The New Orleans Saints brought in Steve Spagnuolo to take over as their defensive coordinator a few weeks ago.
The Saints already have a talented group of players on defense, but defensive end Cameron Jordan should make leaps and bounds under Spagnuolo's guidance.
In the 2011 NFL draft, Jordan was picked late in the first round by the Saints. Throughout his rookie year, Jordan played pretty well. He improved greatly as the season went on, but still lacked in parts of his game. The most noticeable issue in Jordan's repertoire is his inability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In fact, the Saints would normally take Jordan out of the game on third downs and replace him with pass-rush specialist Junior Galette.
The Saints knew when they drafted Jordan last year that he was not known as being a guy that would put up double-digit sacks every year, but most quality ends in the NFL can at least put some pressure on the other teams.
Jordan, on the other hand, seemed nearly incapable of getting anywhere close to the quarterbacks, especially early in the year.
In 2011, Jordan only recorded one sack and that came in the last week of the regular season against the Carolina Panthers. Along with his one sack, Jordan piled up 31 tackles.
While these stats are not very impressive by any standards, we have to remember this was Jordan's rookie season. Defensive end is a position that can oftentimes take a while to transition to, despite the recent success we have seen from first-year pass-rushers.
The Saints knew that coming out of the draft Jordan would primarily be a run defender, and he did that very well later in the season. Jordan's inability to put pressure on the quarterback was somewhat covered by his skills at getting after the opposing running backs. There were many times in 2011 where Jordan was able to seal the edge, shed a blocker and make an open-field tackle on the ball-carrier.
While run-stopping abilities do make for great highlight reels, Jordan is definitely off to a good start to his NFL career.
It is obvious that at this point that Jordan needs to get better at rushing the passer.
This is where Spagnuolo comes into the picture.
Spagnuolo had a past of working with high-potential players and making them better. While with the New York Giants he was able to work with Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
I do not believe that Spagnuolo made Strahan the type of player he was because Strahan was a monster long before Spanguolo joined the Giants. However, I think Umenyiora and Tuck benefited greatly from learning under Spagnuolo. Tuck and Umenyiora are still playing great football and just helped the Giants to another Super Bowl title.
Spanguolo also helped with the development of Chris Long during his tenure with the St. Louis Rams as head coach. Long has been in the league for four years now and three of those years were spent with Spagnuolo.
How much will Cameron Jordan improve with Spagnuolo running the Saints' defense?
In 2008, Long's rookie year, he recorded four sacks. The next year Spagnuolo joined the team as head coach and every year after that he helped Long improve. In Long's sophomore year, he improved to five sacks, but he really took off in 2010 and 2011. In these two years, Long combined for 21.5 sacks.
I have no doubt Spagnuolo can help Jordan see similar improvement. We may never see Jordan putting up 16 or 17 sacks in one year, but I do believe that he could get close to 10 sacks a year with Spagnuolo running the defense.
Spagnuolo typically runs a scheme that requires pressure from his four down linemen and nothing but coverage from his defensive backs.
Jordan will immediately be expected to do more in Spag's defense and I think that could help him progress very quickly. It will become a requirement for Jordan to get constant pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
He may also benefit from the great coverage we will from the Saints' secondary and athletic corps of linebackers.
Instead of having six or seven guys blitzing on each play, we will see four linemen rush and the other seven players drop back into coverage or help in run support. This could help Jordan because the quarterback may have no where to go with the ball, resulting in some coverage sacks.
Jordan definitely has the skills to be an NFL defensive end, and has already shown he can stop the run game. Now with Spagnuolo coming into New Orleans to run the defense, Jordan may just be able to develop into one of the league's premier defensive ends.