Saints have high expectations despite changes
METAIRIE – The external expectations for the New Orleans Saints – who have won four consecutive NFC South championships – are lower entering this season than they have been the last few seasons.
There are reasons for that.
Drew Brees is working for NBC.
About a dozen other players that contributed significantly to one or more of those division titles are no longer on the team.
It’s uncertain how well their replacements will replace their contributions.
David Onyemata is suspended for the first six games and Michael Thomas and Wil Lutz are sidelined indefinitely.
So naturally there is uncertainty as to whether that division-title streak can reach five.
But internal expectations are different than external expectations.
If any expectations mean anything, they’re the ones based on the confidence of players, teams and organizations that are accustomed to success, more so than the hopefulness of players, teams and organizations aspiring to a level of success they have yet to achieve.
The Saints’ internal expectations are understandably high, regardless of who has left or who is temporarily absent.
“It’s a very common thing in our league to have guys step up,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “If (losing players) was happening in week five and we didn’t have any answers, we would have to bring somebody off the street to kind of bring them up to speed and then it would be an issue.
“(But) you’ve had an entire off-season and training camp understanding what we’re going into. So I don’t think it’s a challenge at all.”
Jenkins won a Super Bowl when he was a rookie with the Saints in 2009. He saw first-hand what a team’s belief system can mean.
“I saw a couple of games that year that we probably should have lost,” Jenkins said. “But we actually believed that we were better than the teams that were across from us. When pressure hits or something goes wrong, those that don’t truly believe, it might change their mind and all of a sudden they start listening to all of the distractions around them, but when you believe that you are supposed to have success and you’re supposed to win then whatever happens in between doesn’t really matter.”
Jenkins won another Super Bowl with Philadelphia eight years after the Saints title. Now he’s in the second season of his second tenure in New Orleans and is the oldest and wisest Saint.
“It’s not a mind trick,” Jenkins said of being confident of success. “Either you believe that or you don’t, and I think we truly believe that. It’s just about playing to the standard that you set for yourself, regardless of who the opponent is, regardless of what’s going on in your building.
“I don’t think anybody has talked about anybody being suspended or anything. It’s not part of our daily conversation. It’s not something that we worry about. That’s a mindset that you can’t just build overnight but it comes with veterans and leadership that has been around the league for a long time and had success and knows what it takes to have success and it’s not predicated on one or two guys being in the lineup.”
The flip side of the early-season absences of Onyemata, Thomas and Lutz is that their returns should strengthen the roster for the stretch run.
“At the end of the day our goal is to win a championship,” Jenkins said. “How we get there doesn’t matter. We’re not saying we want to win a championship only if we have our best guys or only if things go right or only if we stay healthy. No. We want to win a championship.
“Whatever that is, whatever we have to do to get there, we embrace that. The process is how do we individually improve ourselves week in and week out but as a team how do we improve ourselves so that when guys inevitably – whether it’s due to injuries or suspension or whatever – come in our out of the lineup are not changing our goals or expectations for the team.”
During the Eagles championship run, starting quarterback Carson Wentz was lost to a season-ending injury in December. The team rallied around backup Nick Foles while most observers inside and outside of Philadelphia wrote off the team’s championship aspirations.
“We had veterans like myself who just said, ‘OK. What does that mean?’” Jenkins recalled. “We probably had won 11 games at that point. So what do we do – trash the whole season now? Nothing changes. Our whole goal was to win the Super Bowl. We’ve just got to figure out how to do it now. It’s just a change in strategy.
“You understand it’s going to make the story even better because we know where we’re going as a team. Just because (others) haven’t figure it out yet, it doesn’t change what we’re doing.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…