NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - INSIDE SLANT
Other than installing a new 3-4 scheme, the first item on the agenda for new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was to quickly figure out a way to stop the run.
The Saints were an NFL all-time worst in total defense last season, allowing 7,042 yards, and a big part of that was their ineptness against the run. They ranked last in the league in giving up 147.6 yards a game and the 5.2 yards per carry was the worst among all 32 teams -- and a club record as well.
When they gave up 5.17 yards per attempt, it was almost a full yard higher than the league average of 4.26 yards per try -- and the highest in the NFL since the 2006 Indianapolis Colts gave up 5.33 yards per attempt.
Speaking with flagship radio station WWL-AM, Ryan said it was "much too high, obviously." He also noted that to have any chance at playing good defense, teams have to be able to stop the run.
After several players talked about former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3 scheme, Ryan didn't offer specifics about what went wrong -- just a general assessment of the results.
"Honestly, I don't think the scheme was very sound in the running game," Ryan said. "That's not a fault of anybody else. I've just been around football my whole life. I know it wasn't (sound). We're going to fix it. That's definitely been fixed."
Ryan and coach Sean Payton, the man who hired him after firing Spagnuolo, are hoping the change to a 3-4 will be a huge factor in turning around the defense.
The Saints signed several free agents -- cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Victor Butler and defensive end Kenyon Coleman -- and also used two of their first three draft picks on players they hope can come in and be part of a huge turnaround -- safety Kenny Vaccaro and nose tackle John Jenkins.
Ryan, who has coached Coleman for the past four years with the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, said the veteran is "the best run defender in football as a 3-4 end."
"I know that doesn't look pretty as a signing for everybody else," Ryan noted. "Trust me, the Who Dat Nation is going to love him."
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - NOTES, QUOTES
--After going through a full-squad minicamp a week earlier, the Saints completed their offseason program with three organized team activity sessions last week.
Saints coach Sean Payton worked his team Tuesday (June 11) and held practice sessions Wednesday and Thursday before sending the players on their way for a six-week break.
"Our plan is (to practice) Wednesday and Thursday, just like it is on the calendar, and we'll be finished until players come back for training camp," Payton said when asked if he planned to cut the program short as he has done in the past.
Payton said he will give his team the same instructions he normally would. He said the routine includes giving out packets of information with reporting times for training camp and the weight they're supposed to return at.
"It's pretty standard," he said.
With a solid nine weeks behind them, Payton called the program one of the best he's had with the Saints and was especially pleased with the installation of their new defense.
"Most importantly though, the time spent in the weight room and the conditioning, I think, have been one of the better offseasons in regards to players lifting and training," he said. "Our attendance has been outstanding. Those would be some specifics."
When asked to elaborate on why it was one of the best, Payton said, "Coming off a disappointing year, we have enough veteran leadership on this team and players recognize we can be a lot better and we need to be better. I think it starts with that."
--The Saints initially thought they dodged a bullet during Tuesday's workout when outside linebacker Victor Butler and running back Mark Ingram "banged knees." As it turns out, the defensive depth chart took a direct hit.
An MRI exam revealed Wednesday that Butler has significant ligament damage and likely suffered a torn ACL, according to multiple reports.
Coach Sean Payton said after the workout that he thought Butler would be fine. Butler played as a backup the past four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, but was in line to play a more significant role in the Saints' new 3-4 defense.
Butler had been working with the first-team defense at strong-side linebacker. Butler has been competing at that spot with third-year pro Martez Wilson, who will be asked to do a lot of pass-rushing along with some pass coverage duties against the stellar collection of tight ends in the NFC South.
--The Saints still don't know who their starting left tackle will be after Charles Brown and newcomers Jason Smith and Terron Armstead all got shots during the OTAs and three-day minicamp.
Smith, who worked with the first team in the first week of OTAs, was with that group again Tuesday (June 11). Brown took first-team snaps during the minicamp the week before and Armstead had a week as well before missing the last two weeks with an undisclosed injury.
--Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan admitted he made a "mistake" when he was arrested for DWI and driving without a valid license last month.
Speaking for the first time with reporters since the incident, the third-year pro was contrite about his arrest. He was found asleep behind the wheel of his car and his blood alcohol level registered nearly three times the legal limit.
"I made a mistake for sure," Morgan said. "As a man I can say that. It was something that was truly a mistake. The good thing about it is that I didn't get hurt and nobody else got hurt. That was a God-given thing. God is teaching me a lesson. I'm learning.
"I learned the hard way, but it's good that I actually learned that lesson."
QUOTE OF NOTE: "We lost our confidence a little bit. We didn't do good early on and it was a fight to get back from that. But it's a new year, a new defensive coordinator and just playing how we like to play ... aggressive football." -- LB Curtis Lofton, on the difference in the defense in 2012 compared to this offseason.
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--CB Elbert Mack (not tendered as UFA).
--T William Robinson (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Scott Shanle (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--S Kenny Vaccaro (1/15): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Terron Armstead (3/75): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT John Jenkins (3/82): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Kenny Stills (5/144); 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Rufus Johnson (6/183): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Rafael Bush: Potential ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--C Brian de la Puente: RFAa tendered at $2.023M with second-round pick as compensation; $2.023M/1 yr.
--LS Justin Drescher: Not tendered as RFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Junior Galette: Potential RFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Michael Higgins: Potential ERFA: $555,000/1 yr.
--LB Ramon Humber: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Will Herring: FA, had been released by Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Eric Olsen: Potential ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--WR Courtney Roby: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Baraka Atkins: FA; terms unknown.
--LB Victor Butler: UFA Cowboys; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Chris Carr: Not tendered as UFA by Chargers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Kenyon Coleman: UFA Cowboys; terms unknown.
--S Jim Leonhard: UFA Broncos; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Keenan Lewis: UFA Steelers; $26M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$11M guaranteed.
--QB Luke McCown: UFA Falcons; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Jay Richardson: FA: $715,000/1 yr.
--T Jason Smith: FA Jets; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Seneca Wallace: FA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Benjamin Watson: UFA Browns; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Jermon Bushrod: UFA Bears; $36M/5 yrs, $11M SB/$17.715M guaranteed.
--LB Jonathan Casillas: UFA Buccaneers; $3M/1 yr.
--QB Chase Daniel: UFA Chiefs; $10M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$4.8M guaranteed.
--DT Sedrick Ellis: Not tendered as UFA/Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Devery Henderson: Not tendered as UFA/Redskins; terms unknown.
--RB Chris Ivory: RFA tendered at $2.023M with second-round pick as compensation; $2.023M/1 yr, then traded to New Orleans.
--DE Turk McBride: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Johnny Patrick (released)
--TE David Thomas (released)