7 New Orleans Saints Who Could Change Positions in 2012
But it is almost certain that the Saints’ defense under first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will look much different in 2012 than it did the previous three years under Gregg Williams.
Much of that will be due to him bringing in a different scheme—one which will feature much more zone coverage on the back end. But the way he uses certain players promises to be much different as well.
Here are seven players who figure to be impacted by the arrival of Spagnuolo or some other change in direction on the Saints’ roster.
Martez Wilson: OLB to DE
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Perhaps no player on this list is more obvious than Martez Wilson.
Wilson was moved at the start of OTAs to defensive end due to the Saints' defensive coaches agreeing that he had the skill set necessary to make the move. In theory, it helps weed out a very deep linebacker core while improving the depth on a relatively thin defensive end unit.
But with Wilson's burst and strength, he can be an effective situational pass rusher while still providing the ability to cover people in the open field in other packages.
Most likely, Wilson will not become exclusively a defensive end but will be used in a variety of roles. And that would seem to suit him just fine.
Chase Daniel: Place Holder to QB
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This, of course, isn't so much a position change as it is a possible depth chart change for Chase Daniel. But on June 1, it still seems rather unlikely Daniel will be running the Saints' offense come July, August and September through whenever.
It is ultimately up to Drew Brees whether Chase Daniel starts the season as the Saints' first-string quarterback. The funny thing is if Brees chooses not to play, Daniel is the Saints' only option. It is a no-brainer that he would become The guy for the Saints.
There's a lot at stake in the next few weeks for Brees and the Saints' personnel brass trying to get a long-term deal done.
And probably no one is as nervous about this as Chase Daniel.
Malcolm Jenkins: FS to Hybrid DB
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For Malcolm Jenkins' first three years in the NFL, he was playing out of position. In his rookie campaign he was playing corner. Unfortunately, that position wasted Jenkins' amazing blitzing ability and run stopping acumen.
Then in years two and three, Gregg Williams and the Saints placed him in deep center field and asked him to read the quarterback's eyes and react. That was something he was never truly comfortable with, and it showed. He struggled to some degree with that.
Finally, Jenkins has a defensive coordinator wise enough to put him where he needs to be. On most downs, Jenkins will line up approximately 10 yards from the ball still at safety. But in Spags' defense, there is no distinction from free safety and strong safety. There are simply two safeties (sometimes three in sub-packages).
This will allow both Jenkins and Harper to play pass first and come up quickly for run support. And it will make their safety blitzes more effective.
In sub-packages, Jenkins will be used as a nickel corner sometimes, while also being asked to blitz and play zone coverage on the back half.
For a player with such a variant skill set, it will be freeing, one would think, for Jenkins to finally have a coach who knows how to use him.
David Hawthorne: MLB to OLB
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David Hawthorne was the starting middle linebacker for a decent Seattle Seahawks defense in 2011. When he made the choice to come to New Orleans, he knew he would likely be changing positions to play on the outside in Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3 defense.
In the team's organized team activities, Hawthorne has been lining up on the weak side in the over/under alignments. Meanwhile, in nickel sets he is likely to stay on the field with Curtis Lofton to provide more athleticism and coverage abilities in that package.
It should all add up to a more athletic linebacking core, especially when Jonathan Casillas and Martez Wilson are playing one of the linebacker spots.
Cameron Jordan: Nickel DE to Nickel DT
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In the Saints' nickel packages, Cameron Jordan is pretty much a sure thing to move inside. He and Will Smith will bring quickness and burst to the pass-rushing scheme when they play on the interior in nickel situations.
According to cbssports.com's Scott Holder, the Saints' tried this out in their Thursday A.M. OTA practice. This alignment allows the Saints to get their four best pass rushers in the game at the same time.
Don't expect the Saints to go to this in third-and-short situations though as it greatly diminishes the run defense. It should only be used in third- or fourth-and-long, or -medium.
This switch should aide Jordan, who played a five-technique defensive end spot at Cal, by making him feel more comfortable rushing from an interior position. He was very productive at Cal, and this move figures to accentuate what he does well.
Patrick Robinson: Nickel Corner to Starting Corner
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Say what you want about Patrick Robinson, and much has been, but the kid came on at the end of last year and showed the Saints they could afford to lose Tracy Porter (at least the front office came to that conclusion).
He excelled later on in the year at covering opposing team's toughest receivers. Plus, he's finally going through a full off-season (for any first or second-year players in 2011 this is their first full off-season) which should allow him to grow even more than he has.
With that said, the Saints are expecting Robinson to make the jump from nice nickel corner to good starting corner in 2012. He should be aided by the Saints' new defensive scheme as well, which puts a premium on zone coverages.
In college at Florida State, Robinson was a guy who struggled in covering way off the receiver (something he was asked to do often his first two years with the Saints). Now he'll be allowed to get up in the receiver's face and jam him and redirect him, then simply trail him while keeping his eyes on the quarterback and making himself alert of any receivers flowing into his zone.
Not only will this cause Robinson to be more effective as a cover guy, but it should also free him up to make more plays on the football. That's something we know he is good at and something the Saints need to get more of from their defense as a whole.
Robinson's insertion in the lineup (and I can't believe I'm saying this) may be the best move the team made all off-season. Aside from bringing in Steve Spagnuolo, that is.
Darren Sproles: Losing Returner Job to Joe Morgan
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In 2011, the New Orleans Saints' return game was relatively average. Too often the Saints would start drives inside their own 20-yard line. While that is okay for an offense as explosive as the one featured in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in 2011, it won't work for the 2012 squad which will rely on more of the ground game and possibly on Chase Daniel.
That is why Darren Sproles could be dropped from the returner position. He needs the rest to carry the ball and run routes all day on offense. And his aggressiveness on the return team began to hurt the team as the year went on.
Joseph Morgan can effectively replace him. Granted, it was preseason, but Morgan lit up opposing coverage teams in the 2011 preseason before he was placed on IR with a torn meniscus prior to the start of the regular season.
With Morgan taking the reps as a returner, he provides a litany of possibilities on the return team. Each time he touches the ball, the Saints have a chance to score. But we can only hope he won't feel the need to take the ball out from nine yards deep in the end zone as Sproles did a year ago.
But this move is in no way a negative reflection on Sproles' abilities as a returner. It is simply another way to get a talented player touches while maximizing Sproles' energy for the offensive snaps he receives.