Already playoff contenders, the Saints got a lift with the
addition of Dale Carter to a suspect pass defense
An off-season acquisition who was supposed to be key to the
Saints' success this season finally arrived last week when
cornerback Dale Carter returned from the third suspension of his
career for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Six days
after being reinstated by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the
32-year-old Carter helped New Orleans defeat Carolina 34--24 at
Ericsson Stadium on Sunday, improving the Saints' record to 7--2.
In man coverage on Muhsin Muhammad most of the day, Carter
allowed the Panthers' wideout to make only three catches for 70
yards, deflected two passes, had one near interception float
through his hands and made three tackles. "I can't tell you how
many times I thanked God just to be out on the football field
today," said Carter, who missed a total of 31 games between the
start of the 2000 season and last week because of his
The Saints entered the season as one of the league's biggest
question marks thanks to numerous personnel changes made by
former general manager Randy Mueller (fired last May for reasons
still unclear). Franchise running back Ricky Williams was traded
to the Dolphins, leaving the ground attack in the hands of
second-year man Deuce McAllister. Mueller allowed aging defensive
linemen Joe Johnson and La'Roi Glover to leave as free agents,
drafting Charles Grant to replace Johnson at end and signing
weighty free agent Grady Jackson to take over for Glover. Left
tackle William Roaf, a seven-time Pro Bowl player who's been
hobbled by knee injuries in recent years, was traded to the
Chiefs. Carter, a free agent, was signed to a back-loaded
seven-year, $28 million deal. "There was no one else out there we
wanted," says Mueller. "It was Dale or nothing."
But then Carter, a 1992 first-round draft pick of the Chiefs who
won NFL defensive rookie of the year honors, tested positive for
alcohol, and in July, Tagliabue suspended him. Without Carter,
New Orleans headed into the Carolina game ranked 30th in the
league in pass defense.
Tagliabue summoned Carter to New York City on Nov. 4 to talk
about, among other things, his rehab. "The meeting shocked me,"
Carter said after Sunday's game. "I didn't know what the
commissioner would do. I expected him to lecture me. But he told
me, 'Life doesn't end when football ends. You've got to get your
life in order, and we'll do everything we can to help you.' I
gained a lot of respect for him. He was a true gentleman."
But Tagliabue's underlying message was clear: One more strike and
the NFL would be done with Carter. "To be honest, I don't even
think about [drinking], because I know I can't do that anymore,"
he says. "A couple of years ago I would have listened to
Tagliabue and said the right things, knowing I was going to do
what I wanted to do. Now I'm a better man."
On Nov. 5, Carter's first day back on the practice field, coach
Jim Haslett gave the corner a conditioning test. "He had to run
10 100-yard dashes, all under 14 seconds," Haslett says. "Then he
had to run another 100, for time. He ran that one in 10.5. He
reported with three percent body fat. I knew he could step right
in and play."
In the second series against the Panthers, Muhammad sprinted
straight toward Carter and then cut right. Carter was in his
shirt, and Rodney Peete's pass shot off the defender's hands.
"I'm probably at about 60 percent of my peak," Carter said
afterward, "but the cover skills, the backpedal, it's like riding
a bike again. It'll all come back to me."
It's a comeback that's especially satisfying to Mueller, who
often talks on the phone and exchanges e-mails with Haslett. Last
week Mueller called and said to Haslett, "How about if you win
coach of the year and I win executive of the year?"
Mueller, who is living in Spokane while collecting his final
season of paychecks from Saints owner Tom Benson, sounded on
Sunday like a man who knows he played a major role in the team's
success. "I feel more than a small sense of ownership for what
the team is doing," Mueller said while watching the New Orleans
game on satellite. "I'm pretty proud."
When Will Simms Be Picked?
Texas QB All Over Draft Board
Looking over the quarterback crop for next April's NFL draft? The
consensus among a handful of NFL scouts queried by SI is that the
top three are USC's Carson Palmer, Louisville's Dave Ragone and
Marshall's Byron Leftwich. But there's little agreement about
Texas's Chris Simms, the son of former Giants quarterback and
Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, who arrived in Austin in 1999 with a
"I think he should be a top 10 pick," says Titans scout C.O.
Brocato, who has scrutinized players at Texas colleges for some
30 years. "If someone doesn't like that kid as an NFL
quarterback, he's flat-out stupid. Simms has great size [6'5"]
and an outstanding arm. He really zips the ball. He can make
every throw. He's got a great work ethic and attitude."
But a scout for one team says Simms was the Blesto scouting
service's 16th-rated senior quarterback entering the season and
has played like it this fall. "He doesn't see the field well,"
says the scout, who asked not to be identified. "He's had some
turnovers where you say, 'What was he thinking?' If his name was
Schwartz, he wouldn't be thought of highly. The game is too fast
for him. He's a fourth-round pick at best."
Taking the middle ground is Falcons supervisor of college
scouting Mike Hagen, who believes Simms will go in the first
three rounds. "I think he's going to be a better pro quarterback
than a college quarterback," Hagen says. "Everyone kills him
because he hasn't beaten Oklahoma, but how many games has he
lost? A team with multiple picks could draft him late in the
first round and be patient with him as he develops."
It's easy to criticize Simms for his poor play in big games, but
this is a league in which the likes of Randy Fasani (Panthers),
Mike McMahon (Lions) and Danny Wuerffel (Redskins) have started
this season. The closer the draft gets, the better Simms will
look to quarterback-needy teams. Expect him to go no later than
high in the second round.
McKinnie Deal a Head-Scratcher
Vikings rookie tackle Bryant McKinnie held out until early
November because he wanted a signing bonus as big as the one
Dallas gave safety Roy Williams, who went a pick higher. McKinnie
got his $9.35 million, but he won't see a penny of it this year.
It's spread over 2003 and 2004.... The promising career of rookie
running back DeShaun Foster, the Panthers' second-round pick, is
in jeopardy. After being shelved with cartilage damage in his
left knee during the preseason, Foster waited two months for the
cartilage to regenerate. It didn't. Last week Dr. James Andrews
performed microfracture surgery, making four pinholes in the knee
in an attempt to stimulate blood flow and cartilage growth.
Results of the surgery have been inconsistent. If the cartilage
doesn't regenerate, Foster may never play again.... The 49ers are
getting consistent bang for their buck from outside linebacker
Julian Peterson, a feisty 2000 first-round pick who held All-Pro
tight end Tony Gonzalez to one catch for six yards in San
Francisco's win over the Chiefs.... Peyton Manning may have had
his finest day as a quarterback in the Colts' 35--13 upset of the
Eagles. He has had better stats than Sunday's (18 of 23, 319
yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions), but he was a
commanding presence in a tough road venue, calling more than half
the plays at the line. "He knew where we were going to be before
we even got there," said Philly safety Blaine Bishop. "He must
study film in his sleep."
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COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN Carter (21), playing for the first time this season, stayed inMuhammad's face all day.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Simms has a strong arm, but a skeptical scout says he doesn'talways make smart thows.