With the New Orleans Saints’ OTAs getting underway last week, the Saints begin their march to what they hope is another Super Bowl title. This offseason is the first one since their last Super Bowl that isn’t laden with off-the-field distractions, contract impasses, or labor disputes. One can go as far as to say things in New Orleans are for once “normal”. This season, unlike most seasons, will feature a handful of new guys, by way of the draft or free agency, who will be expected to come in and make an impact immediately.
The most important of the new guys is Kenny Vaccaro, the first round safety out of the University of Texas. The Saints are different than most teams in that it is very unusual for their first round picks to make huge impacts in their first year. Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins, both first round secondary players like Vaccaro, played sparingly in their first season. However, Vaccaro is different; Rob Ryan will not spoon feed him. Ryan will demand a lot from the versatile safety in a defensive system that is predicated on players playing many positions. Vaccaro will be expected to do what Roman Harper couldn’t: hold down the back end of the defense. In addition, he will be asked to man up slot receivers and tight ends and be an enforcer in run game. If the Saints do see a dramatic improvement in their defense it will be spearheaded by Kenny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro won’t be doing this alone. The Saints were at the bottom of the league in sacks and will need a pass rush to help him. This is where newly acquired linebacker Victor Butler comes in. Playing under Ryan’s system in Dallas will prove to be advantageous as Butler will likely come in and start at one of the outside linebacker positions. Butler’s experience is limited since he was sitting behind Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, two pro bowl caliber players. However, what Butler will bring is great athleticism and instincts. Ryan will expect Butler to be the pass rushing aficionado that every 3-4 defense needs, racking up sacks and causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Drew Brees is a very good one when he is upright, which will be a point of emphasis this season. The left tackle position is up in the air and there is a chance that third round rookie Terron Armstead might have the responsibility of protecting Brees’ blindside. The Arkansas Pine-Bluff product is yet another small school, mid to late round lineman looking to make an impact a la Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, and Jermon Bushrod. Armstead dazzled scouts at the combine with his athleticism posting the best 40 time, vertical jump, and broad jump among lineman. Though experts say he might not be ready to this year, there is a chance that he will have to be as he competes with fourth year player and oft-injured Charles Brown, and newly signed free agent and first round disappointment Jason Smith. If Armstead does win the job, there will be an overwhelming amount of pressure as defenses will target the rookie constantly. However, he will have the help of one of the best guard tandems in the league in Evans and Ben Grubbs.
Vaccaro, Butler, and Armstead won’t be the only ones who need the step up for the Saints to be successful this season. However, these three players do represent the three things that any team needs to do to prosper; protect the passer, rush the passer, and limit big plays on the back end. And it will be interesting to see the three biggest responsibilities fall into inexperienced hands on a team that is looking for its second Lombardi trophy. However, with Sean Payton back at the helm, no matter who plays these positions, they will be ready to come in, contribute, and succeed.