A quick review of last season would reveal the obvious: the Saints' defensive depth chart lacked quality, versatile players.
Yes, New Orleans was hit with a lot of injuries in 2008, especially on the defensive side, but great teams have the depth combat injuries. The defense, which was not very good to begin with, suffers even more when the starters come out.
Jonathan Vilma played every down for the Saints last season. Yes, Vilma is a great player and earned all of that playing time, but he probably could have been better utilized had the Saints' coaching staff felt comfortable enough to substitute for him for a series or two per game.
Middle linebacker is a very demanding position, and he would have been a fresher player in the final minutes of games had he been able to get rest.
The Saints have very few versatile players. Offensively, Reggie Bush can be used as a receiver, runner, and returner. Pierre Thomas is valuable in both the passing and running game, and also has a couple of good kick returns.
Defensively, Vilma is the only linebacker who is good versus the run and the pass.
The Saints seem to be following the Patriots model this offseason. They have signed and drafted a lot of quality depth along the defensive line and in the secondary, as well as in the offensive backfield.
The Saints had very little quality depth at defensive end last season, outside of Bobby McCray, and no defensive tackle played in more than 14 games.
Goodbye, injury-riddled tackles Brian Young and Hollis Thomas. Hello, Paul Spicer, who has appeared in at least 15 games in each of the past four seasons, and pro-bowler Rod Coleman.
The Saints cut ties with fan favorites Deuce McAllister and Mike Karney. McAllister was cut for injury concerns, and Karney was replaced by Heath Evans for versatility reasons.
Evans should fit better into the offense than Karney, who is a good run blocker but doesn't have much use carrying or receiving the ball. Evans can block as well as catch the ball out the backfield and pick up tough yardage between the tackles.
The Saints signed undrafted rookie Herb Donaldson out of Western Illinois. Donaldson will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot if he can prove to be consistent in picking up tough yardage.
New Orleans made their most drastic changes in the secondary. In just over a month, they have cut ties with safeties Josh Bullocks and Kevin Kaesviharn, and acquired Darren Sharper, Pierson Prioleau, Chip Vaughn, and Malcolm Jenkins.
Sharper and Proileau are savvy vets and draft picks Vaughn and Jenkins appear to have the ability to play multiple positions.
The Saints also replaced Mike McKenzie with Jabari Greer to complete the defensive makeover.
Roman Harper, who was the best safety last season, is going to have to fight just to be the second or third best safety this season. Suddenly, it seems that the secondary may have quickly become a strength for the Saints.
Keep your fingers crossed, Who Dats. The New Orleans Saints just may finally have enough quality depth to make a serious playoff and Super Bowl run.
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