METAIRIE, La. – Two days before the New Orleans Saints’ first practice of the 2012 season, safety Roman Harper pledged that the only thing that would change about the defense would be the scheme.
While aggressiveness can’t be measured until games start, one thing that did stand out Thursday was exactly what Harper tried to explain on reporting day.
The defensive scheme was absolutely changing.
Between defensive ends dropping into coverage and cornerbacks and safeties playing zone defense, the unit was largely unrecognizable from what those who have watched the heavy-blitzing Saints play the past three seasons.
Just don’t expect the players to be experts right off the bat.
“I’m still learning the defense with it being a new scheme, playing things like quarters and being down in the box, things I’ve never done before or in years,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “I’m still learning a lot of new things. It will be a learning curve at camp.”
New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo uses a scheme that relies on the front four to get pressure on the quarterback, allowing the back seven – linebackers and defensive backs – to stay in coverage on pass plays.
In two years as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo’s defense excelled at pressuring the quarterback. In 2007, when the Giants surprised the previously undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, New York led the NFL in sacks-per-pass attempt at 10.13 percent. A season later, the Giants were fifth at a sack on 8.35 percent of passing plays.
In 2007, the Giants were led in sacks by defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora (13), Michael Strahan (9) and Justin Tuck (10). A season later, Tuck’s 12 sacks led New York and Fred Robbins’ 5½ were third most.
There will be blitzes – Harper put extra pressure on quarterback Drew Brees a few times during Thursday’s first practice - but not as many as before.
And players who used to be doing one thing could be doing something else.
Say, like Cameron Jordan dropping into coverage from his defensive end spot instead of trying to get to the quarterback.
“Based on the deployment of linebackers and secondary we have in a blitz, we could potentially drop a defensive end into coverage and based on the route he’s going to get, he’s going to get a flat, he may cover a seam route or a hook-in,” acting head coach Joe Vitt said. “That’s what we are going to do as part of what the scheme is this year.”
For defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, that will be A-OK.
“We are really looking forward to getting out pass rush going and rely it on lot more than we have in the past,” Ellis said. “It will give the defensive linemen an opportunity to showcase what they have.”