New Orleans Saints Offseason Overview: Secondary
The words "beat deep" and "heart-breaking" have been often used to describe the Saints secondary over the past two seasons.
From the Colts abuse of Jason David during the 2007 season opener to Steve Smith's 39-yard catch to set up Carolina's game-winning field goal in the 2008 finale and everything in between, New Orleans has lost countless close games because their defensive backs have allowed game-changing plays by opposing wide receivers.
A Look Back at 2008
When discussing the Saints defensive backs, it is fair to place some of the blame on injuries. The Saints didn't have a single cornerback who played every game. Starters Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter both missed over half the season with injuries.
David has received a bulk of the blame for the Saints' defensive woes, but some of it is unwarranted. The Saints secondary as a whole only intercepted 12 passes in 2008, and the safeties were often caught out of position. David actually led the team with five picks.
Much of the blame goes to safeties Roman Harper, Josh Bullocks, and Kevin Kaesviharn. Harper excels in the box and is one of the Saints' top tacklers, but he and the other safeties are liabilities in pass coverage.
Bullocks has not proven to be more than a back-up in the NFL, and Kaesviharn has shown that his six interception season in his final year with the Bengals was more of a fluke than something to be expected on a yearly basis.
A Look Forward at 2009
In this day and age of many teams using three-wideout sets more than half the time, it is important to have a legitimate number one cornerback who can cover the league's elite receivers. The Saints don't have one of those proven cornerbacks.
Second-year pro Tracy Porter showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie but only played in a handful of games before injuring his wrist and missing the final 11 game of the season.
Randall Gay, Usama Young, and Jason David help inject some youth at cornerback, but only Gay has shown that he can be a full-time starter.
Mike McKenzie's best days are behind him and is scheduled to make nearly $4.5 million in 2009. The Saints should think about restructuring his contract or cutting ties with him.
New Orleans may want to consider using their first-round pick on one of the top college corners. Vontae Davis showed at the combine that he is the best athlete among defensive backs.
Free agent veterans Chris McAlister, Dre Bly, and Patrick Surtain are available but may be too expensive for the Saints to consider seriously. Jabari Greer or Philip Buchanon may be cheaper options.
As for the safety position, the Saints need to add a player who can start at free safety and a player who can at least give quality depth at strong safety.
A look at the draft reveals that there aren't any safeties worthy of being selected in the first round. Perhaps Malcolm Jenkins, who ran slowly at the combine, can be converted to a free safety.
Unfortunately, there are few free safeties that are free agents. Brian Dawkins and Mike Brown are the best available free safeties, but given Dawkins' age and Browns' durability issues, the Saints should steer clear of those players.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams uses an aggressive scheme that sometimes asks players to cover on an island. The Saints need to improve their defensive backfield at both cornerback and safety.
The Saints' biggest need in the secondary is a free safety who can make plays and won't get beat deep.
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