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Saints gearing up for 2003 season

By By Richard Dark/EMG staff writer
June 21, 2003
NEW ORLEANS Wednesday proved to be an anomaly of sorts for Jim Haslett and the New Orleans Saints. It proved to be a productive day on many levels as the team held a spirited two-hour workout inside the Louisiana Superdome for several thousand season ticket holders.
The drills wrapped up nearly three weeks of voluntary coaching sessions and also wrapped up the team's offseason working period.
So, from now until July 26, we wait.
That date marks the opening of the 2003 training camp, which will be held at the team's headquarters in Metairie. This will be a time frame the players will embrace for obvious reasons. Well-deserved rest and relaxation and time with loved ones will replace the nearly year-long grind of football.
For guys like Haslett however, more than likely there won't be that peaceful feeling. A hard-nosed, no-nonsense guy like him is more apt to worry a little about what can happen when football players scatter to the four winds for a period of nearly six weeks.
That's why even though the 14 coaching sessions were technically considered voluntary, they are being viewed as a litmus test of sorts to see just what kind of ammo this team has to go to war this fall, in its quest for Houston, the site of the 2004 Super Bowl.
To that end, all the hype has centered on the general overhaul of Rick Venturi's Black and Gold defense. It's a simple, yet oft-emphasized premise: Speed and youth over bulk and experience. "We got rid of some clutter," Venturi said. "And we added a few things I thought we needed."
Fans will need a flow chart and flash cards to recognize all of the changes that have altered the complexion of the 2003 edition.
Grizzled veteran center Jerry Fontenot, who returned to the workouts last week for the final session after mulling over free agency, said he certainly will.
Response to Turley talk
Yes, there have been and will be a lot of new faces on Airline Drive at the end of next month, but pulling guys together shouldn't prove to be a big deal as it may have been in the past. This entire roster is made up of nearly all of Haslett's guys and the malcontents such as Kyle Turley have been purged, thus alleviating all the distractions.
Season tix going fast
They're going fast, so if you want in you'll have to act now. That old marketing hook aptly describes the Saints season ticket landscape as another positive that came out of Wednesday was the team's announcement that they have sold nearly 47,000 season tickets, about 6,500 shy of the team's all-time mark of 53,312, set in 1988, the summer after the team won 12 games and made the playoffs. The Saints still have $150 tickets available. That price covers both home preseason games, as well as the eight regular-season home games.
The Saints have sold out 22 straight home games. The current figure is the highest since 1994. On June 25, the club will release single-game and group tickets.
Season tickets are on sale now at the Saints Ticket Office in Metairie 1-504-731-1700, the Superdome ticket office and through the Saints' web site at www.neworleanssaints.com.
Heavy still a lunchin'
Defensive tackle Grady Jackson, who skipped the offseason conditioning work, did not show up for any of the coaching sessions either. Jackson, whose starting right tackle position was taken by former Meridian High School and University of Alabama standout Kenny Smith, weighed in at 366 pounds at the May minicamp.
Quick quotable
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In Memoriam
The Saints family lost one of their own this past week when Jerome Benson, brother of Saints owner Tom Benson, died of lung cancer at the age of 74.

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