Saints taking steps to improve special teams

Special teams, which in the preseason seemed an area of strength, is quickly becoming a concern for Sean Payton and the Saints.

New Bodies

After a number of critical blunders on special teams, the Saints have made some changes to the backend of their roster. They’ve cut DE Chris McCain and CB Brian Dixon, both of whom featured heavily on special teams. They’ve also cut fourth-year DT John Jenkins.

McCain and Dixon have both struggled with special teams penalties throughout the season and preseason. Dixon has twice tackled a return man who had called a fair catch. No doubt those mistakes cost him his roster spot.

Sheldon Rankins’s return from IR made John Jenkins expendable. I’m sure Saints fans are happy to put his tenure in the rear-view mirror. According to Payton, the move was more about roster numbers than anything else. With LBs Nate Stupar and Craig Robertson playing a majority of defensive snaps and James Laurinaitis landing on IR, the Saints needed more special teams bodies.

They’ve now added three players, all of whom look to play on ST. They claimed Broncos TE John Phillips off waivers, then signed former Packers and Chiefs LB Sam Barrington and former Broncos safety Shiloh Keo.

Poor Play

Payton has repeatedly expressed his discontent with the way the team has performed on special teams. It’s safe to say, I think, that the least secure coaching position on the roster is special teams coach Greg McMahon.

Nov 8, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints punt returner Marcus Murphy and special teams coordinator Greg McMahon before a game against the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The problem is that the bad play has really come from all phases of ST. In the kicking game, poor protection led to a blocked FG returned for a TD that likely cost the Saints their game against the Giants.

The Saints have struggled to find a viable return man, even after drafting return ace Marcus Murphy last year. Travaris Cadet has consistently made poor decisions returning kickoffs. Not to mention De’Vante Harris’s comical blunder when he ran into Tommylee Lewis on a punt return.

Fortunately, the Saints haven’t given up any TDs in the return game. But they’ve been close. Teams are consistently finding space for nice returns, surrendering field position to a young and struggling defense that desperately needs some momentum.

Let’s hope a renewed focus on the phase will mean improvement.

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