With the New Orleans Saints slated to have veterans report to training camp July 25, the preseason molding of the roster will have officially begun. Starting with 90 players and having an eventual goal of a 53-man roster by the beginning of the season, I believe head coach Sean Payton and his staff will have three main areas of concern. In the first of a three-part series, I highlight perhaps the biggest area of concern for Payton and the Saints heading into the 2013 season — the defense.
Following the blunder that was last year’s defensive effort, Steve Spanuolo is out and wild-haired Rob Ryan and his new 3-4 scheme are in. Ryan brings with him a past history of mostly average to mediocre numbers, but it will be hard to do worse than the 7,042 yards that the Saints’ defense allowed last season. Ryan also brings with him a certain energy and flair that will hopefully resonate with the players and bring back some of the swagger from years past.
Although New Orleans’ defense will be adjusting to a new scheme and working things out, some have wondered whether the Saints have the right personnel for the 3-4 scheme to be successful. After outside linebacker Victor Butler went down with an ACL injury in an OTA session last month, that left Will Smith, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson to fill his spot.
Smith had been a 4-3 defensive end his whole career and doesn’t necessarily fit into the outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Galette and/or Wilson better fit the mold and will likely see increased reps and time in that position. My guess is that Galette will ultimately win the spot, having shown athletic moves to get at the quarterback and acquire 9.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Nose tackle will be a position to pay attention to as well. Rookie John Jenkins, a behemoth of a man standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 359 pounds, will likely start at that position. Any successful 3-4 defense needs a nose tackle that can occupy bodies and space on the line, so it will be crucial for the Saints rookie to step up and produce.
And finally, how will the Saints’ secondary shape up? Safety Roman Harper and cornerback Patrick Robinson will both begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list after a disappointing season last year. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was brought in from free agency and rookie Kenny Vaccaro could see significant playing time in several of Ryan’s defensive packages.
Although the Saints’ offense is usually the most interesting to watch on the field, this year the defense is the most intriguing leading up to the beginning of the season. As training camp goes on, Saints fans should pay close attention to what’s happening. Even an average defense would do much to help the Saints get back to the Super Bowl.