As summer seems to get hotter and hotter and we get down to only baseball on TV, there’s only one thing to do to keep our interest – answer questions and give our thoughts about the Saints heading into training camp.
We’ll run out one question a day in a hope that we satiate your thirst until actual toe meets leather. The questions are in no particular order of importance…except for No. 1.
9. Will the defensive line be revitalized under Steve Spagnuolo?
One of the great hopes with the hiring of Steve Spagnuolo is that he’ll turn the Saints’ defensive line into some version of the Giants line that he coached in 2007 and ’08.
Will he revitalize New Orleans’ defensive line, in other words?
That could be tough, though, because the talent he had in New York is vastly greater than what he inherited in New Orleans. Even what he had in St. Louis – mainly defensive end Chris Long – is superior.
He’ll start his first year off by missing Will Smith, who is suspended for the first four games of 2012 for his alleged role in what the NFL says is a bounty system the Saints ran in the past.
Smith has been the team’s sack leader for much of the past few seasons. But outside of a 13-sack 2009, he had only 6½ last season and 5½ in 2010.
Sedrick Ellis had a seemingly break-through season in 2010 with six sacks. But he had only a half-sack this past season.
And while sacks aren’t the only metric to gauge defensive line success, it’s an important part of their job, to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Saints, under Gregg Williams, weren’t very successful for the most part in getting defensive line pressure. In 2009, the Saints had 28 ½ sacks come from the line. That total went down to 20½ in 2010 and 16½ in 2011.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, where Spagnuolo coached the past three seasons, the Rams had 19, 31 and 29 sacks from the defensive line, respectively. And in New York, where he was the defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008, the defensive line had 43 and 35 sacks.
Before you panic, however, remember that Gregg Williams’ defense called for pressure from safeties and cornerbacks and not from the defensive line.
Spagnuolo already was experimenting during organized team activities and minicamp with different ways to get the line going.
He moved athletic second-year player Martez Wilson to defensive end. He moved Cameron Jordan and Smith inside on certain plays, giving the defensive line four athletic pass rushers instead of the normal two in a 4-3 defense.
He also is likely to cull every bit of ability out of Junior Galette, a speedy option at end who could break out under Spagnuolo.
And Turk McBride appeared to be ready for a big season early last year before an ankle injury derailed his season.
That’s just at end. With newly acquitted defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, Ellis could be rejuvenated alone.
Spagnuolo has had success in the past using a front four to get pressure and put seven in coverage as well as using extra defenders to help get pressure.
But this task might be the toughest he’ll inherit with the Saints and we’re not sure the overall talent is there for him to make a huge difference.
--Bradley Handwerger, WWLTV.com Sports Reporter