(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
While the Saints may be able to get by on Brees’ arm, they will not conquer their division or advance in the playoffs without an improved defense.
Enter Gregg Williams, the well respected 19-year veteran of the pro coaching ranks named Defensive Coordinator in January. Despite a less than stellar year leading the 17th ranked Jacksonville Jaguars defense last year, Williams is a big name in coaching circles and his addition raises expectations for the New Orleans defensive corps.
The consensus among New Orleans players and coaches seems to be that the defense is doing a lot more “flying around” in offseason workouts under Williams. His defenses are nothing if not aggressive; Expect to see a smorgasbord of blitz packages aimed to cause chaos and get at the opposing quarterback early and often.
After bringing Williams on board, the Saints continued to make waves with the acquisition of veteran defensive backs Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper while taking blue chip cornerback Malcolm Jennings in the first round of the draft. All three are expected to start in a new look for a secondary that allowed over 221 passing yards per contest in ’08.
The new additions, coupled with Tracey Porter’s return to the defensive backfield after missing the final 11 games of 2008 with a wrist injury, make for a much improved pass defense.
The Saints opened up the wallet for Jonathan Vilma this winter, inking the former Miami Hurricane to a five year deal reportedly worth over $34 million. The dynamic linebacker recorded 132 tackles last year, the second most in his five year career.
Up front, Williams’ crew faces an early challenge as it enters the regular season without the services of talented, but inconsistent defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. Both players will serve four game suspensions for their alleged roles in the StarCaps diuretic saga.
Nevertheless, it won’t take much for Williams to earn his paycheck. By virtue of New Orleans’ stellar offense, even a marginal improvement in the defense should make for a banner season.
New Orleans was 0-5 in games decided by 3 points or less in 2008. In the ultra-competitive NFC South, a stop here and there is the difference between a playoff berth and an early spot on the couch.