METAIRIE, La. — Kenny Vaccaro has proven himself to be a menacing presence on the practice field during his first training camp with the New Orleans Saints.
He has thrown down players, flicked balls, knocked away passes and frustrated offensive players to the point of near fisticuffs.
And it’s exactly what the Saints need.
No one has asked – nor will they ask – Vaccaro to tamp down his style. After all, he’s only been with the team since late April and yet he still feels comfortable in taking a not-so-veiled shot at the 2012 defense.
“Why would you after last year?” Vaccaro said when asked earlier this week about whether he had been asked to pull back a bit. “We got our coach back. We've got a new defensive coordinator. It's sparked up.”
With all due respect to Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Curtis Lofton and the others who are members of New Orleans’ defense, few have played with the intensity of the rookie.
It has been missing since Gregg Williams left. Steve Spagnuolo’s style was opposite of Williams, a calmer, more relaxed presence on the sideline and on the field.
Rob Ryan, hired after Spagnuolo’s firing following the 2012 debacle, has brought back the swagger. He allows his players to make plays and play with confidence. It’s not cockiness, but it’s close. It’s not arrogance, but it’s in the same family.
It’s what the Saints need right now and Vaccaro has shown he’s the perfect player to match the system.
But his play has elicited a strong response from nearly everyone around. His style has become the theme of the first week of training camp.
While no one is telling him to change his style, the youngster should take heed of the fact that he’s playing against teammates right now. It’s fun to knock players down, but not when it’s Pierre Thomas. It’s enjoyable to be forceful with receivers, but not to the point that a coach has to pull you aside afterward, as happened Wednesday.
Players say all the time you practice the way you play. If that’s the case, Vaccaro should be careful – while he hasn’t crossed the line, hasn’t made any illegal hits, officials in games are different and have shown to be more willing to call personal fouls for hits that likely shouldn’t be flagged.
Regardless, Vaccaro’s attitude and style are exactly what a Saints defense that was missing the “chip on the shoulder” mentality in 2012 needs.
“I love football,” Vaccaro said. “I’m reckless.”
Ryan certainly appreciates that from the rookie.
“He’s just a young guy so he has got a long ways to go,” Ryan said. “But I tell you what – his toughness is who he is. His name means toughness and he’s going to show everybody that. He can’t help it. That’s who he is. We love his intensity. He’s really a smart guy. He works hard. He respects his veterans.
“He’s learning from these guys and he’s going to be a hell of a football player.”
Six full practices into training camp and that’s apparent.
If Vaccaro is this intense in practice, there’s no telling what he’ll bring Sept. 8.
One thing is for sure – everyone in Black and Gold will be happy he’s on their side.