Coming into the 2009 season, a lot of Saints fans have focused their attention on running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, both of who are gifted running backs, but the question that is still being asked is: Who will be the Saints short yardage back and bruiser back coming into 2009?
The run game is a big concern for the Saints coming into the 2009 season after being ranked 28th in the league on the ground in 2008, with only a 99 yards per game on the ground average.
The Saints are a pass-first offense, but balance is key for the Saints coming into the 2009 season. This will keep opposing defenses more modest than they were in 2008 mostly committing to the passing game.
In 2008, two games that come to my mind that New Orleans could've won if they would've just been a bit more effective on the ground.
Those two games were back-to-back losses against a Denver on 3rd-and-1, which the Saints failed to convert, resulting in a missed field goal, and against Washington in which the Saints' inability to run the ball led to New Orleans losing their lead and allowing the defense to stay on the field longer.
Yes these are only two out of eight Saints losses, but if New Orleans was more effective on the ground and could convert more of those short yardage situations, what would've the Saints record had been?
Possibly 9-7, or even a 10-6 record.
What have the Saints done to address the situation? Not much.
They threw away the team's all-time leading rusher in Deuce McAllister and brought in two unproven backs in rookies P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson. The Saints also attempted to bring in a full back that fits their style a lot better in Heath Evans.
Rumors were thrown around that the Saints attempted to trade back into the first round of the 2009 draft to get Ohio State running back Chris Wells, but it did not happen. Then came the rumors that the Saints were interested in veteran Edgerrin James, which did not happen, either.
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not mad at the Saints front office or staff for not going after a more proven guy, but I do feel that the Saints answer might be inside the locker room—a running back who played for the Saints in 2008, his name—Mike Bell.
If you look into Bell, you can see that he is more of a bruising back than either one of the Saints current running backs, Thomas and Reggie Bush. Bell, like Thomas, went undrafted his rookie season and was signed by the Denver Broncos.
He went along to put together a great rookie season for a running back after going undrafted, and rushed for 677 yards, with a 4.3 yard average and eight rushing touchdowns in 2006.
Bell was cut by the Broncos heading into the 2008 season and was signed by the Saints half way through it. He wasn't given much of a chance to prove himself, only getting the ball handed off to him 13 times with only 42 yards and one rushing touchdown, with only a 3.2 yard average.
Bell stands at 6'0" and weighs about 225 pounds. He has proven to be a solid inside runner for the Broncos, and I feel he could very well contribute for the Saints running game too, giving Thomas and Bush breathers.
Bell could take over the role for the goal line back and short yardage situations so we can convert them and keep the Saints offense on the field longer.
I am not saying Bell will be an every-down back, but I am saying he could be effective if given the opportunity to run the ball a lot more in 2009. Look out for Bell to become the official short yardage back and the official change of pace back when it comes down to being more physical.