Five Saints defenders who won’t go away without a fight – (CSC) Saints News

These Saints players aren’t about to give up their
roster spots quietly.

season is back, and the New
Orleans Saints
are about one week into training camp.
After just a handful of practices, some of us are already making
final roster decisions for the team before a preseason game has
even been played. Talk of the impact of rookies and free agent
newcomers, unheralded players who could steal a roster spot, and
veteran players who are on the roster bubble will dominate
conversation until the official NFL roster limits are met. What
sometimes gets lost in these conversations are players that have
made contributions on past team successes, but perhaps go a bit
under the radar this time of year. These are sometimes “bubble”
players, but more often than not may have their spots on the team
fairly secure, and are overshadowed by a bigger name player ahead
of them on the depth chart.

, DE

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Most talk regarding the Saints
defensive line this offseason has been focused around number one
draft choice Marcus
, the return to health of Alex
, or if second year Trey
can stay healthy. When the Saints line was
ravaged by injury late last season, the team signed veteran
journeyman George Johnson. Just days after joining his new team,
Johnson recorded a sack against the New York Jets, and one week
later had another 1.5 sacks against division rival Atlanta. Johnson
provided both a solid pass rush, along with setting the edge well
against the run down the stretch of last season, and deflected a
punt in the team’s narrow playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The 6’4, 265-lb. defensive end has played for six teams since
entering the league in 2010, but New Orleans felt strongly enough
about his play to re-sign the 30-yr old to a 1-year contract this
offseason. A crowded New Orleans defensive end position looks
loaded. Cameron
is one of the best defensive players in the
league. Okafor, Davenport, and Hendrickson will combine to provide
a disruptive presence on the opposite side, while second year end
Al-Quadin Muhammad is a potential breakout candidate. A player like
George Johnson may not be a splashy name, but is the type of player
who can provide the kind of versatile depth that can knock a more
popular name off an NFL roster.

Hau’oli Kikaha, EDGE

NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Kikaha is one of just four
players remaining from the Saints 2015 draft. The injury-prone
former 2nd round pick has played in just 27 of 98 games since
joining the team, has yet to finish a season, and missed all of
2016 with a knee injury. Kikaha has seen the bulk of his snaps at
outside linebacker early so far in camp, but is a liability in pass
coverage, so his best bet to stick around may be as a situational
pass rusher. Kikaha has shown good burst around the edge, and has 8
career sacks and 4 forced fumbles, along with being an underrated
run defender. Although definitely considered among the veterans on
the bubble, if Kikaha can remain healthy and provide additional
pass rush, he would be difficult to overlook for a roster spot.

, LB

Seattle Seahawks v New Orleans Saints
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A retooled and improved Saints
linebacking unit finally looks like it can match up athletically
with opposing offenses. Craig
, Alex
, A.J.
, and free agent newcomer Demario
are fast, versatile, every down defenders who may
give New Orleans it’s best squad in over a decade. Manti
stepped up last season to provide solid depth,
especially against the run, and Jayrone
, Colton
, and Keshun Freeman will compete with Kikaha for
spots at a suddenly deep position. Not mentioned a great deal is
the return of Nate Stupar. The 30-yr old Stupar missed all but 4
games in 2017 due to injury, but adds both starting experience and
versatility. He is capable of playing either inside or outside,
plays tough against the run, and is smart in pass coverage. Stupar
is also a standout special teams performer, something that may
further cement his roster position.

, S

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans saw greatly
improved play from their safeties a year ago. Marcus
and Vonn
inspired such confidence in fact, that the team
elected not to pursue a new contract to former number one pick
Kenny Vaccaro. The Saints did sign veteran free safety Kurt
, giving them a potentially lethal 3-safety
combination. Reserve Chris Banjo was able to give the defense some
solid snaps at safety last season, intercepting one pass, and looks
to be in the mix again this preseason. Banjo was one of the Saints
top special team performers all season, a point of emphasis for the
team this offseason. With the additions of young defensive backs
like Natrell Jamerson, Linden Stephens, and Kamrin Moore providing
competition for not only jobs in the secondary, but added
athleticism on special teams, Banjo will need to make plays in the
secondary to couple with his special teams ability to hold a roster
spot in a talented secondary.

, CB

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Much has been made of the
young and extremely talented New Orleans secondary, particularly at
cornerback. Ken
and Marshon
, last season’s defensive rookie of the year,
formed one of the NFL’s best duos at one of football’s most
important positions. The Saints added free agent Patrick
this offseason, who has developed into one of
the league’s better slot corners. Competition for the other
cornerback spots is expected to be fierce, between 2nd year players
and Arthur
(who has been an early camp star), along with
rookies Natrell
, Kamrin
, and Linden Stephens. One player who some have
placed on the roster bubble perhaps prematurely is 3rd year
defensive back P.J.
. Another 2015 draft pick (3rd round, 78th
overall), Williams had just six quarters of regular season action
prior to last season due to injury. Although his 2017 season was a
bit inconsistent, Williams still intercepted two passes and was
credited with nine passes defensed. Not quite the man-to-man
defender that some of the other New Orleans defensive backs on the
roster are, he is still solid in coverage and is an aggressive
tackler. Williams has stood out early this training camp in his
coverage duties, and one must not forget how relatively
inexperienced he was last season. Despite that, the former Florida
State star was still a very big part of what an improved Saints
defense was able to accomplish in 2017, and is showing that it may
be a mistake to discount him as a big part of a 2018 championship


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