By Ira Kaufman
Dan Orlovsky has been a member of the Bucs during one of the most turbulent seasons in franchise history.
You remember 2013, right? Between the 0-8 start, the MRSA panic and Josh Freeman’s meltdown, Greg Schiano’s final year on the sidelines was a disaster that couldn’t be mitigated.
Schiano was a can but Orlovsky’s professional career survived as he moved on to a second assignment as a backup quarterback with the Lions. Give credit to the guy – he lasted 12 years in the NFL despite starting only 12 games.
He’s now an ESPN analyst, providing opinions on 32 teams and issues related to the league. He’s provocative on purpose, which is why ESPN executives are keeping him on the air, and his views are far from the wall.
For example, he once wrote the following tweet about his former Buck teammate Mike Glennon: “He’s an NFL footballer who starts QB all day.” The days must be very short here.
The other day, Orlovsky threw his weight on the state of the NFC South. Before you turn down his offer, admit that the guy is making some decent points.
“Tampa Bay is a very good football team, but nobody respects the New Orleans Saints or pays enough attention to them,” he said. “This defensive line that dominated Bok’s offensive line in the past few years is still intact, and Bok’s offensive line is worse than it was last year.”
The Bucs and Saints head into a new season with new head coaches. Todd Bowles and Dennis Allen are intent on proving they’ll be a lot better the second time around.
In 2021, Tampa Bay finished four games ahead of the Saints, ending 4 years of New Orleans’ dominance at the top of the division. In what looks like Tom Brady’s final season in Tampa, there are indications that the Saints have narrowed the gap.
Even while dropping to 9-8, the Saints swept Boss last season, including a shock 9-0 win at Raymond James Stadium. This made him seven straight wins in the regular season against Tampa Bay, dating back to the late last year of Dirk Quitter. In those seven games, the Saints are plus -11 in teams rotation.
To support Orlovsky’s view on the trench battle, the Bucs deployed only seven sacks in those matches, compared to 25 sacks by the Saints.
Amid the one-sided nature of this rivalry, the Bucs beat New Orleans 30-20 in a divisional playoff en route to the championship as Drew Brees was selected three times.
For whatever reason, Saints pair well with Bucs.
Allen says he expects James Winston to recover well enough from his torn ACL to begin week one and Winston’s arms have been significantly upgraded.
First round pick Chris Olave is a smooth runner and the Saints have just signed five times to Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry this week. But the bigger news is the possible return of Michael Thomas.
Thomas, the NFL leader in receptions in 2018 and 2019, suffered an ankle injury in the 2020 opener against the Boss and hasn’t been the same since.
He didn’t play at all last season, and Secondary Buck was in no hurry to see Offensive Player of the Year 2019. In nine career games against Tampa Bay, Thomas averaged eight receptions and 100 yards.
Alvin Camara is out of the down season, missing seven games with a knee injury. Camara’s comeback could be derailed on a felony assault charge against the Pro Bowl 5 return.
The Saints have invested wisely in their offensive line since 2015 – drafting Andros Pete, Ryan Ramsick, Cesar Ruiz in the first round and Eric McCoy in the second. Processing after departure of Terron Armstead’s fan free agent.
Cameron Jordan, one of the few competitors to get the best of Tristan kicks at times, leads the defensive front and Demario Davis is an elite inside midfield. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore returned to play head matches against Mike Evans while Saints added safety Tyrann Mathieu after the departures of safety Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams.
The Saints even reclaimed the first-round draft last year after a major shoulder injury, and a defensive tackle for Peyton Turner, who many compare to Bucs pick Logan Hall.
Special teams can get a boost if Pro Bowl Will Lutz recovers from core muscle surgery.
“New Orleans Saints are going to be really good this year,” Orlovsky insists.
For once, a man may be onto something.