<span style="">Freshly signed cornerback Chris McAlister has put the "new" in New Orleans Saints.
The rangy and gifted 32-year old McAlister arrived in New Orleans yesterday for a workout, signed a contract this morning upon arriving at the team's facility and quickly set about acclimating himself to his new teammates with the Saints.
It's not the only thing he has to acclimatize himself with, as he is wearing a new uniform number (#29), as opposed to the #21 he wore while with the Ravens. But most importantly, McAlister first must learn defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' playbook and will certainly be putting in extra time with defensive backs coach Dennis Allen and assistant secondary coach Tony Oden.
"I came in here yesterday and had a good workout, now it's time to ready to help out any way I can," McAlister said following his first practice as a member of the Saints.
"The thing I picked up as soon as I got here and got around the rest of the team was the feeling of 'Team.' You hear guys around here talking about 'we' and nobody talking is talking about themselves," McAlister said of his initial impression of the Saints. "The players have been very helpful and welcoming. I only have played for one other team, Baltimore, so I don't know what it's like to be in another locker room."
The cornerback said that he's working hard studying the playbook and spending time with the other players and coaching staff to gain an understanding of the defensive concepts. "Everything has a new name, so that's an adjustment," he said. "But at the end of the day, playing cornerback is about making plays and trying to stop the other team. This week, that's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. How or if I will be used will be determined during the week and into the game. Everything leading up to that is getting ready for if and when my number is called."
The 6-1, 206 pound product of the University of Arizona was the tenth pick of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Ravens and went on to earn three Pro Bowl appearances during his career in Baltimore, while also being a stalwart on the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV championship squad. Known as a physical and playmaking cornerback throughout his career, McAlister has quickly embraced his opportunity with the Saints, as they prepare to take on the Bucs this Sunday at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.
"I didn't want to sign with any team just to play," McAlister said. "I wanted to join a winning team and a winning organization, unfortunately a couple guys got nicked up. But when the Saints called, I was ready. I have kept in shape and knew that I could come in and show them that I still can play and obviously I did that during my workout. I'm looking forward to helping out."
"He's a veteran player that understands different defenses and we feel he can come in here and help us out," Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said this afternoon. "We'll just see how he does picking things up and where the other guys are as far as their continued rehabilitation."
Payton was asked of the possibility of moving S Usama Young back to a cornerback spot and inserting McAlister in at safety was a possibility, and Payton said that was not the coaching staff's inclination at the present time. "Chris is a cornerback and that's what we brought him in here to do. Certainly Usama has experience playing cornerback, and that's something we are mindful of, but for now, Chris is going to be looked at as a corner and Usama will stay at safety."
With 26 interceptions and 339 tackles during his Ravens career, McAlister's learning curve of the Saints' defense is expected to be a relatively smooth one, as he has long had the reputation of being an excellent cover corner who has played against many of the top wide receivers in the NFL over the course of the last decade. How much McAlister plays will likely be determined by two major factors, the first being the health of the team's current cornerback corps, as regular starters Jabari Greer (groin) and Tracy Porter (knee) are mending from injuries suffered during the Saints' two recent victories.
Quarterback Drew Brees, who has played against McAlister in the past, said of his newly signed teammate, "He's an aggressive player who has made a lot of big plays during his career. He has a knack for making plays and getting his hands on the football. I know from playing against him that you don't want to just throw the ball up around him because he will go get and it and come down with it. The one thing you see right off the bat is how athletic he is."
"This is nothing new for him," Brees said of McAlister's first day of practice. "Sure it's a new team, but at the end of the day, he knows what's he's doing out there and he'll get himself ready to play."
NOTE: SUCCESS ON THE ROAD: Four teams have started the 2009 season with 4-0 road records: Arizona, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New Orleans. All four of those clubs are in first place in their respective divisions and each will put its undefeated road record on the line in Week 11.
This Sunday, the Cardinals visit St. Louis, the Colts travel to Baltimore, the Bengals head to Oakland and the Saints will take a trip across the Gulf to face Tampa Bay.
If all four 4-0 teams win, 2009 will be the first season in history in which four clubs started 5-0 on the road. If three of the four win, this season will tie for the most 5-0 road teams ever, which has occurred three times in NFL annals (1983, 2001, 2007).