x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Sproles offers big threat for the Saints despite his small size

Darren Sproles has made an immediate impact with the New Orleans Saints, despite the side losing their opening game of the season.

Darren Sproles made an impressive debut for the New Orleans Saints.
Darren Sproles made an impressive debut for the New Orleans Saints.

From the first week with his new team, Darren Sproles had a sense that the New Orleans Saints would tap into his singular strengths as a small but elusive ball carrier.

"When I got into practice, and I started doing the stuff they wanted me to do, I was like, 'Man, this is going to be a great spot for me'." he said. "It was fun, and when you're having fun, that's when you're at your best, really."

His stellar debut with New Orleans last week left no doubt about how well he would fit in; he racked up 250 total yards against the Green Bay Packers.

The Saints may need a performance of a similarly high standard today when then play the Chicago Bears, who were impressive on defence in a 30-12 victory over Atlanta last weekend.

The Saints did many things well in their high-scoring 42-34 loss to Green Bay, but none of their players will be having much fun if they fall to 0-2.

Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback, knows Sproles from their days playing together with the San Diego Chargers and broke into a broad grin when his name was mentioned.

"I'm smiling because I know Sprolesie," Brees said. "I was in San Diego when we drafted him, I watched his career, so I know what this guy can do.

"I was one of his biggest proponents to come here and be a part of this, because I think he fits in great with this offence.

"Is he going to return a punt for a touchdown every week? Maybe not, but you feel like if you can get that guy in the open field, he makes it exciting. He gives defences something to worry about."

Sproles is a big threat in a small package, the shortest player in the league, at 5ft 6 ins, but also one of the quickest. His small stature can make tackling him, or even finding him, particularly difficult. Opponents who see him breaking into space can be forgiven for attacks of panic.

Against Green Bay, he had 92 yards on punt returns, including a 72-yard touchdown, and 76 yards on kick returns. From scrimmage, he carried the ball only twice, for seven yards, but he caught seven passes for 75 yards.

Sproles appreciates that Sean Payton, the Saints coach as well as play-caller on offence, "got me in space a lot, and that's what I love. That's when I'm at my best".

Payton said that the Saints need to find ways every game to get the ball to the little veteran, who was acquired as a free agent early in training camp when he signed a four-year, US$14 million (Dh51.4m) deal.

Payton said Sproles in many ways is meant to replace Reggie Bush, who left the team.

But he said that Sproles is a special talent who gives the Saints an elusive receiver out of the backfield and can be very hard to tackle in the open field.

The key, Payton said, will be mixing and matching Sproles with a variety of personnel and formations so that opponents are never certain when a play is designed for him.

"He's very smart and he makes good decisions in space and he has a great burst," Payton said. "It's up to us each week to find a way to put the ball in his hands in a similar way that we've done in the past with Reggie Bush. There are a lot of opportunities for us to get him on the field and get him involved."

The Bears have only one game of film to study of Sproles in a Saints uniform. But they certainly will make it a priority to identify him in every formation and track him as a play develops.

"You know, they have big linemen and sometimes it can be hard to find the little guy behind there," said Lance Briggs, the Bears linebacker.

"He's a fast guy with quick little feet; reminds me of one of those old Scooby Doo cartoons. The guy can fly."

Sproles said he understands he set expectations high with his debut performance, but added that he does not expect to be the featured player in the Saints offence in every game.

"Mainly, I just wanted to come in here and just do my part. Whatever they want me to do," Sproles said. "All I can do is my best.