It was evident looking back last year or even the previous one ,that the New Orleans Saints were a bit sporadic when it came to putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
At times it appeared that players like Arizona Cardinals signal caller Carson Palmer, who isn’t the shiftiest or most nimble guy, could sit back and leisurely read the morning newspaper while the Saints defensive line appeared to be running in place, struggling to get to him.
Remember when your older sibling or that kid in school who was held back two grades so they towered over everyone, would hold you back with one arm as you relentlessly huffed, puffed, spun, dipped, and jumped to get around them when you were horse-playing or at P.E.?
As you stepped back almost fixing to pass out, you looked at them and they were barely breaking a sweat and had a grin on their face that simply begged you to try again.
Nov 15, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reacts on the sidelines against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Well, that was the pass rush threat that the Saints defensive front had on most teams last year: A valiant effort with embarrassing results.
To be fair it was doomed from the start as former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was a “dead man walking” — only we just didn’t know it yet.
Ryan was desperately trying to find anything that worked; and much like what happened with the shuffling along the offensive line, there wasn’t really anything consistent.
Newly crowned defensive coordinator Dennis Allen recently said in an interview during the draft that the style of defense people would see from the Saints would be one that is “attacking, aggressive, and goes after the football.”
Allen was with the Saints as their secondary coach during another defensive coordinator’s tenure who ran a similar style which was Gregg Williams; and it helped get them a Super Bowl and within an arm’s reach of another one.
With Williams’ defense, he relied on some castaway players along the defensive line like Bobby McCray and Anthony Hargrove; combined with premium starters such as defensive end Will Smith.
Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) celebrates a defensive play against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Current defensive end Cameron Jordan is in the same position now being the most valued and productive player at his position with the Saints, and needs not only the right pieces but ones with the right mindset.
The Saints will have plenty of options to do that with the players they currently have and brought in during free agency, as well as the draft.
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I look for Bobby Richardson and Kasim Edebali to battle it out for the left end spot, opposite Jordan along with two others that showcased some of their potential in Hau’oli Kikaha and Obum Gwacham.
There has been much discussion in particular that Kikaha could be the favorite to take the left end position; but it remains to be seen if he can handle the run responsibilities as well as he does with the rush.
Kikaha and Gwacham may be considered “too small” to man the end position (both listed as 246 pounds) but they could be used in some way shape or form in generating some much needed heat on the quarterback.
Two recently drafted players, defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata, could give the Saints the push up the middle that they have been lacking for some time as well.
Nov 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Nathan Peterman (4) runs with the ball as Louisville Cardinals defensive end Sheldon Rankins (98) defends during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Carolina Panthers defense thrived off the disruption that their two inside lineman — DT’s Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei — caused by giving opposing quarterbacks zero chance to step up into the pocket which resulted in sacks and hurried throws.
WWL 870 AM’s local draft and NFL analyst Mike Detillier actually compared Rankins to Short in his ability to be a shifty, quick tackle who excelled as a pass rusher and stopping the run.
While Onyemata’s status has been called a project or long way away from playing by most analysts, general manager Mickey Loomis said he expects immediate contribution from him.
I made a prediction on the Saints Nation podcast Thursday evening with Brian Pavek and Patrick O’Rly that Onyemata would become a starter at defensive tackle for the upcoming season.
I was just like everyone and a little concerned when I heard the word “project” when he was drafted; but after watching footage of him playing it certainly makes you take notice of his quickness and ability to manhandle offensive lineman.
Jan 23, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; West Team defensive end Ebuka D. Onyemata (97) defends against East Team quarterback Jake Rudock (10) during the second half of the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field. West Team beat the East Team 29-9. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
He also looks to be able to handle defensive end duties and although still a bit unrefined in that area, with the right coaching he should be able to get even better.
One fact that I absolutely love that works in his favor is that in Canadian football defensive lineman have to line up one yard off the line of scrimmage.
Now Onyemata will line up on the line of scrimmage so with his initial quickness he should be able to win more than his fair share of battles.
Second year tackle Tyeler Davison, who showed some real good performance last season, is expected to be a presence among these big bodies; along with veterans like John Jenkins and Nick Fairley.
Two undrafted free agent that the Saints are bringing in this weekend to rookie mini-camp intrigue me a bit as far as helping the pass rush in former Alabama defensive end D.J. Pettway and Tulane hybrid end/linebacker Royce LaFrance.
Pettway is actually signed and on the Saints roster currently while LaFrance is said be brought in strictly as an invite.
Sep 20, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker D.J. Pettway (57) pressures Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) for an incomplete pass in the second quarter of their game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
In Detillier’s “Draft Report 2016” he had Pettway ranked as his #20 defensive end, and glowed over his ability to not only stop the run but be a pass rusher as well; as he had tallied 48 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in the Crimson Tide rotation.
Likely what knocked Pettway down was his dismissal from the team prior to the 2013 season when he was charged for his alleged involvement in several robberies, but was eventually cleared of those charges.
He ended up playing at East Mississippi Junior College during 2013 and tallied 45 tackles with 18.5 for a loss and 11.5 sacks before returning to Alabama in 2014.
At 6’2 and 270 pounds, not only is Pettway fast (4.99 40 yard dash) but it’s noted that he can play all along the defensive line and as Detillier put it, “is one tough hombre to move off center.”
LaFrance will get his shot to see if he can turn his hybrid position into something of value for the Saints to either play defensive end or at outside linebacker which he reportedly worked on leading up into the draft process.
Oct 11, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Connecticut Huskies running back Max DeLorenzo (44) is tackled in the end zone for a safety by Tulane Green Wave defensive end Tyler Gilbert (43) and defensive end Royce LaFrance (48) in the second half at Yulman Stadium. Tulane defeated Connecticut 12-3. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
During his four years at Tulane he split time at both positions, finishing out his college career playing end and totaled 121 tackles with 35.5 for a loss, 19 sacks, nine passes defended, and three forced fumbles.
According to the NOLA.com, the 6-foot-3, 260 pound LaFrance helped improve his stock at Tulane’s Pro Day by performing defensive line drills as well as showing he can drop into coverage and ended up posting a 40 yard dash that was said to be as low as a 4.63 by some scouts.
Although he’s strictly on an invite, I like the versatility LaFrance brings if he can stick around following mini-camp.
Also while on the podcast Thursday night, Brian Pavek reminded me of a player I had really forgot about in 2015 fifth round pick Davis Tull — who although is listed as a linebacker, could be used as a situational pass rusher for the Saints.
Aug 3, 2015; White Sulphur Springs, WV, USA; New Orleans Saints linebacker Davis Tull (55) watches during training camp at The Greenbrier. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports
Tull was the leading Southern Conference sack leader with 37 coming out of Tennessee-Chattanooga as well as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year three times in a row, so hopefully he should be healthy after being placed on injured reserve before the season started last year.
While those are a lot of bodies to our eye, there is a certain fit that the Saints will have to intertwine between all of them to generate the perfect storm.
But the great thing is that they won’t be without plenty of options heading into 2016…