The Associated Press
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints go into Thursday's season opener at Green Bay without either starting defensive end from last season.
Yet those set to play against the reigning Super Bowl champions say they're ready for the test.
Turk McBride said losing Will Smith, who is suspended the first two games for violating the league's banned substance policy, means the team loses leadership on the field. But that means other players have to step up.
McBride said, "And I believe we will."
With Smith suspended and Alex Brown released in the first-round of cuts, New Orleans will rely on McBride, rookie Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Jeff Charleston to fill the void.
"Since Will's going to be be out those first two weeks, that's definitely taking a big hit on our defensive line and definitely in our leadership," McBride said. "But some of the key players, guys like myself, definitely need to step up. And I believe we will."
Smith, a former first-round pick, is fourth in franchise history with 55 sacks and has started 65 consecutive games for New Orleans, including the postseason.
Only McBride can claim to any consistent playing time. He has 22 starts in his 51-game career, including the final five games of the 2010 season while with Detroit. He has 7 1/2 career sacks, or a half-sack more than the other three players combined in the NFL.
Galette made the team a season ago as an undrafted rookie free agent, but played in only four games. Charleston, meanwhile, is a career backup, seeing time in 42 games with the Saints over the past three seasons.
Jordan was drafted by New Orleans with the 24th pick in April to add depth on the defensive line. He finished his four-year career at Cal with 16 1/2 sacks and 175 total tackles. He also can play both ends.
The newest member of the Saints said depth shouldn't be a concern.
"There's just so much talent," Jordan said. "I guess that's what makes this team great is they have such a large pool of talent."
Green Bay finished 2010 with the NFL's ninth-best offense, but boasted the No. 5 passing attack in the league. The Packers did give up 38 sacks a season ago.
And Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he's sure Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be prepared to make up for any loss of experience with schemes.
"He is an extremely talented coach and he gets him team prepared," Rodgers said. "I know they will have something special for us and I know it will be a big challenge for us."
Ultimately, though, the Saints won't know if their depth is good enough until after the game. Galette said then would be the time to ask how much the Saints miss Smith.
"To be a player such as myself, you have to confident and you have to tell yourself that nothing will be missed," Galette said. "If anything, there should never be a drop-off in this level. There should never be a drop-off as far as talent.
"We'll see when it comes Thursday. After the game you can ask me the question and I'll let you know."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)