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Fincher looks to dominate

If he ends up starting by default for the New Orleans Saints, linebacker Alfred Fincher won’t mind.

He’s done it before in college, and with more than a little success.

“It’s funny, because I feel like I’m going through the same thing I was going through at UConn,” Fincher says. “When we first started up they were talking about the linebackers. We weren’t a good group. There was no big name, no flash things. We were just a bunch of workers, and we ended up developing into a great corps.”

Playing safety and running back during high school in Norwood, Mass., Fincher hoped his chance to play Division I college football would come with Boston College or Syracuse, but they showed little interest.

Then there was Connecticut, making the transition from I-AA to I-A and planning to join the Big East. Much better known for men’s and women’s basketball, UConn had no major football tradition and hadn’t yet built its new stadium, Fincher recalls.

Tight end Brian Kozlowski was the only former Huskie the school could point to as having a thriving NFL career with the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins.

“There was really nothing. I just had a good feeling,” Fincher recalls of why he chose UConn, adding that he liked head coach Randy Edsall and linebackers coach Todd Orlando. “I wanted to play at that level because I really felt I could.”

UConn made Fincher — who is 6-foot-1, 238 pounds and runs well — into a middle linebacker. And by the time he was a senior in 2004, he had grown from a player passed up by his preferred colleges to one getting the attention of NFL scouts.

Fincher made 140 tackles and forced five fumbles his senior year, when the Huskies surpassed the typical expectations of a fledgling I-A program and won the Motor City Bowl handily.

The Saints drafted him in the third round in 2005. And after a rookie season in which he ranked among the leaders in special team’s tackles with 14, he has regularly practiced with the first team at middle linebacker during this season’s training camp.

“It’s early now. It’s going to be a battle,” Fincher cautions. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

So does the Saints linebacker corps, which is in upheaval following a 2005 season in which the team struggled to stop the run and then jettisoned or demoted last season’s starters at that position.

As the Saints made various roster moves in rebuilding last year’s 3-13 squad, one position they decided not to fill with a big free agent or draft pick right away was middle linebacker, opening the door for Fincher, who is competing for the job with veteran Jay Foreman.

“We’re just a bunch of guys who are going to go out there and work and hopefully we can do what we’re supposed to do and win over people — show people we can just play,” Fincher said.

While coaches have yet to praise the inexperienced Fincher for his performance on the field, they do compliment his work ethic and site it as a reason he’s getting this chance.

Fincher isn’t taking his football career for granted. He lives modestly by NFL player’s standards in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain. He says he spends much of his free time enjoying his privacy and reading about how to save and invest money.

“That’s the thing a lot of people get wrong about the NFL,” said Fincher, a sociology major in college. “A lot of people think you’re a millionaire right off the bat. There’s your big money guys, but I’m just a regular guy.”

A regular guy with a chance to start in the NFL, that is.