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Saints defense trying to match prolific offense

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Brett Martel/ The Associated Press JACKSON, Miss. -- Safety Roman Harper wasn't surprised the New Orleans Saints' front office spent the offseason focused primarily on bringing in experienced defensive players. "You've got to expect that," Harper said after a recent ...

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Old 07-31-2007, 09:01 PM   #1
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Cool Saints defense trying to match prolific offense

Brett Martel/ The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. -- Safety Roman Harper wasn't surprised the New Orleans Saints' front office spent the offseason focused primarily on bringing in experienced defensive players.

"You've got to expect that," Harper said after a recent training camp practice. "The offense was No. 1 in the league. What else was holding us back? Just looking at things statistically – we were the thing that held us back."

New Orleans was 11th in the NFL in total defense last season. They were third best in the league in defending the pass, allowing about 178.4 yards per game in the air. They were 23rd against the run, allowing an average of 128.9 yards.

The Saints defense also produced only 19 turnovers, which was second-to-last in the league.

If the Saints want to make the jump from playoff team to Super Bowl champion, they'll need to improve in some of those areas, and they expect a handful of free agent acquisitions to help.

There are two new defensive backs in safety Kevin Kaesviharn and cornerback Jason David.

While playing for Cincinnati last season, Kaesviharn had an interception, was credited with 1.5 sacks and was in on nine tackles in a game against New Orleans.

David started for the Colts, with whom he earned a Super Bowl ring.

New linebackers include former Cincinnati starter Brian Simmons and former Philadelphia regular Dhani Jones.

On the defensive line, the Saints added Kendrick Clancy, who started much of last season at Arizona.

And with the return of Harper, who opened 2006 as a starter but missed most of the season with a knee injury, competition for playing time on all of the Saints' defensive units appears to be substantially tougher than it was a year ago.

"They're just trying to make moves to get better and that's what great teams do. They do a great job of getting guys in here and competing and trying to fill in spots wherever it's needed," David said. "Whenever you've got a great quarterback like Drew (Brees), you've got a chance to win the ball game and it's really up to the defense to hold its own."

Brees led an offense that averaged a league-leading 391 yards last season while producing 49 touchdowns, which tied for fourth most in the NFL. Watching their offense move the ball left Saints defenders wondering how many more yards and points the Saints could have earned if the defense had produced a few more turnovers.

In practices, defensive players have been swarming to and pouncing on every loose ball, even incomplete passes, in order to make getting their hands on the ball second nature. When defenders let would-be interceptions slip through their grasp, they drop to the field and do a few push-ups, something defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs said players began doing on their own.

Linemen and linebackers are getting their hands up, trying to tip balls.

David said the type of defense the Saints' secondary plays – a lot of man-to-man with defenders' backs to the ball until the last possible moment -- makes it difficult to make a play on the ball in the air. Therefore, they don't want to squander any opportunities for interceptions or fumble recoveries.

"The defensive players know that's something that's important to us this season, and to be a great defense, not a good defense, but a great defense, we're going to have to cause turnovers," David said.

One area where New Orleans was seen to have a lot of talent was at defensive end with Charles Grant and Will Smith. They combined for 16.5 sacks last season. Grant said they need to shoot for 30. Also back are Hollis Thomas and Brian Young on the interior of the line, with Clancy competing for time there.

Although David is not yet practicing with the first team while he learns the Saints' defensive scheme, he is expected to start unless Fred Thomas performs better during practice. Kaesviharn is battling for one of the safety spots, along with Harper and Josh Bullocks, while Mike McKenzie is expected to remain at the other cornerback spot.

The level of experience at linebacker is perhaps the biggest change from this time last season, when Scott Fujita was the only experienced linebacker working with the first team.

During the 2006 training camp, the Saints brought in Scott Shanle from Dallas. Mark Simoneau arrived from Philadelphia in a trade shortly before the regular season began. They developed a strong bond and relied on disciplined position play, hustle and good communication to compensate for any perceived lack of talent. Now, with the addition of Simmons and Jones, Gibbs is not nearly as anxious about his linebacker corps as he was a year ago.

"That situation's much better," Gibbs said. "The competition's better -- the knowledge. The talent level's better, so hopefully ... that group can improve."

Fujita said he became close with Simoneau and Shanle, but that they all welcomed the added depth at linebacker.

"To me it changes everything in training camp," Fujita said. "We don't have to spend so much time in meetings just going over basic stuff over and over again. (Linebackers coach) Joe (Vitt) doesn't have to break our heads in to find out what he's got. He's got guys that he knows can play."

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