METAIRIE, La. For a decent portion of Sedrick Ellis' first four years in the NFL, he has borne the brunt of criticism for being an underperformer, for not living up to his No. 7 overall pick status.
But you can't blame Ellis completely for underperforming.
He has played with a rotating cast of characters on the interior of the defensive line Remi Ayodele and Anthony Hargrove in 2009, Ayodele in 2010 and Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin in 2011.
He played for Gary Gibbs in 2008 and then under Gregg Williams from '09-'11.
Now he's under Steve Spagnuolo and, if you listen to Ellis closely, it sounds like he's excited to play more now than he has in the recent past.
'The scheme started to become a little bit tough on the linemen just because of the way we had to play,' Ellis said. 'Don't get me wrong, the scheme worked as far as scheme goes. But in my opinion, this defense is a little bit more geared to putting the guys in a good position and letting them go play football as opposed to Gregg's defense where he tried to win games with scheme.'
According to Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com, the Saints used a 4-3 in 47 percent of their defensive plays a season ago, the rest being a mix of defenses, including several with three-man fronts.
On Wednesday, acting head coach Joe Vitt stressed that the Saints would play a pressure front with zone coverage in the secondary. In other words, Ellis said he'll get the opportunity to make plays now.
But that's contingent on he and his defensive line teammates working together, something he said they didn't have to do under Williams.
'Everybody knew where they had to be and it was kind of every man for himself type of deal,' Ellis said. 'With this new scheme we have to work together as a defensive line. We have to be a unit. ... That being put into consideration, we better learn how to work together pretty quickly and be good at it because this defensive scheme, the defensive line is really where it starts.'
In 2011, Ellis finished with 57 tackles, 10th-best on the team. But he only had a half of a sack, the lowest total of his career.
Yet, keep pressing him on what he believes will happen in 2012 and that excitement creeps back into his voice.
Spagnuolo's defense is doing that to him, providing him with more than a little bit of fresh air.
'Ready to prove to ourselves that we're a great four-man defensive line and we can play with the best of them and we have the personnel,' Ellis said. 'We have good players and great coaches. I'm looking forward to doing that with no handcuffs.'