New Orleans Saints Offseason Overview: Defensive Line

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IFebruary 10, 2009

After covering each unit of the offense, it's now time to move onto the defense.  While the offensive line is traditionally an anonymous group, their defensive counterparts are far from anonymity. 

A Look Back at 2008

The Saints' defensive line is a microcosm of the entire organization.  The line is loaded with potential but continually fails to produce big numbers. 

New Orleans has been searching for consistent pass rushers ever since 2000 when they had one of the best right sides in the NFL.  In that season, Joe Johnson and LaRoi Glover combined to record 29 sacks. 

This past season the Saints managed a grand total of 28 sacks as a team.

Will Smith, Charles Grant, Kendrick Clancy, and rookie Sedrick Ellis were the starters until Grant suffered a season-ending injury and was placed on injured reserve.  Bobby McCray filled in for Grant and recorded six sacks.

Fans have been very vocal in their disappointment with the Saints' highly paid pass rushers.  Smith and Grant have done very little to live up to their hefty contracts since the Saints run to the NFC Championship Game in 2006. 

New Orleans drafted DT Ellis in last year's draft to shore up the middle of the line.  Ellis was slowed by injuries for much of the season and missed three games.  Ellis was a disruptive force for opposing guards and centers when he was healthy. 

He is considered one of the building blocks of this defense.

The Saints did not have much to boast in terms of depth.  Except for Bobby McCray, no reserve made a significant contribution to the Saints' success. 

Josh Savage, Antwan Lake, Hollis Thomas, Brain Young, and Jeff Charleston all played mainly to just give the regulars a breather.  Charleston made the biggest contribution of the group.  He participated in the final 10 games and recorded three sacks.

A Look Forward to 2009

Perhaps the biggest acquisition the Saints will make during the entire offseason has already happened.  New Orleans fired three-year defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and hired Gregg Williams.  Williams brings experience and a proven record to the Saints.

The Saints also hired Bill Johnson as their defensive line coach.  Johnson spent six seasons as the Falcons' defensive line coach and held the same position with the Broncos for the past two seasons.

Free Agency

Looking at defensive ends, Terrell Suggs and Julius Peppers head up the free agent class.  The Saints are not going to be able to afford these high-priced commodities.   

If the Saints do pursue an end in free agency, I expect them to go after either Chaucy Davis or Ebenezer Ekuban.  Both players would at least bolster the depth chart and neither would break the bank.  Chaucy (Atlanta) and Ekuban (Denver) are both familiar with Coach Johnson.

As for the tackles, Albert Haynesworth is head and shoulders above every other free agent.  The Saints may pursue Rocky Bernard (Seattle) or Jovan Haye (Tampa Bay).


The Saints have invested over $150 million in their top three defensive linemen and cannot afford to draft another one in the first round.  If the Saints select a lineman in the draft, it will be in one of the later rounds.

Overall Outlook

If you look at most of the recent playoff teams, including this year's Steelers, they have outstanding defensive front sevens.  The Saints must improve their pass rush if they expect to compete for a playoff spot. 

New Orleans had 38 sacks when they made the playoffs in 2006.  Their line wasn't dominate, but it was respectable.

I expect Gregg Williams to make a push to bring in new talent to New Orleans and better develop the talent that they have already.