Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
Watching the Saints first team defense get lit up by Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs on the opening drive of the preseason convinced me of one thing; one way or another youth will be served in 2013 for the Saints.
The best days of Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, David Hawthorne, Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer are behind them. What over the last three years gives you any indication they are going to be anywhere close to being good enough to get the Saints back to the Super Bowl?
Whether Sean Payton or Rob Ryan like it, 2013 and beyond hinges on Cameron Jordan, Jonathan Jenkins, Akiem Hicks, Junior Galette, Kenny Vaccaro, and Keenan Lewis. They are the core of whatever defense the Saints will put on the field the next three years. The Saints won’t have cap room to play in the free agent market so eventually those six guys are going to be the answer to how good the defense will be.
Coaches of course are hesitant to play young players because young players screw up assignments sometimes as often as they make plays. Veteran players who don’t make mental errors can last a long time no matter how much they drive fans crazy (See Shanle, Scott).
Will it be risky counting on a bunch of first and second year players to be the foundation of a defense for a team who thinks it can win a title? It’s less risky than asking Will Smith to try and cover running backs and tight ends as an outside linebacker.
For the record having Will Smith playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 was as bad an idea as Johnny Depp playing Tonto in the Lone Ranger. It sounded like a horrible idea but watching it made it seem so much worse.
Will Smith has been a good player but either Will Smith has value as a 3-4 defensive end or he doesn’t. I recently had a lamp that broke and I threw it away. I didn’t try to make it a stove.
Maybe it’s the horrible play of the defense the last three years, maybe it’s the lack of any alternatives, or maybe I’m just tired of watching Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins get burned and miss tackles. Whatever the reason I actually want the kids to play.
I say this fully expecting Kenny Vacarro to look horrible at times and Junior Galette to struggle against the run and in coverage. So be it. I’m even prepared to watch Martez Wilson jump off sides multiple times. I’ll have a fully stocked bar and so should you.
Nobody said change was easy.
Maybe it’s August and I’m being wildly optimistic but at least half of the six guys I mentioned will be really good. My guess is Akiem Hicks by mid season is the best Saints defensive lineman since La'Roi Glover and Keenan Lewis is the best corner we’ve seen since Ashley Ambrose intercepted six passes that one year under Mike Ditka in 1999.
I’m ready for Junior Galette’s inconsistency to drive me crazy. Some weeks he will remind of us of Pat Swilling and the next he will look like the half dozen linebackers Jim Haslett drafted who couldn’t sack a bag of groceries much less a quarterback.
In case you were wondering that list included Sedrick Hodge, James Allen, Cie Grant, Courtney Watson, Colby Bockwoldt, Alfred Fincher.
Compared to that the current linebackers aren’t bad at all So take a deep breath and embrace youth. The Saints will eventually do the same in 2013 whether they want to or not.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.