METAIRIE, La. — One of the biggest questions facing the Saints this season is whether the defense can return to a form that is complementary of an offense that generally is atop the league in rankings.
And to make that happen, coach Sean Payton let go of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and brought in Rob Ryan.
Out with the calm, cerebral demeanor and in with the confident, boisterous attitude.
But with Ryan comes a brand new defensive scheme, one that brings the Saints a 3-4 base alignment for the first time in years. To fill positional needs, Ryan moved some pieces around, including Will Smith, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson from defensive end to outside linebacker.
If you don’t think those choices will work, Ryan would like you to know something.
“I think I know what we’re doing,” Ryan said. “I know I do. I can pretend I don’t, but I know I do.”
As an example, Ryan pulled out the name Mike Vrabel from his past. While with the Patriots from 2000-03, Ryan coached the linebackers and moved Vrabel to outside linebacker from defensive end.
In 2000, Vrabel finished with only five tackles and a sack. A season later, he ended the year with 60 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for a loss and two interceptions.
In all, Vrabel finished his career with 57 sacks, 704 tackles and 11 interceptions.
“He did pretty good,” Ryan said. “He had double digit sacks and we won Super Bowls with him.”
It’s easy to tell that those playing for Ryan right now have welcomed his style with open arms. While it’s not unexpected that they would say good things about their coach, it’s that they all speak so glowingly about him.
“I think it’s those blue eyes and that long gray hair,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I think that draws a lot of attention. “
“I’m joking,” Lofton said. “I think it’s more so his personality. If you’re around him for more than 30 seconds, you know that he has a big personality. He’s a great defensive coordinator and everyone loves him.”