Saints' depleted D-line aims to keep up pressure
METAIRIE, La. (AP)
As the Saints prepare to head to Tampa Bay this Sunday, they're eager to see if the opening week success of their four-man pass rush becomes a two-week trend.
One problem is that their numbers are down because of injuries to several linemen, meaning a shorter rotation of players will have more snaps in what could also be energy-sapping conditions in Florida.
Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley (right calf), defensive end Tyrunn Walker (left knee) and defensive end Glenn Foster (right ankle) did not practice Thursday, raising the likelihood that none of them will make up part of the Saints' three-man base defensive line against the Buccaneers.
''It's tough to lose those guys. You have to pick up that slack,'' second-year defensive end Akiem Hicks said, adding that he was confident remaining linemen could handle it because of how they worked on conditioning. ''I feel like the culture of our d-line has never been the type to miss out on extra work. It's all about what you do when nobody's looking.''
New Orleans also made a move to bolster its depth up front on Thursday with the re-signing of veteran Jay Richardson, who spent preseason in New Orleans and was among the Saints' final cuts.
Richardson is listed as a defensive end. He can also play outside linebacker, a position which often resembles a pass-rushing end in a 3-4 front. The Saints also still use a four-man line in certain situations.
''I know I've got to be ready for both'' positions, Richardson said. ''Whether we're in our base outside 3-4 package or whether we're in a four-man front, I've got to know the outside spots. It just depends on the flow of the game.''
While Richardson made it to New Orleans in time for Thursday's practice, it remains unclear whether he'll be active on game day.
If he is, teammates expressed confidence - based on Richardson's two sacks, two quarterback hits and fumble recovery in the preseason - that he'd handle his assignments well.
''He knows the system,'' defensive end Cam Jordan said. ''He's definitely tested, battle ready. It's not like we have to throw him into the fire. He's been there before.''
In their Week 1 win over the Falcons, the Saints sacked Matt Ryan three times and forced numerous hurried throws, including his final throw of the game, which was tipped by Kenny Vaccaro and intercepted in the end zone by Roman Harper to preserve the victory.
As the Saints try to repeat those results, the players with the biggest burden to try to clog up the inside will be Hicks, a second-year pro, and rookie John Jenkins, a third-round pick out of Georgia who wound up seeing action than expected in his regular season debut after Bunkley's first-half injury.
''Not too many rookies get an opportunity to come up and be a part of the group that I'm with,'' Jenkins said. ''I'm just going to take advantage, seize the moment.''
Head coach Sean Payton the plan going into Week 1 was already to give Jenkins substantial snaps, and when Jenkins playing time went up even more, ''he handled that role well.''
The Saints also have the ability to mix and match assignments for a lot of their bigger linemen on the three-man front, Payton noted. For example, Hicks, who is 6-foot-5 and about 330 pounds, can play nose tackle.
''We have flexibility,'' Payton said. ''All during training camp, we played a lot of those guys both at that position and at the end position.''
Notes: In addition to the defensive linemen who sat out of practice, two defensive backs - cornerback Corey White and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus - also were unable to take the field, both with ankle injuries. Abdul-Quddus was out last week as well. White played last Sunday.
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