position if they do not go secondary with the first round pick? Also, is there still a possibility that Grant and Smith could be suspended for the first 4 games next season for the star-cap issue? Best regards, R. Brian Johnson, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A: Brian, there’s no question that the Saints defensive end position is going to be in the spotlight next season and rightfully so. The Saints invested a ton of money in Grant and Smith and should expect the pair to perform like one of the top tandems in the league given their compensation. I’m not sold on Grant but Smith was a model of consistency before his injury-plagued 2009 campaign. In his first four seasons he averaged 8.5 sacks a year and never had few than seven in a season. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the sports hernia affected his performance last season. Williams is a big fan of both players and I think he’s going to reach deep in to his bag of motivational tricks to light a fire under both this season. Their production is essentially to the overall execution of the defense. And, yes, I expect Grant and Smith to be suspended for the first four games of next season. And if you read the comments from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week you would, as well.
Q: Jeff, I’ve read some very interesting things regarding Mike McKenzie and the notion that McKenzie couldn’t be cut without either a physical or a deal (settlement) to release him. Is this factual? Is McKenzie allowing the Saints to use his cap room to bring in younger talent, then restructuring the deal that would allow him to be brought back to mentor at a decent cap number for his eventual replacement, knowing this might very well be his last stop in the NFL? Rabbi Werber, New Orleans.

A: Rabbi, most likely McKenzie reached some kind of injury settlement with the Saints before being released. It’s a standard league practice. Hollis Thomas worked out a similar arrangement last year. It’s in the best interests of both sides to do this. McKenzie is freed to market his wares to any team in the league and the Saints get the cap they need to make their roster moves. Even though Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Monday that the team has not entirely closed the door on McKenzie, I think he’s just being politically correct. I don’t think McKenzie is in the team’s future plans. That was obvious when they made the bold moves on Ron Bartell and Jabari Greer in free agency and from the comments Loomis made in the official announcement of McKenzie’s release. If the Saints were interested in keeping McKenzie around they would have just re-worked his contract, that way he could have participated in the team’s offseason program with the rest of the unit. It’s critical for every player on the defense to be immersed in Gregg Williams’ new defensive scheme from the opening whistle. Trust me, if McKenzie were in the Saints’ plans, he’d be a part of their offseason program, which kicks off March 30.
Q: Do you think Dan Morgan will win a starting spot over Scott Shanle and stay healthy for us next season? It would do my heart good to see Morgan deliver some big hits to Deangelo Williams next year. Amit Bajaj, Clinton, Miss.

A: It’s too early to speculate about Morgan and his status for 2009, Amit, but judging by Morgan’s recent comments during a Sirius Radio interview, he has every intention of starting. He has been out of football for a while now and given his injury history it would be foolish for the Saints to count on him at this point. In my mind, he’s essentially lagniappe at the position. I have not seen Morgan play, but colleague Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com is really high on Morgan and I trust his judgment. Pat covered Morgan throughout his career in Carolina and believes he will be a major upgrade for the Saints if he’s healthy. That’s, obviously, a big “if.” Still, Morgan is definitely worth the gamble, considering the Saints don’t have much invested in him at this point.
Q: Jeff, I have seen some questionable remarks made about Jabari Greer’s skills? Is he a Cover 2 guy or can he play man to man? Chris Garrison, Harvey, La.

A: In Greer, the Saints got a solid starting cornerback who should pair with Tracy Porter to give the Saints their best pair of young starting corners in years. If he’s the Saints’ No. 2 corner — which is how I think the Saints view him — then he’s a significant upgrade over the club’s recent No. 2’s. Reports out of Buffalo have been mostly positive on Greer. Greer isn’t a spectacular playmaker but he’s versatile, athletic and solid in nearly every phase of the game, including run support, zone and man coverage. He was generally rated as one of the top 10 corners on the free agent market and the Saints valued him more than other because of his age (27), competitiveness and potential. He’s improved gradually throughout his career so his best years should be ahead of him. Interestingly, he (5-11, 180), Porter (5-11, 186) and Randall Gay (5-11, 190) are nearly identical in size. A former elite hurdler at the University of Tennessee, Greer still carries a track physique, but he’s not afraid to stick his nose in there on run support. Greer spent the first two years of his career in Buffalo in defensive coordinator Jerry Gray’s scheme, which is almost identical to the one Williams will employ in New Orleans so he should be able to make an easy transition on the field.

Mar

23

NFL meetings notes: New Orleans Saints leave door ‘ajar’ for former cornerback Mike McKenzie

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune March 23, 2009 4:32PM

DANA POINT, CALIF. – I spoke to Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton briefly in between sessions at the NFL meetings here in Southern California. They had no breaking news to report, but Loomis did address last week’s decision to release veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie.

He said the Saints didn’t completely close the door on the idea of McKenzie returning to New Orleans in the future – similar to what he said when the Saints released tailback Deuce McAllister last month.

“We left the door ajar,” Loomis said. “We’ll see what happens with him and his rehab, and we’ll kind of evaluate that as we go forward.”

The Saints saved $4.575 million in salary and bonuses when they released the 32-year-old cornerback, who is coming back from his second major knee injury in two years. Clearly, they’re prepared to move on without him, and they have good depth at the position after signing younger free agent corner Jabari Greer earlier this month.

But if McKenzie gets healthy and lingers in the free agent market into the spring and summer, who knows? At the very least, the Saints may keep him on standby in case they get hit with some early injuries – assuming McKenzie doesn’t catch on somewhere else in the coming months.

Judging by how slow the market has been for veteran cornerbacks this offseason, McKenzie might be out there for a little while.

———————————————–

I thought there might be some Saints news when the league announced its national TV games on opening weekend and Thanksgiving day, but alas, the Saints were shut out.

The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Tennessee Titans in the Thursday night opener on NBC on Sept. 10. Green Bay will host Chicago on NBC’s Sunday night game, Sept. 13. And ESPN’s Monday Night double-header on Sept. 14 will feature Buffalo at New England and Oakland at San Diego.

Detroit will host Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day, and Dallas will host Oakland. Denver will host the New York Giants in the Thanksgiving night game on the NFL Network.

Mar

19

New Orleans Saints cut cornerback Mike McKenzie

Posted by The Times-Picayune March 19, 2009 5:22PM

The New Orleans Saints continued to make over their secondary Thursday by cutting veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel confirmed Thursday evening.

The cut comes one day after the team agreed to terms with free safety Darren Sharper and a couple of weeks after the saints signed free agent cornerback Jabari Greer from Buffalo.

The move clears $4.575 million in cap space.

“Decisions such as these are the hardest to make in this business,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. “Mike has been a standout performer for the Saints both on and off the field during his career with the Saints. We wish him well in his future and thank him for all of his efforts representing the Saints.”

McKenzie, 32, ended the past two seasons on injured reserve with knee injuries. But he said earlier this month that he was close to full speed in his recovery from the fractured kneecap he suffered last year in Atlanta.

It’s not clear yet if the Saints tried to work out a pay cut with McKenzie or if they simply decided to release him now that they have some decent depth at the cornerback position. Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay are expected to begin the offseason as the top three corners on the depth chart, followed by Usama Young, Jason David and Leigh Torrence.

David, however, is another veteran who could be in danger of being released at some point.

Mar

18

New Orleans Saints agree to terms with free agent safety Darren Sharper

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune March 18, 2009 5:27PM

The Saints agreed to terms with former Vikings defensive back Darren Sharper.

The Saints have agreed to the long-anticipated deal with free agent safety Darren Sharper. Terms of the deal were not available.

Sharper, 33, will give the Saints a veteran presence on the back end of their defense. They are hoping he’ll also bring some of the dynamic playmaking ability that made him a four-time Pro Bowler in his 12-year career with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.

Sharper leads all active NFL players with 54 interceptions, though he only had one last season with the Vikings – the lowest total of his career.

“We’re looking forward to bringing in a veteran of his experience,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said.

“He’s a guy that obviously we spent a lot of time on, and we’re excited that we could add him to the mix on defense to help improve our secondary play,” Payton said. “He is a player with extremely good ball skills. We’ll see if he handles that (quarterback of the defense) role for us. But certainly his experience is going to help.”

The Saints had been talking with Sharper since the first weekend of free agency, and they brought him in for a visit more than two weeks ago. But there was no sense of urgency from either side to get a deal done as the negotiations played out.

Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, Sharper likely came at a reasonable price. The Saints targeted Sharper as their top choice to fill their most glaring need, but they were intent on not overspending to fill the void. They will still look hard at the position in next month’s draft.

“Darren had multiple suitors, but clearly throughout the process, the Saints were his first choice,” said Sharper’s agent, Joel Segal. “He sees a strong opportunity to win and is excited by the personnel and the coaching staff.”

Sharper, who is in Hawaii at the NFL Players Association meetings, was not available for comment.

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement: “We are pleased to announce the addition of Darren to our team. Darren is an accomplished veteran player that brings a wealth of knowledge and ability to our secondary and has always possessed outstanding instincts and playmaking skills.”

Although he’s no longer in his prime, Sharper has remained a consistent playmaker, starting every game for the Vikings over the past three seasons. The 6-2, 210-pounder has missed only nine games in his 12-year career. He has nine forced fumbles to go with the 54 picks.

Sharper should immediately be penciled in as a starter for the Saints, though incumbent Kevin Kaesviharn will have an opportunity to compete. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said this week that he won’t get a real feel for his personnel until he sees them on the field in summer minicamps and OTA sessions.

“I’ve always liked Darren from afar,” Williams said Monday. “Whatever happens, I’ve got to feel comfortable about who the quarterback of our secondary is going to be. Our middle linebacker (Jonathan Vilma) and free safety are going to be the two (defensive) quarterbacks on the football field and they are going to make all the checks and audibles, so we’ve got to do a good job in finding the right guy.

“Is he already here? Could possibly be. I don’t know our guys yet and until I go through the storm of the offseason and how hard we’re going to work this offseason with them, until I learn more about them, yeah, we’re still looking there. It’s a very key spot. If Darren ends up being a Saint, I’ll be happy.”