With the torture of Bounty-gate firmly behind them and Sean Payton back at the helm, the New Orleans Saints are ready for a fresh start, beginning when training camp opens in Metairie, La. July 25.
Camp promises to be a busy time for The Black and Gold: players and coaches will be installing the team’s third defensive system in three years and re-adjusting to Payton’s presence, which includes his newfound love for the benefits of CrossFit. Payton personally does CrossFit several times a week at a gym in the Warehouse District not far from his home, and several players say they’ve been warned CrossFit exercises will be a part of the Saints conditioning test when players return next week.
Offensively, one of the priorities for the Saints will be addressing the ball security issues that uncharacteristically haunted Drew Brees at times last season. No. 9 refused to make excuses and never specifically addressed whether he was having to carry too much weight. It’s a question Payton is quick to answer.
“When you’re struggling like we were defensively and struggling to run the football – those are signs to point to more difficulty for the quarterback. So, hopefully we’ve got that added dimension in the running game and a more balanced attack. Hopefully we’re playing better defense. If you look back at ’06, ’09, ’10 and ’11 – we were opportunistic on defense and we had some balance to what we did. I think that’s been a good formula for us. When those get out of whack, there’s more pressure on the quarterback, and you’re asking him to do more than you want,” Payton says.
The Saints new 3-4 Defense will play a major role in determining whether the Black and Gold can make another championship run.
New Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has a depth chart built, tentatively showing who plays where and when in his system.
Some players’ roles are solidified. Expect to see Martez Wilson, Will Smith and Junior Galette at outside linebacker.
Other players will train at two positions and slide between roles.
“Akheim Hicks for example is a guy we think could play nose, but could also play an end position,” Payton explains.
The nose tackle will be a critical puzzle piece in this new defense, but Payton believes the Saints third-round pick from last year is up to the challenge:
“He looks to have the size certainly to play it – he’s going into his second year. He’s worked extremely hard and there are a lot of people who think he’s coming into his own.”
The loss of Victor Butler during OTA’s is a big blow to the Saints new defensive scheme. Butler’s torn ACL likely means he won’t see any action this upcoming season. The outside linebacker was another player Payton was eyeing to fill two roles. Now the Saints will be looking to see who else within the outside linebacker corps can succeed as a dual position player.
“We play so many snaps where we’re seeing 3 and 4 receiver sets. It gets you out of your base defense and into your sub-packages, so a lot of these outside linebackers become defensive ends in nickel situations,” Payton says.
The Saints sported the worst defense in league history last season in terms of yards allowed. A crucial reason why: a pathetic pass rush. This season, it’s a priority Payton believes can be accomplished one of two ways.
“The one -on-one battles – whether its Junior Galette or Will Smith. It can also come from pressure packages and sending more than 4 people,” he explains.
Payton was relegated to watching most of last season on television, but Cam Jordan left a big impression. Payton now projects the first-round pick from 2011 will help the Saints use both schemes to step up pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“Cam Jordan had a great year last year and rushed the passer as good as anyone did for us, so I’d like to think both things will happen for us. I think there are some young players who are developing into potentially good pass rushers and in this scheme, we’re going to have opportunities to put these guys in different positions than they were a year ago,” Payton says.