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2009 The Dawn of a New “D” Part 2

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Over this and the next 2 installments I will break down my thoughts on the defense, area by area starting with the defensive line then I will follow up with the linebackers and secondary over the next 2 articles.

Last year our defensive line came under a lot of criticism and still is because of the lack of a pass rush, but the ones who are saying these things are taking a narrow view of the subject. So let’s take a broader view of the defensive line here.

Defensive Ends: This group was disappointing last year but there were a few factors that attributed to this. First were injuries, Will Smith played the year with a sports hernia and this was a major hindrance for him, but look for him to be back 100% as he had this corrected and is almost fully recovered from it. I expect Smith to end up somewhere around 10-12 sacks this year pending him and Grant win their appeal over the star caps debacle.

Charles Grant was actually having a solid season before he went down mid season with a triceps tear look for him to be back to 100% also. Looks for Grant to be in the neighborhood of 6-8 sacks this year and continue to be strong against the run.

Now throw in our sack specialist Bobby McCray who had 6 sacks last year and Jeff Charleston who was a very pleasant surprise totaling 4 sacks as our 4th DE. McCray a very athletic and fast DE should benefit from the changes this year and look for him to be in that 8-10 sack range. Charleston may actually have a battle for a roster spot on his hands with a few new comers.

One of these is a returning face to the team in Rob Ninckovich who was originally drafted by us in the 5th round of 2006 but spent the past 2 years with the Dolphins after being claimed off waivers in 2007. The staff really likes his potential as another pass rushing specialist who is extremely aggressive and quick.. Another is 10 year veteran Paul Spicer with whom Greg Williams has some experience with; Spicer is a versatile player who can play either defensive or defensive tackle. Look for Spicer’s versatility to keep him around as the 9th defensive lineman.

Others on the roster are Josh Savage who has spent most of his career as a practice squad player and undrafted free agent Jeremy Parnell who played 4 years of basketball but only 1 year of football at the collegiate level.

Defensive Tackles: This is an area of some concern, not because of lack of talent but lack of depth. Back are returning starters Sedrick Ellis who had a very solid rookie season and the underrated Kendrick Clancy. Look for these two to start the season and have very productive years. Expect Ellis to have 4-6 sacks and Clancy will be the primary run stuffer.

Behind them in depth we have acquired free agent Rod Coleman who under Johnson in Atlanta was the NFL’s sack leader at the defensive tackle position. Coleman who spent 2008 off the field rehabbing an injury now comes into camp at a 100% recovered. The biggest question mark will be how fast he can shake off the rust and will he stay healthy, if he does he will provide a quality backup plus be a mentor to our younger tackles.

DeMario Pressley is our 4th defensive tackle after spending his rookie season on the IR list, looks to make an impact this year. Once a top recruit out of high school he struggled in college with injuries, while none were major they were nagging and he had trouble shaking them. I believe part of the reason the Saints placed him on IR for a fractured foot (which was a 6 week injury) was not to only recover from the foot injury but to finally get to 100% health and they got their wish Pressley is 100% and we will finally see how talented this kid really is. Look for him to become a solid rotational guy right away.

Remi Ayodele who is our biggest tackle split time last season between the active roster and the practice squad, look for him to return to the practice squad for 2009 and undrafted rookie Earl Heyman looks to be a project at best but most likely will end up being a camp body.

Beyond all this we need to look at the most important factor for 2009 are our new defensive coordinator Greg Williams and defensive line coach Paul Johnson. Gone are Gary Gibbs and his Read and React and Containment Blitz schemes, both of which should go the way of the Prevent Defense and become extinct. Under Gibbs the opposing offenses were allowed to control the tempo but not anymore, Greg Williams will run and aggressive blitzing scheme that controls the tempo of the offense.

The biggest benefit we will have from Williams and Johnson may not even be the new scheme but a new attitude. The defensive players will be motivated better than at anytime under Gibbs and that my fellow Saints fans will make a huge difference.

Here is a look at opening day depth for the defensive line. (this is assuming Smith and Grant win their appeal over the Star Caps suspension)

LDE Charles Grant, Bobby McCray, Paul Spicer
LDT Kendrick Clancy, DeMario Pressley
RDT Sedrick Ellis, Rod Coleman
RDE Will Smith, Jeff Charleston

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