NEW ORLEANS ― Usama Young arrived at the Superdome on Sunday expecting a handful of plays.
By the end of New Orleans’ 16-14 win over Carolina, Young had played many more than that and turned in a varsity-level performance for the Saints (3-1).
The safety finished with a team-high five tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one pass defensed after being thrust into action when Pierson Prioleau and backup Chris Reis went down with injuries. Regular starter Roman Harper already was out with a hamstring injury.
“My expectations were to be playing a little bit at the strong safety spot and a little bit on special teams,” Young said. “But as soon as those guys went down, I had to prepare my mind quickly and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to play this whole game.’ ”
Prioleau left the game early in the second quarter after suffering a chest injury on a kickoff and Reis went down in the third quarter.
Young’s biggest play of the day came on Carolina’s final possession.
With the Panthers (0-4) at the Saints’ 36, within field goal range, and a minute-and-a-half remaining in the game, Young hit DeAngelo Williams in the backfield for a four-yard loss. That put Carolina in dire straits and on the next play, Malcolm Jenkins sacked Jimmy Clausen for another four-yard loss.
“I thought Usama’s play on the run play for minus yardage was significant in kind of backing them out of field goal range,” New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton said.
Young entered the season as a special teams-heavy player after failing to beat out Jenkins for the starting free safety spot in training camp.
He was inactive for the Saints’ loss to Atlanta with a quad injury and was just being worked back into game shape when he was thrown into the fray.
Not that any of his teammates were worried.
“I have faith that Usama would come in and hold his own ground,” Jenkins said.
Added cornerback Jabari Greer, “He’s a player that loves the game and plays the game with passion. He made plays and he was able to show it out there.”
Young said he picked up a few snaps in practice this week, but the bulk went to Prioleau. But he said he mentally prepared all week in the film room and while watching Prioleau on the field.
Still, he didn’t expect to play as extensively as he did.
“You never want to see your teammate go down but once you see two of them go down, it’s like, ‘Aw man, these things are piling up. It’s time for me to step up. They’re having a good game, it’s time for me to step up in there and fill in their shoes,' " Young said.