Saints' new defense shines during scrimmage
The defense overhauled by new coordinator Rob Ryan in New Orleans is showing early promise, compiling five sacks and three turnovers during a scrimmage on Saturday.
Fourth-year pro Junior Galette, converted from a defensive end to an outside linebacker in Ryan's 3-4 scheme, was credited with two of five sacks, one each against Drew Brees and Luke McCown.
Veteran cornerback Chris Carr, lured as a free agent to New Orleans - in part by Ryan, his former coach - intercepted a pass by rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin. He nearly had another interception on a pass-breakup, and created another turnover when he tipped McCown's pass intended for Nick Toon into the arms of linebacker David Hawthorne.
''Defensively, we made some good plays,'' coach Sean Payton said. ''"I was pleased with the turnovers. That is something that we have been emphasizing. ... We rushed the passer well.''
Ryan said he wasn't surprised to see a standout performance by Galette.
''He's doing that every day,'' Ryan said.
Galette could start at outside linebacker because of a major offseason knee injury to Victor Butler, who had been a projected starter.
''The only thing with Junior is going to be his stamina, because he's so excitable, he's such a fierce competitor,'' Ryan said. ''We've just got to keep him playing like a professional because he's going to be outstanding.''
Ryan also boasted about Carr's performance.
''I called that one. He's a pro,'' Ryan said. ''I coached this guy a lot of years in Oakland. ... He's so smart.''
Rookie outside linebacker Eric Martin, who has won coaches' praise early in camp, had a sack on McCown and caused a turnover when he stripped running back Mark Ingram from behind and safety Rafael Bush recovered.
On the play after his fumble, Ingram appeared wrong-footed on pass protection moments before right defensive end Jay Richardson, who had beaten rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, chased down McCown for a sack.
Despite those lowlights for Ingram, the former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner had a decent outing that helped showcase the results of Payton's renewed emphasis on improving the running game, which ranked 25th last season.
Ingram rushed three times for 17 yards on the first-team offense's first series, with rushes of 10 and 5 yards before powering his way in from the 2.
Pierre Thomas gained 28 yards on only three carries, one of them a 17-yard gain around the left end in what was one of the first true tests of the running game after eight days of training camp in which contact was limited.
''The (offensive) line's looking great,'' Ingram said. ''They're getting push off the line of scrimmage and making seams for us to run through. That just says a lot about how much we've been emphasizing the running game in training camp. ... Finally we came out here in the scrimmage. It was a tackling, football tempo, and we were able to move the football on the ground.''
Left tackle Charles Brown, the leading candidate to fill the vacancy created by three-year starter Jermon Bushrod - now with Chicago - had a solid day. None of the sacks came from his side while he was working with the first team.
''He's done a great job,'' Brees said of Brown. ''He's been solid all camp.''
The lone sack against Brees came on Galette's blitz up the middle.
Second-year defensive tackle Akiem Hicks also had a sack on McCown.
Brees did not connect on any touchdown passes or throws deep down field in limited work, but turned in a typically efficient performance, finding open receivers on medium and short routes, particularly on the opening, 13-play touchdown drive. He finished 8 of 11 for 60 yards.
The only other offensive touchdown came on Griffin's throw to the corner of the end zone off of scramble, which reserve fullback Austin Johnson pulled down in tight coverage.
Notes: WR Joe Morgan limped to the training room with an apparent left knee injury after a short reception on which he was dragged down by rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro. ... RB Travaris Cadet left the scrimmage with an undisclosed injury after a special teams play. ... Payton declined to discuss injuries, saying he would not have an update until after the next practice on Monday, but both Morgan and Cadet later wrote on Twitter that they were OK. ... Morgan also wrote on Twitter that fans should not blame his injury on Vaccaro, a first-round pick who has made an impression with his physical play early in camp. During the scrimmage, Vaccaro finished a tackle on Ingram that left the running back flat on his back after whistles had started blowing. Later, Vaccaro was covering WR Andy Tanner when the receiver went down away from the play, apparently with pain near his right shoulder. Brees trotted over to talk to Vaccaro after the play. ''I was just walking over to see what happened,'' Brees said. ''Obviously we're trying to take care of our guys out here. We're not trying to get anybody hurt.'' ... Payton flew to Canton after the scrimmage for the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction of Bill Parcells, under whom Payton served as offensive coordinator in Dalllas. ''When someone that is close to you, or someone that has been a part of your career, is going into the Hall of Fame, it is pretty special,'' Payton said. ''Bill was someone that really helped me a lot in my career. To this date, I talk with him pretty frequently.''