Although he’s taking plenty of heat for New Orleans fielding the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense, new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo deserves credit for one significant accomplishment.
The change to Spagnuolo’s scheme has not only helped Cameron Jordan lead all NFL defensive linemen in tackles with 20 through the first three games. It also kept Jordan from heading down a road that wouldn’t have allowed the 2011 first-round draft pick to fulfill his vast potential.
As he prepared for Sunday’s game between the Saints and host Green Bay Packers (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX), Jordan admitted to FOXSports.com that his rookie season left much to be desired professionally and personally.
The No. 24 overall pick in 2011, Jordan started 15 games under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Jordan, though, felt pigeonholed in what was almost exclusively a run-stuffing role after being an every-down college player at Cal.
Benched in passing situations when Williams shifted to a three-man line, Jordan said video study he did began to focus only on the offensive lineman aligned directly in front of him rather than seeing how the entire blocking scheme worked.
Off the field, Jordan had more difficultly making the adjustment to pro football while living away from his family. He spent more time doing rookie errands for the Saints’ veteran defensive linemen than pressuring quarterbacks.
"Taking pads in, doing this and that, every day, they’re always some sort of nagging responsibility," Jordan said. "You’re part football player, part maid, part man-servant."
Jordan’s frustration trickled down to his workouts. He gained roughly 15 pounds and weighed 300 when the season ended with a second-round playoff loss to Detroit.
"Halfway through the season, it was like, ‘I’m going to be stuck in this role, I’m going to hit somebody in the mouth (on running plays). I don’t need to worry about pass rush anymore,’" Jordan said. "It was a bitter moment."
That bitterness is gone now thanks to far greater responsibilities under Spagnuolo.
Trying to emulate the "NASCAR" pass rush that proved successful in his days with the New York Giants, Spagnuolo is moving Jordan across the entire defensive line seeking mismatches. At 6-foot-4 and a slimmed-down 285 pounds, Jordan is fast enough to disrupt plays in the backfield and even drop into coverage while also still proving stout against the run.
"It’s awesome to be able to have the trust from the coaches to be able to do all these positions," he said.
Jordan earned that trust through more video study that has yielded greater understanding of how offenses are trying to attack New Orleans. Jordan and his fellow Saints defensive linemen also watched video of the Giants’ front four during the offseason to see what Spagnuolo wants to accomplish.
Jordan said he stopped viewing the footage before training camp began.
"Everyone has comparisons of what I could be or can do," said Jordan, whose potential has drawn favorable correlations to Giants standouts like Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. "It’s more along the lines of, ‘What do our coaches think I can do now?’"
The answer is plenty based on how he’s being used.