With the New Orleans Saints having made a lot of changes in the defensive roster, now they need to figure out the best way to utilize what they have: through rotation.
The Saints offense has been known, under head coach Sean Payton, to rotate in and out different players for different packages. This tactic kept the opposing defense guessing at what was being thrown at them on the field. The Saints secondary should also use the same approach.
With Cornerback Mike Mackenzie coming off of an ACL tear, as well as being 32 years of age, the Saints need to figure out the best way to bring back their aging star. Mackenzie’s main problem is that he only plays one side of the field, no matter what the match up may be.
This leaves the opposing team open to move their best Wide Receiver to the opposite side of the field and put a lower level receiver with Mackenzie. This was one of many problems the secondary had throughout the 2007 season.
With Josh Bullocks having become inconsistent at times during last season, perhaps Mackenzie should see some snaps at Free Safety. This by no means puts Bullocks out of a job, but makes him more of a role player.
Cornerback Jason David was without question one of the most erratic players in the secondary for the Saints, if not in the league. One of the reasons for his poor play was that he came from a system in which he flourished as a zone coverage corner.
David is not reliable as a man coverage guy, he has to be used to his fullest potential. He is a great nickel corner, but not as the number two guy on the depth cart. He has to be used in the proper defensive pack and rotated in, NOT solely relied on as the other starting corner.
Newcomer to the secondary is cornerback Randall Gay. He comes over as a free agent from the New England Patriots, where he was a role player for their defense. This is what he is best at, but he can still develop (26 years old) into a reliable cover corner. He can be used to fill the void in man coverage, which was David’s Achilles heal.
Together, Gay and David create a perfect corner. Put one or the other in based on the defensive scheme being used as well as the match up they would be facing. This rotation would also keep both of them fresh throughout the game.
Second round pick Tracey Porter has been impressing during mini camp. He has the blazing speed needed to keep toe for toe with some of the fastest wide receivers in the league. But the main question with him is his size.
At 5’11” and weighing 186 lbs., can he actually take down receivers well over 6 feet tall while out weighing him? Can he be able to put a decent hit to knock someone off their initial route?
All of this will be answered come training camp, but if he can show good jumping ability as well as improve his tackling abilities, he could very well compete for a starting position at corner.
Last years third round pick, Usama Young, was not used enough to get a feel for his potential. He has the speed, size, and jump ability that would make him a starter on any squad. But he needs to prove it on the field.
It is both encouraging and discouraging that Porter has shown more and impressed more of the coaching staff in practices and camps than Young has. If he can pull it all together, but more importantly get enough snaps to prove himself, he could also compete for a starting position at corner if not be a solid nickel corner.
Jason Craft is a solid veteran and could also be an asset as a free safety. He too is getting old at the age of 32, but hasn’t shown too much of slowing down. Craft should be kept around for certain packages as well as if Mackenzie doesn’t come back full strength. Though, if he were to show his abilities as a safety, he could stay on the roster and help out with more of the rotation package scenario.
Free agent Aaron Glenn was primarily brought in as insurance on Mackenzie, as well as to get a long time league veteran that could help out the younger secondary.
He could be valuable as a teacher, but might surprise the team with what little he may have in the tank. But with his size (5’9” and 183 lbs.) and age, I don’t think he will be around come regular season.
At Strong Safety, Roman Harper is not only a fan favorite, but a reliable and smart player needed at the core of any secondary. Harper is a ball hawk and a hard tackler, unfortunately that can lead to over perusing on plays (which he has done from time to time). He is still learning, but needs to have a more reliable player at Free Safety to keep the deep passes from leading to touchdowns (a common occurrence last season).
Josh Bullocks, as previously mentioned, was inconsistent at Free Safety last season. He is still a young player (entering his fourth season) with a lot to learn. But the question is: how much longer will it take him to become a reliable asset to the secondary.
He could be used in rotation with Mackenzie and backup Free Safety Kevin Kaesviharn (who batted down more passes in the Atlanta Falcons game alone than Bullocks had all season), Bullocks could learn from watching other players instead of just learning from his mistakes.
Though this rotation scenario could work, there is no telling if Secondary Coach Dennis Allen or Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs even have this in mind. But the idea has worked in the past for the Defensive Line as well as the Linebacking corps, why should it not be used for the Secondary if the pieces are there?
With the injuries of last season and the new acquisitions this season, the rotating secondary would help not only get the players used to the system but also keep everyone fresh not only through four quarters of play but the entire season.