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Joe Lombardi’s Saints background made him no-brainer for Detroit’s coordinator job, Lions say

This is a 2009 photo of Joe Lombardi, then the Saints quarterback coach and now the offensive coordinator for the Lions. The Saints and the Lions play Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo)

This is a 2009 photo of Joe Lombardi, then the Saints quarterback coach and now the offensive coordinator for the Lions. The Saints and the Lions play Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo)

When Lions head coach Jim Caldwell set about hiring an offensive coordinator in January, his ideal candidate needed to possess these qualifications above all others.

He had to have a good understanding of offensive football; to have been around excellent quarterback play; and to have been in a system that utilized an array of weapons.

Joe Lombardi, the Saints’ quarterbacks coach from 2009-13, had all of that; so Caldwell didn’t hesitate to give the ex-New Orleans assistant the job of overseeing an offense counting on playmakers such as three-time First Team All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson; one-time First Team All-Pro running back Reggie Bush; and Matthew Stafford, one of five QBs to eclipse 5,000 yards passing in a season.

“The things we were looking for, … Joe met all those criteria,” said Caldwell, in his first year with the Lions (4-2), who host the Saints (2-3) at Ford Field this upcoming Sunday. “Not only that, he’s an excellent person, great teacher, and has a great presence about him.”

Lombardi, who joined the Saints in 2007 and spent two years as an offensive assistant prior to coaching the quarterbacks for five seasons, worked with Drew Brees in three of the four campaigns the Saints star has passed for 5,000+ yards.

The Saints won Super Bowl XLIV in Lombardi’s first year as QB coach. He collaborated with coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael as they rode players such as one-time First Team All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham; running back Darren Sproles, who established the NFL’s all-purpose yardage mark in 2011; and franchise record-setting receiver Marques Colston to rankings of first, sixth, first, second and fourth in yards gained from 2009-13.

“Once (the front office) decided that’s who they were bringing in, his work kind of speaks for itself, being a part of that system and how much success they have had over there in New Orleans on offense,” Stafford said in a conference call following Caldwell’s with local media Wednesday. “I kind of knew what we were getting going in.”

Lombardi’s first six games in Detroit haven’t been a carbon copy of the Saints production-wise. Stafford was passing for 265.3 yards per game as of Wednesday, putting him on pace for what would be his lowest total in that category since 2010, when he missed 10 games with a hurt shoulder. Coupled with a rushing game picking up 86.3 yards per outing, Detroit’s offense is 23rd in the NFL.

Nonetheless, Stafford has thrown just four interceptions this season, putting him on pace to toss about 11, fewer than the 19 he had last year. And limiting mistakes on offense has been enough for Lombardi and Stafford to help the Lions win this year, for the defense complementing them is allowing the fewest points, passing yards and total yards per game.

The Lions certainly have issues to resolve on offense. Among them is the fact that Stafford this season has been sacked 21 times, more than any other quarterback in the league.

But, at least until the spot the Lions were in on Wednesday is jeopardized, “he’s been great,” Stafford said of Lombardi.

Khairi Fortt’s on the waiver wire again, and other Saints tidbits

Maybe the Saints won’t be meeting their former fourth-round draft choice Khairi Fortt when they play the Bengals on Nov. 16.

Fortt — a rookie whom the Bengals picked up on waivers after the Saints cut him last week — was waived by Cincinnati amidst a number of personnel moves the club made on Tuesday, the team announced. He will again be subject to the waiver wire, where teams have until the end of business Wednesday to put in a claim for him.

Fortt, who played at California, has had a bizarre first year in the NFL ever since the Saints drafted him 126th overall in May. He spent the preseason with New Orleans but hurt a hamstring in New Orleans’ second exhibition after accumulating a lone tackle.

The Saints included him on their initial 53-man roster but placed him on short-term injured reserve to open a spot for veteran wide receiver Robert Meachem, who was released and re-signed by the team before the start of the season.

Fortt was eligible to return to action for a Week 8 game against the Green Bay Packers. But he was waived Oct. 6 after missing at least two meetings, according to an NFL source. Fortt had told The Advocate he was disappointed to be on short-term IR after coming relatively close to playing in his first NFL game, and he said on Twitter after the Bengals acquired him Oct. 7 that he’d been healthy “for almost a month.”

For the one game he was on the Bengals’ 53-man roster, Fortt was inactive, and Cincinnati (3-1-1) tied Carolina (3-2-1) at home. The Saints face Cincinnati in Week 11.

SAINTS D WANTS TO BE TRUE SELF, NOT ANYONE ELSE: At a Rotolo’s Pizzeria Literacy Program Visit at Ella C. Pittman Elementary School in Harvey on Tuesday, Saints defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was asked whether the Saints’ defense aspired to emulate that of the Lions (4-2), who are allowing the fewest points and total yards in the NFL and host New Orleans (2-3) this upcoming Sunday.

Hicks responded that all the Saints want to do is return to the form they had in 2013 and build off that.

The Saints permitted the fourth-fewest yards and points last year in the league as the Saints reached the divisional round of the playoffs. They were surrendering the NFL’s 10th-most yards per game on Tuesday.

“If we want to take a cue from anybody, we want to take a cue from what we did last year,” Hicks said. “We haven’t had the stats that we’ve wanted, but we’re looking to push in that direction.”

EVERYTHING WITHIN REACH: Though the Saints had a bye this past Sunday, they somehow still managed to stay near the top of a jumbled-up NFC South division. Carolina’s draw at Cincinnati kept the Panthers only one win ahead of the Saints, who are in second place.

Meanwhile, Atlanta (2-4) emerged from the weekend with one more loss than the Saints after losing 27-13 at home to Chicago. Tampa Bay (1-5) kept sole possession of last place after being routed 48-17 at home by Baltimore.

“Everything we are trying to obtain is still within reach,” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said at the Pittman school of the team’s outlook in the NFC South. “We just have to get back on the right track and keep everything rolling from the previous week.”

Whoever clinches a division in the NFL is guaranteed at least one home playoff game. Considering the Saints didn’t win the first true road playoff game of their existence until January, winning the division is especially important for New Orleans.

The Saints lost at Atlanta, at Cleveland (3-2) and at Dallas (5-1) while winning at home against Minnesota (2-4) and Tampa Bay before having their bye this past weekend. Their triumph over Tampa Bay was their last commitment prior to the bye.

Jordan, a Pro Bowler in 2013, is tied for third on the Saints in tackles behind the line of scrimmage (two) and is first on the defensive line in passes batted down (three).

Quick look at new Saints tight end Tom Crabtree

Tom Crabtree is not going to fill Jimmy Graham’s role.

That much is clear.

While it’s still not know how serious the shoulder injury Graham suffered Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team signed the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Crabtree Tuesday afternoon. So, it at least seems there’s a possibility Graham misses time.

But it would not be fair to place that burden on the shoulders of Crabtree. A former member of the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 28-year-old has played a total of 1,341 snaps during his four seasons in the league and has been targeted a total of 34 times.

In other words, he’s the opposite of Graham. He made his bones at his previous two stops by serving as a decent blocker and playing on special teams. Catching passes was secondary.

A review of all of his targets from the 2012 (in Green Bay) and 2013 (in Tampa Bay) reveals that the bulk of his targets came when he was left uncovered by the defense. But that shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of his skills.

Crabtree is very athletic, and proved as much during a 2012 game by catching the ball in space and leaping over a diving defensive back.

crabtree2

He also flashed the ability to make catches going up the seam and in traffic. His route-running isn’t perfect, but it’s clean and serviceable.

crabtree

Crabtree does not garner a lot of targets, but he dropped at least four passes during the last two seasons (19 targets), which was the only real negative in his small sample of targets.

It’s not immediately clear how Crabtree will fit in with the Saints.

Along with Graham, New Orleans has Josh Hill and Ben Watson at that spot. Watson should not lose any snaps if Graham misses time, but Hill, who has struggled as a blocker, could get pushed by Crabtree.

Saints work out free-agent TE Kellen Davis

Two days after Saints tight end Jimmy Graham hurt his shoulder, the team on Tuesday worked out veteran Kellen Davis, a free agent at the position, a source told The Advocate.

Davis won a Super Bowl ring with Seattle in 2013, catching three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown with the Seahawks. He was with the Giants this preseason but was cut in August.

From 2008-12, Davis was a member of the Chicago Bears, who drafted him out of Michigan State in the fifth round of his rookie season. Davis started 35 games for the Bears, 30 of which were in 2011 and 2012. He caught 47 passes for 529 yards and 11 touchdowns in Chicago. Yahoo’s Rand Getlin was the first to report Davis’ workout.

Graham was hurt in the first half of the 2-3 Saints’ 37-31 overtime win at home against Tampa Bay (1-4). An NFL Network report labeled Graham’s injury as a sprained shoulder, but coach Sean Payton refused to get into specifics about his tight end’s condition.

Aside from Davis, the Saints also worked out free-agent tight end Tom Crabtree, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Crabtree was a former Green Bay Packer and Tampa Bay Buc.

Workouts the likes of Davis’ and Crabtree’s with the Saints are routine and not necessarily indicative of anything.

Saints work out free-agent linebacker Paul Hazel, source says

Free-agent linebacker Paul Hazel visited the Saints on Tuesday for a workout, according to a league source.

Undrafted out of Western Michigan, Hazel spent 13 games with the Cleveland Browns in 2013. He had one solo tackle and assisted on three others.

Hazel also spent time with Jacksonville before joining Cleveland, and he had a spell in Houston for a bit after his stint with the Browns. However, he failed to latch on with either Jacksonville or Houston.

The Saints (2-3) hosted Hazel after linebacker Ramon Humber hurt his ankle in the first half of New Orleans’ 37-31 victory at home against Tampa Bay (1-4). Nonetheless, workouts such as Hazel’s are routine and not necessarily indicative of anything.

WVUE-TV reporter Sean Fazende first reported Hazel’s Saints workout.

Despite 3 costly picks in win v. Tampa Bay, Drew Brees is up for FedEx Air player of week award

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks downfield as the Saints faced the Bucs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday, October 5, 2014.

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER — New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks downfield as the Saints faced the Bucs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday, October 5, 2014.

Despite throwing three costly interceptions in the Saints’ 37-31 overtime win at home against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Drew Brees’ 371 yards and two touchdowns passing were enough to land him a FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week nomination on Tuesday.

Brees is up against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning — who was 31-of-47 for 479 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-20 victory against Arizona — and the Rams’ Austin Davis, who passed for 375 yards and three TDs in a 34-28 loss to Philadelphia.

Brees (35-of-57) threw TDs to running backs Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet against Tampa Bay to help improve the Saints’ record this season to 2-3. However, one of his interceptions resulted in a touchdown drive for Tampa Bay; another was run back for a score; and the third cut short a drive in which New Orleans was driving to set up what would’ve been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, which could complicate Brees’ chances of winning the award from FedEx.

This is Brees’ first FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week award nomination this season. Fans determine who wins and can go to NFL.com/FedEx to vote for Brees, Manning or Davis.

Former Saints safety Pierre Warren joins Vikings practice squad

If safety Pierre Warren is meant to one day return to the Saints, it does not appear that will happen soon. The undrafted rookie out of Jacksonville State is now a member of the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad, that team announced Tuesday.

Warren caught the eyes of the media and fans at the start of training camp in West Virginia with pass break-ups, at least one forced fumble and an interception in intrasquad drills. He commanded more attention with a near-interception in a preseason win at St. Louis and a pick of a deep pass to the end zone in a defeat to the Ravens.

Nonetheless, the Saints left Warren off the 53-man roster that began the regular season. He subsequently signed with New Orleans’ practice squad but was released after Saints linebacker David Hawthorne hurt his ankle in a Week 2 loss at Cleveland. The Saints signed linebacker Todd Davis to the practice squad in Warren’s place, something the team said it did to add numbers at Hawthorne’s position for training sessions.

Hawthorne returned to action for the Saints’ 37-31 victory at home against Tampa Bay (1-4) on Sunday.

The Saints are 2-3 and have a bye this week. Their other victory this year came against Warren’s new team, the Vikings, at the Superdome on Sept. 21.

Stock watch: Junior Galette up, Drew Brees down after win over Bucs

A look at how a few players saw their stock change during Sunday’s 38-31 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Moving up

DE Junior Galette – He recorded the safety that essentially put New Orleans back in the game. Co-credit goes to Cam Jordan for opening up the lane for Galette.

RBs Khiry Robinson/Pierre Thomas – Passing game isn’t working? No problem. Thomas and Robinson showed up time and again down the stretch as the Saints fought back.

S Kenny Vaccaro – The sense here is that Vaccaro will grade out well after reviewing the film. Though he drew a couple flags, Vaccaro was active in the run game and came up with a handful of stuffs.

Shaking down

QB Drew Brees – His first two interceptions were as bad as you’ll see. Sometimes it’s OK to take the sack.

WR Marques Colston – Had a costly drop late in the game that was nearly a fumble. He made some plays Sunday, but mistakes such like that cannot occur in crunch time.