Sizing up the Saints 'D' heading into training camp

Former Saints standout Darren Sharper thinks the team will do well under new DC Rob Ryan.

The Saints' defense is shouldering a lot of expectations: when training camp opens later this week, all eyes will be on Rob Ryan's fledgling Black and Gold version of the 3-4 scheme.


"When you start from the gutter, the only thing you can do is come up. They were in the gutter last year! They were pretty horrendous. They have nowhere to go but up," says former Saint, turned NFL Network analyst Darren Sharper.


The former safety put in 14 years in the NFL and now predicts Ryan's aggressive, attacking style will fit better in New Orleans than that of former Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo - on both sides of the ball.


"I think the switch-over to Rob Ryan will bring back some of the familiarity they had when they were winning with Gregg Williams. The players they {the Saints} have on the team are more accustomed to playing that style. Last year - Coach Spagnuolo - I have a lot of respect for him as a coordinator, but the scheme was not the right fit. Rob Ryan brings in that confidence, that swagger, that aggressive style of defense that compliments the Saints offense, which can score a lot of points. It's the perfect compliment for them," says Sharper. 


For Sharper, the Saints new defense must use training camp to accomplish two things: 1. Boost their confidence and 2. Rev up their attack mode and condition themselves to initiate more plays.


"Start to make more plays - not so much on offense, because they're doing that - but on defense. If this defense is able to make plays against Drew Brees in training camp, then they should have no worries against anyone else they play against," says Sharper.


One of Sharper's best friends and his fellow Pro Experience Football Camp instructor Roman Harper agrees - and believes getting the defense  in synch during training camp is crucial. The veteran has firm goals for what he wants to see out of training camp:


"Aggression and consistency. Two things we really didn’t have last year. We can't be up and down. We all need to be on the same page communication-wise. Hand signals. You have to learn how to work and play through noise, all the different things. We must be on the same page. It doesn't matter so much about what the exact call is anymore versus that everybody is on the same page. We can't have guys playing zone anymore and the other half playing man. That's how you get busted and give up big plays,” says Harper.

The Saints 2nd Round Draft pick in 2006 says his squad installed a large amount of Ryan’s new defensive scheme during OTA's - about 85%, according to his estimation. But now the pajama football will end and the real test begins:


"Now we've got to put on pads, and see how guys hold up. How do our young guys respond and maintain as we start to ratchet it up? We've got to stay healthy and take care of each other," Harper says.


The Saints report to training camp on Thursday, July 25 for conditioning tests. The first practice open to the public is Friday, July 26. Gates open at 8:50 am. The public portion of practice concludes at 11:50 a.m.