Brian Allee-Walsh

Playoff-minded New Orleans Saints hope to earn bigger returns with new special teams coach

Saints columnist Brian Allee-Walsh
Saints columnist Brian Allee-Walsh Biloxi

NEW ORLEANS

The idea of jump starting a dormant return game and possibly winning a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints apparently was incentive enough to lure NFL special teams guru Mike Westhoff out of retirement at the age of 69.

Westhoff, who counts 30 seasons with the New York Jets (2001-'12), Miami Dolphins (1986-'00) and Indianapolis Colts (1982-'84) among his coaching stops in a stellar 39-year coaching career, joined the Saints on Wednesday and will oversee the entire special teams operation for the remainder of the season.

Who knows? The way this season is turning out for the NFC South-leading Black and Gold, it wouldn't shock me to see a kick- and/or punt returned for a touchdown Sunday against the Washington Redskins inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Everything the Saints and coach-of-the-year candidate Sean Payton seem to touch nowadays is turning to gold.

Consider:

▪ Against Detroit in Week 6, the Saints set a franchise record with three takeaways returned for touchdowns in a 52-38 victory.

▪ Last Sunday at Buffalo, the Saints rushed for 298 yards and set a franchise record with six rushing touchdowns in a 47-10 rout of the counterfeit Bills.

▪ Now the Saints (7-2) are part of an exclusive NFL fraternity to have won seven straight games after starting 0-2, joining only the 1993 Dallas Cowboys who went on to win Super Bowl XXVIII.

▪ More importantly, perhaps, the Saints defense has risen to unthinkable heights under coordinator Dennis Allen, ranking among the NFL's top 10 in total defense and scoring defense. And to think, Allen's "Bounty Hunters,'' or "X Men'' or Dennis' Menaces,'' or whatever nickname you want to give them, lined up with only 10 players on the field against the Minnesota Vikings for the first play from scrimmage this season.

And the play only resulted in a 4-yard completion!

We should have recognized the potential for greatness way back then!

Obviously, Payton must think special teams are in need of fixing or he wouldn't be bringing in Westhoff the week before Thanksgiving. This move not only is to make repairs for the final seven games of the regular season but also the postseason. The Saints rank 30th in the NFL in punt returns and 28th in kick returns, with Tommy Lee Lewis, Tedd Ginn Jr. and Willie Snead getting the bulk of the work.

I was hoping to see rookie running back Alvin Kamara get a shot in the return game but the risk of losing him isn't worth it now that he's become such a valuable asset on offense.

Know this: Since Payton's arrival in New Orleans in 2006, the Saints have produced just seven touchdowns in the return game, only one kickoff, that by Courtney Roby during the Super Bowl XLIV season of 2009. The other six came via punt returns -- Reggie Bush (4: 3 -- 2008, 1 -- 2006), Darren Sproles (2011) and the aforementioned Marcus Murphy (2015).

But as I said don't be surprised if someone adds to the total soon, perhaps as early as between the hours of noon and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

It's kismet I tell you, kismet!

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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