Sharper image: Safety has been Eli's nemesis

After four games, Darren Sharper might have the statistics right now to send him to his fifth Pro Bowl.

And to think that most of the league figured he was old and finished when he languished on the free-agent market after his contract with the Minnesota Vikings expired.

That’s clearly not the case as he leads the invigorated Gregg Williams’ defense for the New Orleans Saints into Sunday’s marquee meeting with the New York Giants at the Superdome. Sharper already has five interceptions, and has returned two of them for touchdowns—97 and 99 yards. In his career vs. Eli Manning, he has four interceptions with two of them returned for scores. Sharper’s next pick will be the 60th of his 13-year career. He turns 34 in two weeks and all Williams wants to talk about is ... his tackling.

“There are a lot of people, and I’m not accusing anybody here, but there are a lot of people in the media and a lot of personnel people in the National Football League that thought he was washed up,’’ Williams said. “They didn’t think we made a very good decision bringing him here. Look how young he looks and I think as you look and see the plays he’s made, the game changing plays he’s made, I’m more proud of his tackling. I’m more proud of his contact. I’m more proud of his leadership behind the scenes. It’s very important for young Roman Harper to get a chance to play beside Darren Sharper for as long as he can play. I don’t know how much longer he can play. It’s looks like he can play for quite a while right now.’’

Williams watched after practice today as Sharper raced some of the cornerbacks on the roster, hoping the whole while his veteran wouldn’t pull up gimpy after popping a hamstring. He didn’t Sharper has a youthful approach to the game, and he’s proven to be one of the best free-agent finds as well as one of the real bargains of free agency, signing a $1.7 million, one-year contract three weeks into free agency. Sharper tried to drum up a market for himself, claiming there was interest from the Chicago Bears that didn’t actually exist. In retrospect, the Bears could have used him. He’s got to be in the running for defensive player of the year.

“The more I’m around him, the more I’m going to give him,’’ Williams said. “He’s earned it. When I say the more I’m going to give him, the more latitude I’m going to give him. Also, you can ask behind the scenes, I’m probably more brutal on him and Jonathan Vilma than anybody. The guys that are standing up in front and are the behind the scene leaders on our team, everybody needs to see how I treat them and leadership comes with a high price. Decision-making comes with a high price, so I’ve been very, very, very hard on him and he’s responded. I’m very proud of his contact and the way he’s tackling. He’s done a great job.’’

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