The Saints held a team dinner on Sunday night at Emeril’s Delmonico in New Orleans and selected their team captains for the 2012 season, just one week before the Saints open the regular season in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Washington Redskins.
Two players were selected from both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball with the fifth captain coming from the special teams unit.
“It is always an honor to be chosen a captain, especially since it is voted on by your teammates,” said Brees. “It is the highest honor. It means the guys think of you with enough respect to want you to be a guy to lead them.”
Brees is coming off a remarkable season in which he led the Saints to their third consecutive playoff appearance. He broke the NFL single-season passing yardage record, previously held by former Dolphins’ quarterback Dan Marino, among other NFL and club marks. He finished 2011 having completed 468-of-657 passes (71.2 percent) for 5,476 yards with 46 touchdowns passes and a 110.6 passer rating.
“I take this as a huge responsibility, and will never take it for granted,” said Brees. “I understand the responsibilities that come with it.”
Strief saw his first extended action as a starter last season. Originally drafted by the Saints in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Strief served as a capable reserve for his first five seasons in the league. While in the starting role last season, the Saints recorded an NFL-record 7,474 total net yards. The offensive line as a unit only surrendered 24 sacks in 2011, tied for the second-lowest total in the NFL while being named the Madden Most Valuable Protectors.
“It is extremely humbling to be in this locker room and to be picked out of the group,” said Strief. “I am honored and, certainly, proud to represent these guys.”
Harper returns for his seventh year after being drafted by the Saints in the 2006 NFL Draft and was named a team captain for the first time in his football career. Harper has started all 83 games he has appeared in and is the only Saints safety to have been selected to two Pro Bowls.
Harper registered 116 tackles (77 solo), a career-high 7 ½ sacks, nine pass defenses, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the 2011 campaign and looks to build on his success in a new defensive system under first-year Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“I look forward to the challenge of trying to help lead this team and lead this defense in the right direction,” said Harper. “I respect all of my teammates and I know they respect me too. It is going to be a fun year.”
Jenkins plays opposite Harper in the defensive secondary at the free safety spot. The former Ohio State standout cornerback is in his fourth season, third at the safety position. Jenkins started all 15 games he appeared in last season for the Saints and registered a career-high 97 tackles (66 solo), one sack, 11 pass defenses, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last season. Jenkins hopes to become even more of a playmaker in Spagnuolo’s new scheme.
“I recognize the responsibility that comes with this year but I am excited for it,” said Jenkins. “To be voted by my own peers as a captain is definitely humbling for me.”
Roby was named the special teams captain for the second year in a row. He arrived in New Orleans after being signed midseason in 2008 but has made a major impact on special teams, recording 51 tackles. Roby is also a threat returning as he has averaged 25.6 yards on 94 kickoff returns as a Saint which ranks fourth in team record books.
“It means a lot,” said Roby. “It is not something I take for granted. I am looking forward to the coming season. I am just so grateful”
The group features only two players that have been Saints’ team captains in the past (Brees and Roby) but each player has been with the team since at least 2009, the same year the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. Each captain discussed how humbled they were that a group of high-character teammates selected them as leaders.
“I am so happy for guys like Roman (Harper) and Malcolm (Jenkins), first-time captains on this team,” said Brees. “Zach Strief, there is not a more deserving guy offensively. Courtney Roby, there is not a tougher football player in this league. He is a guy who day-in and day-out just brings it and gives it his very best. Everybody is very well deserving.”
The captains acknowledged today that the best way to lead the team is through motivation, dedication and hard work to set a solid example for the rest of the squad.
“It is not like I have to have a Superman cape on or anything,” said Harper. “I am still going to be the same old me. I don’t have to do anything else except try to lead by example and just do me.”