Walking The Saints Defensive Line
By Greg Barber
It is no secret that after such an abysmal performance by the New Orleans Saints defense in 2012, new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a big job ahead of him getting players in the right places and contributing on a more consistent level. When looking at the Saints defensive unit, a good place to start is right up front with the defensive line because if they can tie up blockers, that will create freedom for the linebackers to make plays. Bear in mind that a lot of these players will be interchangeable so they will be seen playing all along the line and in various situations. In other words, being named a defensive starter on the Saints essentially does not mean the same as it does on other teams.
Now let's get started, shall we?
Cameron Jordan, LDE
Jordan was the best player on defense all season in 2012 and in 2013 I can see him as a Pro Bowler. Because teams will have to account for him, this will open up opportunities for other players on defense to make plays. He will be one of a few players on this defense that may never leave the field during a game.
Akiem Hicks, RDE
Hicks played pretty well even though he did not have a huge amount of playing time last season. He is extremely good against the run and pass, which is why I see him becoming the starting right defensive end. Even if he does not start, I believe he will get a bulk of the playing time.
Kenyon Coleman, DE
Coleman is strong against the run, but he will not beat out Hicks for the starting job. I think he will make the team and receive solid playing time, but he is there largely because of his familiarity with the defensive schemes. Being a veteran of 12 NFL seasons could very well lead to Coleman getting cut in favor of one of the younger undrafted free agents on the team.
Brodrick Bunkley, DT
Rob Ryan has found ways to make this defense work with smaller nose tackles like Bunkley, which is why I think he makes the team. I also think he will start early on in the season, but his role will diminish as the year goes on. I am expecting him to be phased out by rookie John Jenkins and second-year player Tyrunn Walker.
John Jenkins, DT
I believe Jenkins will play a significant role on this defensive line as he can stuff the run and is capable of eating up blocks, which will free up the linebackers to make some plays. I can see Jenkins playing nose tackle and defensive end, which will make him another player for the opposition to watch.
Tom Johnson, DT
Tom Johnson has a magnificent story about how he ended up with the Saints and I expect him to remain with the team and provide much-needed depth along the line.
Tyrunn Walker, DT
Walker did not get to play at all last season but he showed a knack for getting after the quarterback during the preseason. With Rob Ryan's more aggressive style, this is an enormous opportunity for Walker to get some playing time.
Glenn Foster, DE
I did not know a lot about Foster and apparently neither did the scouts until his Pro Day when he performed the drills very well. From just the first look at the game film against Ohio State, he seemed to have a knack for getting pressure on the quarterback but had trouble against the run. Overall, I think he has potential to become a good player and if possible, the team can put him on the practice squad for a season.
Jay Richardson, DE
Richardson has been in the league for four years (three of them with the Raiders). He has had some playing time in the league but his chances of making the team are remote in my opinion.
Doubting they make the team until we see them in pads:
Baraka Atkins, DE
Atkins has been a journeyman in his career with virtually no playing time to speak of.
Isaako Aaitui, DT
Aaitui is in the same boat as Atkins. He has only been on a couple of practice squads for the Dolphins and the Jets.
Overall, because of the versatility of the players as well as Rob Ryan's schemes, the defensive line should be considerably improved compared to last season and if that is the case, the defense will greatly improve as a whole. Stay tuned for the next article as I examine the Saints linebackers.