Several Saints pleased to play Black-Gold game in Jackson

Updated: August 4, 2005, 9:07 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Fred McAfee will be among those most looking forward to the Saints' trip up to Jackson, Miss., for the annual Black and Gold scrimmage on Saturday night.

McAfee, a native of Philadelphia, Miss., has arranged for well over 200 guests.

That includes the current Philadelphia High School football team along with its rivals, Neshoba Central and Choctaw Central.

"Community in Mississippi is sports -- football, basketball -- you go to a football game, especially if Philadelphia plays Neshoba Central, there's going to be like 7,000 people at the game and there isn't but 6,000 people in the whole city."

A number of Saints have Mississippi connections, most notably Deuce McAllister, who not only grew up in the state but starred at Ole Miss and has since made large donations to the Rebel's football program as well as to other civic projects around the state.

"Deuce is like a hero in that state," McAfee said. "Not to say he's like Archie Manning, but eventually I think he will be. Deuce is big in the community up there, doing things to help make it a better place and people admire that kind of thing. I admire that."

Other Saints with ties to Mississippi include Antowain Smith, who attended East Mississippi Community College; Fred Thomas, who's from Bruce, Miss.; and Tony Bryant, who attended Copiah-Lincoln Junior College.

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PLAYER INTERVIEW:@ Donte' Stallworth decided to play reporter while the media was gathered around his friend, emerging receiver Talman Gardner, before Thursday's practice.

"We'd like to know how did you did at McDonogh 35 and how do you feel you're doing now, six to seven years later," Stallworth said.

"I was the greatest at McDonogh 35 and still will be the greatest, and right now, I'm just trying to get my swagger back," Gardner, a New Orleans native, answered to laughter.

Gardner spent the rest of the time speaking modestly of how he was overwhelmed by the speed of NFL play during his first two seasons, some of it spent on the practice squad in 2003.

"I feel like the game has slowed down for me a whole lot now, so it's just a matter of going out there and making plays," he said.

Gardner could not explain, despite his local knowledge, why the Saints have played better on the road then at home in recent seasons. But he said he hoped New Orleans fans would be as supportive as possible, even if he understood their frustration.

"I grew up a New Orleans fan. We get frustrated a lot here ... but you know, patience is a virtue," Gardner said. "When we make mistakes on the field ... just stay behind us. Sometimes they want to boo and they can't do that. They've got to stay behind the team."

Gardner said he never booed the Saints as a young fan and never wore a bag on his head at the Superdome.

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RUN STOPPERS:@ Former LSU standout Howard Green has this to say about the Saints struggles to stop the run last season and how they'll fare in 2005: "It will be a big difference, I promise you that."

"We're going to get in there. We're going to stop the run," Green said. "We're committed to doing that and everything else is going to take care of itself. We've got good guys in the secondary and we've got three great defensive ends, so the sky's the limit."

Green emerged as a starter last season after Johnathan Sullivan showed up overweight and ended up dropping to third on the depth chart. He said he expects to be the starter again.

"Right now, I am the starter," Green said, adding that he doesn't worry about the fact he's playing in front of Sullivan, a 2003 first-round draft choice.

"I don't see it being a problem," Green said. "We're all here for the same thing, just to win. Just trying to maintain and everybody learns from each other."

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NOTHING FOR GRANTED:@ Cie Grant, back in camp after missing all of last season with a knee injury, is now in the last year of his contract and says he understands he needs a big year to solidify his place with the Saints.

"I know it's a cutthroat business. You do have to be truthful with yourself. I know my back's against the wall," Grant said. "You can't just keep on the way I have been the last couple years, so of course I want to do something to prove myself here."

Grant was expected to be a middle linebacker before having surgery last season. Now coach Jim Haslett is looking at using Grant as a weak-side linebacker.

"I'm in no situation to really argue," Grant said. "Whatever the decision is, I just want to get back. I was used to position changes in college. It's nothing new from that standpoint."

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OUT AND BACK:@ Defensive end Willie Whitehead and linebacker James Allen returned to practice. Out were Spencer Folau (shoulder), Green (shoulder) and Courtney Watson (quad contusion) were out. Shad Meier has completed minor surgery to remove his meniscus and said he already feels less pain when performing activities such as squats in the weight room.

"I'm already walking and stuff and now I'm just trying to get the swelling down," Meier said.

Meier said the injury existed prior to camp and as the pain became worse through the first few practices, "I figured it was early enough I could get it done and be back in time."

Meier is among several tight ends competing for just a few spots. Along with Ernie Conwell, other tight ends on the camp roster include Mike Banks, Lamont Hall, Zachary Hilton and Boo Williams.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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