Roman Harper stole the show at New Orleans Saints mini-camp on Tuesday. The veteran strong safety had two interceptions and one sack.
Many players will benefit from new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' take-no-prisoners style, but perhaps none more than Harper. The scheme plays to his strengths: Harper is smart, tough and physical.
In the new Saints' scheme, Harper will be spending more time lining up next to defensive lineman and linebackers and less time in the backfield. Harper struggled last year in pass coverage, drawing the media and fan's wrath.
Alas, this is a new year with a new boss, and the new boss is not the same as the old boss.
In 2009, look for Harper to do a lot of blitzing off the edge through the "A" gap. Also, Harper will be attacking the line of scrimmage frequently in run support: a job he is well-suited for, given his physicality.
Harper loves nothing better than hitting people. He is a linebacker trapped in a safety's body. Has that linebacker's mentality. Probably learned it during his days at Alabama.
Says Harper: "I'm just trying to play fast and reckless. We're going to be fast and physical this year and we're going to let it all hang loose."
Four-time Pro Bowler Darren Sharper, the starter at free safety, likes what he sees.
"Roman Harper has Pro-Bowl level talent," says Sharper.
Speaking of Sharper, his best days are behind him as he will turn 34 in November. However, he is an instant upgrade over last year's amateur hour: Kevin Kaesviharn and Josh Bullocks.
Sharper was a step late on some pass plays last year but he still has the ability to produce in the clutch. At Tuesay's practice, Williams' shouted praise in Sharper's direction after the veteran executed a defensive call to perfection.
"I knew you saw it! I knew you saw it!" Oh, baby, you still got what it takes! Atta boy!"
Other observations from Tuesday's practices.
Reggie Bush looks back to 100 percent following off-season knee surgery as he sprinted 15 yards on a draw play.
Bush says Williams' new defense is "tough and physical " and says it will make him a better running back. Maybe he is telling the truth or maybe he has a future in politics.
Jabari Greer is making a strong challenge for a starting cornerback position. Greer had two interceptions and one sack. Greer has good instincts, sound technique and excellent ball skills. Along with Porter, he is the fastest of the group at CB.
DeMario Pressley, last year's fifth-round draft pick, had a sack from his defensive tackle position. Pressley missed the entire 2008 season following a foot injury. He is competing for the starting defensive tackle spot next to Sedrick Ellis.
Although Sean Payton says Joey Harrington is competing for the backup quarterback position with Mark Brunell, it is apparent he is not on the same talent level as Brunell. Harrington is prone to slow and poor decision making and has a tendency to put Shockey in a bad mood.
A sign that the Saints are a .500 team: On third down-and-ten, the defense jumped offsides. However, the offense failed to take advantage as Robert Meachem dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone.
"Long foul ball!" shouted Williams. However as former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert astutely pointed out, in an actual game the defense would have still been faced with having to stop the offense on a third-and-five.
The Saints defense is making plays, flying to the ball, talking smack to the offense: a dramatic change from the passive Saints defenses of year's past. Williams will keep the defense "Vanilla" in the pre-season then attack rookie Matthew Stafford from every direction in Game One.
Defensive end Bobby McCray is outperforming starters Will Smith and Charles Grant early in mini-camp. McCray has what would have been four sacks in live-game action: good news considering the looming four-game suspensions of Smith and Grant.
The Saints chances of winning the NFC South will increase exponentially for every week Payton is able to Shockey away from those Las Vegas Rehab pool parties.