Back in April, I examined what the New Orleans Saints' new-look defense might bring to the table in 2013. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will unfurl a 3-4 defensive scheme with a lot of movement and attacking options for the Saints to get at opposing quarterbacks.
As the installation process is underway in New Orleans at Organized Team Activities (OTAs), it looks as if movement might be an understatement. Ryan’s defense has shown pre-snap organized chaos, and that’s been fantastic to see.
Thursday’s first play of 11-on-11 drills featured a unique look from Ryan’s defense, according to Mike Triplett of the Times-Picayune:
On the first play of team drills Thursday, the New Orleans Saints' defense had three outside linebackers on the field and only one true defensive lineman. And inside linebacker Curtis Lofton wound up tearing through the middle for a sack.
Lofton registered just one sack last season and has only four over the last three seasons. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Lofton ranked dead last among inside linebackers who played at least 50 percent of their respective team’s snaps. Lofton had one sack, two quarterback hits and four hurries on 101 pass-rush snaps. He just didn’t spend that much time in the backfield affecting the passer.
Quarterback Drew Brees said he was enjoying the look and surprise of all the movement on defense.
“I think we’re experimenting with a lot of stuff right now," said Brees to the media after Thursday's practice session (NewOrleansSaints.com). "Seeing how everyone is going to fit into the new scheme, how we can put every guy in a position to succeed according to their strengths and certainly you have to keep people off-balance and change things up quite often."
Brees also noticed rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro as an already integral piece to Ryan’s new defense. When Vaccaro was drafted, his skills at the line of scrimmage were NFL ready. Where he needed improvement was against the pass in situations where he was the last line of defense.
Vaccaro might have already answered the questions about him in coverage. He’s already running with the starters in the Saints’ sub package, their third-down passing situation that most of Thursday’s session was spent working on.
"Defensively, we have Vaccaro," said Brees. "You see him out there a lot; he is active, extremely active. You can see how he can fit in that defense in a lot of different ways."
Vaccaro also has great pass-rush skills. As long as he’s not a liability in coverage (and it sounds like he isn’t), Ryan will love to have Vaccaro out there in passing situations because he can not only depend on the rookie in coverage, but also ask him to aid the pass rush.
The pass rush is definitely where New Orleans needs the most help. The Saints posted only 30 sacks last season and gave up 4,681 passing yards (only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were worse, with 4,758 passing yards given up). Ryan believes if his defense can get more pressure on the quarterback, the Saints’ pass defense will dramatically improve.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.