The New Orleans Saints finished the 2013 season as the fourth ranked defense in the NFL. It was a complete turnaround from the previous year when the Black and Gold finished dead last as one of the worst defenses in the history of the league. Rob Ryan came in and completely reorganized the structure of the defensive side of the ball, bringing out the best in guys like DE Cam Jordan and OLB Junior Galette with a 3-4 scheme.
CB Keenan Lewis was signed and became one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL during his first season with the Saints. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was drafted and manufactured himself into a contender for defensive rookie of the year. ILB Curtis Lofton did what he does best and led the team in tackles. Just imagine adding more talent to an already exceptional defense.
Free agency was a tough time for many Saints fans after parting ways with defensive veterans like Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins. However, the NFL is a business and sometimes business decisions need to be made. By freeing up that cap space, New Orleans equipped two new weapons to their defense; they acquired an elite free safety in FS Jairus Byrd and 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
Bailey has certainly lost a step or two with age, but his leadership and experience are indisputable. Byrd, on the other hand, is still blooming and just now entering his prime. Since Byrd’s 2009 introduction to the NFL, his 22 interceptions are the most among players at his position. The Vaccaro/Byrd safety duo will be electrifying and a major threat to opposing offenses.
Rumor has it that players on the New Orleans Saints defense are dubbing themselves “Dome Patrol HD.” The Dome Patrol was the nickname of the Saints’ linebacker corps in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It consisted of OLB Rickey Jackson (6 Pro Bowls and first Saint to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame), OLB Pat Swilling (5 Pro Bowls), MLB Sam Mills (5 Pro Bowls) and MLB Vaughan Johnson (4 Pro Bowls).
With the resume of those four guys, is “Dome Patrol HD” a little farfetched? Maybe, but the reference is to the entire defense, not just the linebackers. The display of toughness, aggressiveness and physical play that the Saints’ defense conducted in 2013 gives them the right to call themselves whatever they want.
Let’s take a look at the potential starting 11 on defense for the 2014 season. Jordan, NT Brodrick Bunkley, DE Akiem Hicks, OLB Junior Galette, Lofton, ILB David Hawthorne, OLB Victor Butler, Lewis, Bailey, Byrd and Vaccaro all will be coordinated by the aggressive, yet clever Ryan.
That seems like a pretty high definition group of guys who will be patrolling the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to me. Will the New Orleans Saints’ defense live up to their name and expectations in 2014? We’ll have to wait until September to see, but odds look to be in their favor.