“I was very grateful that the Saints gave me a second chance, and I am taking advantage of it.”
Those are the words of Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. The lineman was suspended for the entire 2008 season after violating the substance abuse policy a second time, but ever since he got that call from the Saints in the spring of 2009, Hargrove has been moving in the right direction.
“I’m proud of him from his personal habits and the way he is living his life. We are very excited about the way he has been working. He missed a year and a half of football and for him to come out and play the way he did last year, I’d hate to know where we would be without him,” said Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson.
In 2009, Hargrove played in all 16 regular-season games with six starts. He recorded 63 tackles, 29 solo, and became a force inside as he helped the black and gold defensive line put pressure on opposing teams by posting five sacks. Hargrove finished the season with a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and returned one fumble for a touchdown in the Saints win over Carolina.
“You have to compete on every play. You can’t take plays off on Sunday’s and to see a team come out here and [compete] every day, day in and day out every play, it’s amazing, and it is a great thing to be a part of.”
In the Saints win over the Panthers, Hargrove had arguably the best game of his five year career in the NFL. Hargrove went off on the Cats from Carolina as he made four tackles, forced a fumble, recovered two fumbles and returned one for a touchdown to seal the Saints win. He was also named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The versatile linemen can play inside at DT or he can line-up at DE and put some heat on opposing quarterbacks. But Hargrove just wants to go out each week and help his team win football games.
“You know my role really has not changed that much. I’m still playing inside. I think coach [Williams] is a little bit more confident in my play inside, so they are giving me some shots in different personnel’s and different sets to see what I can do. But my role hasn’t’ changed much. It’s to be explosive and make plays.”
The Saints defense forced 39 turnovers in 2009 and led the league with seven defensive TD’s scored. Now the goals have been raised, and the 2010 black and gold defense wants to become more aggressive this season.
“We’re just trying to be a better defense. We are not focusing on just one thing. I mean numbers can lie. I thought we were very solid against the run last season. We might have given up one big run but if you look at the whole season we were good against the run.
The Saints defense was 25th overall in 2009 and 21st against the run, allowing over 122-yards per game. Hargrove says stats are one thing, but the game is all about winning.
“We played against a lot of great running backs, and even though some may have gotten 100 yards, our final statistic that matters is points on the board, and as long as we are winning I really don’t care what our stats say.”
Hargrove not only earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, but he also got good reviews from the rest of the league. Hargrove was a candidate for the 2009 NFL comeback player of the year award, and he was the only defensive player to earn a vote.
Hargrove has found the right home with coaches who know his strengths how to make him fit into the game plan.
“Greg [Williams] knows how to play to the strengths of every guy on our defense, and he is consistent day in and day out of what he wants us to do, and he does not change by schemes or what other teams do. It’s always predicated on what we do and what we do best.”
The excitement that beams from his eyes is as bright and vibrant as his smile when he’s asked about the potential of how good the Saints defense can be in 2010. The soft spoken, hard nose, aggressive defender is poised to have a breakout season.