this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Additions add pop to group Brady Aymond firstname.lastname@example.org At times last season, the New Orleans Saints won in spite of their defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league against the run and forcing turnovers. But key free-agent additions ...
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Additions add pop to group
Additions add pop to group
At times last season, the New Orleans Saints won in spite of their defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league against the run and forcing turnovers. But key free-agent additions in the offseason have Saints fans thinking the defense could be a strength in 2007.
The defensive line returns intact with bookend defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant leading the way. The duo combined for 16 sacks last season with Smith (6-foot-3, 282 pounds) getting the lion's share with a career-best 10.
Grant (6-3, 290) boasted in the offseason that there was no reason those numbers couldn't improve this year.
"I think we can really combine for 30," Grant said during the team's steamy-hot stay at training camp in Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. "If we can stay healthy, we have the ability to do it. That's our goal."
As a team, the Saints combined for 38 sacks, which ranked 12th in the NFL last year. Of those, 29 were produced by the defensive line. Only one of those sacks has departed - Willie Whitehead.
But the Saints went out and added Kendrick Clancy (6-1, 305) to help spell Hollis Thomas (6-0, 306). Clancy emerged during the preseason and earned the starting job for tonight's opener against Indianapolis. Defensive tackle Brian Young (6-2, 298) missed all of the preseason with a broken foot, but has been cleared and will start against the Colts.
Antwan Lake (6-4, 308) will back up Young at defensive tackle while Rob Ninkovich (6-2, 252) and John Cooper (6-3, 285) will be the backup defensive ends.
All three members of the linebacking corps, self-nicknamed the "Snow Patrol," return after a productive 2006 season.
Leading tackler Scott Shanle (6-2, 245) is back at weakside linebacker while Scott Fujita (6-5, 250) will line up at strong side. Shanle finished with 98 total tackles in the regular season while Fujita had 96 tackles.
Mark Simoneau (6-0, 245) returns in the middle of the 4-3 alignment. He's survived a scare from offseason acquisition Brian Simmons (6-3, 244), for now.
Alfred Fincher (6-1, 238) and Troy Evans (6-3, 238) will provide depth at the outside backer positions.
"We're better off at the linebacker position than we were last year at this point," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We've added depth to that position that I think will help us."
The biggest weakness of the Saints last year was a much-maligned secondary, which picked off only 11 passes, tied for 28th in the league.
The coaching staff addressed those concerns in the offseason, bringing in cornerback Jason David of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, along with veteran safety Kevin Kaesviharn. In the draft, the Saints used their second-round pick to take Kent State's Usama Young.
David is currently slated to start opposite Mike McKenzie at cornerback, meaning Fred Thomas will likely see most of his action in the nickel role.
With the Colts last season, David recorded 55 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups. In his three-year career, he had 147 tackles and eight interceptions.
Second-year safety Roman Harper is back after starting five games as a rookie in 2006. Harper had made an immediate impact on the defense before being lost for the season with a knee injury in week five.
Despite only playing five games, Harper still finished with 32 tackles, one sack, two PBUs and one forced fumble.
Third-year player Josh Bullocks gets the nod at free safety ahead of Kaesviharn. Bullocks recorded 95 tackles last season to go along with two interceptions, 10 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Veteran Jay Bellamy will back up Harper at strong safety while rookie draft pick Young will back up McKenzie at cornerback.
The punting will once again be handled by Steve Weatherford, who averaged 43.8 yards per punt as a rookie. And adding a big boost in special teams will be the addition of the strong leg of kicker Olindo Mare.
Mare led the NFL in touchbacks last season with a career-high 24. Since 1999, 126 of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks.
A big concern for the Saints this year is the return game. Lance Moore is expected to replace Michael Lewis in the primary role, but struggled in the preseason. Reggie Bush is expected to see some time at punt returner. Backup tailback and special teams captain Aaron Stecker, Moore and undrafted free agent Pierre Thomas expect to battle it out for the kickoff return honors
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