The Saints won the 2009 Super Bowl and entering the 2010 season they have goal on their mind: Repeat.
Thanks to the change in CBA rules, the Saints were able to avoid a lot of the roster plucking most Super Bowl-winning teams face the following off-season. The Saints lost OLB Scott Fujita and RB Mike Bell via free agency and decided to cut starting defensive end Charles Grant. Other than that, the team remains almost entirely intact.
To offset those losses, the Saints have signed LB Clint Ingram, DE Alex Brown and DL Jimmy Wilkerson. Most recently they've also added RB DeShawn Wynn and LB Danny Clark. They used this years draft to add depth by selecting cornerback Patrick Robinson and OT Charles Brown but it's believed their best pick was tight end Jimmy Graham in the 3rd round, arguably the steal of the draft.
Sean Payton and the coaching staff have been superb at finding undrafted diamonds in the rough (Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore) and this year they did it again when Junior Galette earned a spot on the team.
As has been the case for several years now, we can expect the Saints offense to once again be a high-powered scoring machine. There is no reason why Drew Brees won't continue to spread the ball around to his wide receiving corps that only gets better and better. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and pre-season stud Adrian Arrington all need to be accounted for.
In the running department, Reggie Bush - looking poised to have a career year - and Pierre Thomas will still get a majority of the carries. Chris Ivory emerged during training camp as the teams No. 3 running back but he's currently recovering from an MCL injury.
As long as defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is in charge, the Saints defense will always thrive on aggressive blitz schemes and forcing turnovers.
Sophomore first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins will take the place of veteran free safety Darren Sharper for the first six weeks as he recovers from off-season knee surgery. Other than that, the secondary looks the same as last season.
The defensive line, anchored by Will Smith on the end, will hopefully get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks using a regular rotation of guys like Sedrick Ellis, Alex Brown, Anthony Hargrove, Jimmy Wilkerson and Remie Ayodele.
The biggest weakness on the defensive side of the ball is easily the linebacking unit. After the loss of Scott Fujita, the Saints still haven't found an adequate replacement. Free agent acquisition Clint Ingram will miss the first six weeks on the PUP list while Jonathan Casillas, who earned the starting role in pre-season, was placed on IR, ending his season. Meanwhile, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma is recovering from a groin injury suffered during a pre-season game.
Wide receiver Courtney Roby is expected to return kickoffs in 2010 while Reggie Bush and others will probably split time with punt return duties. The Saints coverage units have looked less than stellar this pre-season which means the poor tackling and bad angles will need to be cleaned up for this part of their game to achieve just mediocrity.
The Saints have kept most or all of their entire coaching staff together this off-season. The challenge, however, will be for head coach Sean Payton to keep players motivated and to avoid the ever-disappointing Super Bowl hangover. Both he and Gregg Williams will also need to make sure the play calling stays fresh while opposing teams give the Saints their best game.
Prediction for 2010
If the defense can hold strong and achieve the same production as last season, the Saints should break the NFC South trend and actually repeat as division champions. Expect them to go deep into the playoffs for a second season.