Saints’ new secondary braces for Falcons

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints cornerback Terrence Frederick and safety Pierre Warren spent offseason practices, minicamp and training camp working together in New Orleans’ defensive backfield, only to go their separate ways when the regular season started.

Frederick wound up on the Saints’ practice squad, while Warren was cut and landed on Minnesota’s practice squad.

Now they’re together again – not as reserves competing for roster spots, but as starters trying to help the Saints make the playoffs.

The pair comprises part of a secondary overhaul that got results last Monday night in Chicago, but likely will be tested much more against Atlanta on Sunday.

”Obviously, we did a lot of good things, clicking on a lot of levels. So that’s good,” Frederick said. ”We hope to carry that over against Atlanta. … We’ve just got to go out there and play ball.”

The changes in the secondary were significant, and more could be on the way because veteran strong safety Jamarca Sanford, a late-season free-agent pickup who started for New Orleans for the first time Monday, pulled his hamstring and was questionable Friday after not practicing all week.

Corey White, a healthy scratch last week, was been practicing at safety after playing cornerback most of the season.

The changes last week included moving Kenny Vaccaro from starting strong safety to a role that had him working more as a nickel back, lining up closer to the line of scrimmage and handling a variety of different coverages.

”It’s better to be able to put him in different spots,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. ”They have to be able to identify him as an offense. I think if he’s playing one spot, that strong safety, if you’re just playing a true strong safety, those guys make some tackles, but … he’s a better player. He can affect the game more in different spots. So I think you’ll see him do that, and I think it’s better for our team.”

Vaccaro played that role last season and thrived, and he said that, for now, he may still be more suited that role than being an every-down strong safety.

”The best thing I can do that a lot of people can’t do is I can play everywhere,” Vaccaro said. ”What I’ve really realized is, maybe that’s me. Maybe I’m that guy in the NFL that can do everything – and what’s wrong with that?

”I like when Rob puts me in those positions and counts on me that much and makes me step my game up so much more. I think that’s what makes me excel,” Vaccaro said. ”The position I was in last year, that’s where you want to be. You want to be that guy that he designs the whole thing around.”

In Chicago, Sanford started for Vaccaro, while Warren, who was signed off the Vikings’ practice squad in the past month, started at free safety and had two interceptions. Frederick started for Patrick Robinson, who went back to rotating in on passing downs and had an interception.

The Saints allowed 194 yards passing against the Bears, well below their average of 257.1 yards per game, which ranks 26th in the league.

But that was against struggling quarterback Jay Cutler, who has since been benched.

Things could be different against Atlanta.

Falcons receiver Roddy White was impressed by the Saints’ three interceptions in Chicago and the confidence with which they appeared to play, but added, ”I don’t know if they’ve played a group like ours yet as far as depth at wide receiver and guys we can put out there to make plays.”

When the Saints lost to Atlanta, 37-34 in overtime in Week 1, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan passed for a career-high and Atlanta record 448 yards.

This time, it’s not clear if Falcons leading receiver Julio Jones will play after sitting out last weekend and not practicing all week. But the Falcons still are likely to have White and Harry Douglass, who are both probable, on the field.

”We definitely remember what they did last time,” Saints top cornerback Keenan Lewis said. ”They definitely embarrassed us the first week,” Lewis said. ”When you’ve got pride, you know you just can’t let that happen again.”

Notes: LT Terron Armstead (neck), DE Akiem Hicks (ankle), S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) all were listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Hicks practiced on a limited basis Friday, while Armstead and Sanford missed practice.

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