Monday, 13 February 2012 16:02

New Orleans Saints Defense Needs Shape-up or Shakeup with Spagnuolo

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SpagnuoloThe Saints' biggest need is a pass rush.

With departed Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator last season, the Saints called more blitzes than any other team in the league (50 per cent) and looked miserable on pass defense against Detroit and San Francisco in the playoffs.

 The Saints were shredded by Matthew Stanford and Alex Smith for 679 yards and six passing touchdowns.

The 2011 first-round draft choice, Cameron Jordan, isn't much of a pass rusher, but with him in the defensive line at end, their run-stopping defense improved.  He finished with 59 tackles, one sack, and one fumble recovery. He had seven solo tackles against the 49ers in the playoff game. He'll be around for a long time.

Will Smith, 31, is declining. He is set to cost the team nearly $10.2 against the salary cap and that number will go up the next three years. The Saints could redo his contract, spreading the money in any number of ways. Cutting him doesn't make much sense because there only a few marque defensive ends on the free agent market. The Saints could make a run at the Cardinals' Calais Campbell or the Colts' Robert Mathis for defensive end help. Smith probably will be back with a restructured contract.

Defensive tackles Aubray Franklin and Shawn Rogers didn't live up to their billings and didn't add much to the defensive line. Both signed one-year contracts last season.

Franklin finished with only 31 tackles and no sacks. He will be 32 this fall. He might want to sign another one-year contact. Rogers never looked at home in the defensive line although toward the end of the season he helped out the run defense. New Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes tall, athletic linemen and Rogers (6-4, 350) might not be back next season.

Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis will be back because he's on the final year of his contract. He was a first-round draft pick and hasn't been impressive of late. He had 55 tackles, including 1/2 of a sack  and four passes defended. Ellis will be back.

Defensive tackle Tom Johnson missed training camp last season, but the coaches saw enough talent there to keep him. He'll be around until somebody takes his job away.

Junior Galette (6-2, 258) is the type of pass rush Spags likes. He's athletic and plays with a high motor. He was third on the team with 4 1/2 sacks,  He showed a lot of improvement in the second half of last season. He'll likely be back.

Defensive end Turk McBride had nine tackles and two sacks in the opening six games then suffered a high ankle sprain and never contributed again. The coaches like what they saw and he'll probably return with a less expensive one-year contract.

Defensive end Jeff Charleston excels on special teams, but may have trouble making Spags' final roster.

The Saints took a gamble on drafting defensive end Greg Romeus last season when he was recovering from knee surgery. They didn't expect him to contribute last season and he is the type of lineman Sprags is looking for. He's 6-5, 267 and athletic. That's the same size of the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul.

The Saints were 30th in the league in pass defense last season, but that will improve with more pressure on opponents' quarterbacks and less one-on-one overages because of blitzes. They'll be an improved playoff team, too.

SOME hither, others yon: There's probably some truth in Jordan Jefferson said the LSU coaches' game plan against Alabama and it doesn't matter if he honesty was his intent or it was just sour grapes. But Jefferson's words will carry far more weight when he starts being a consistent playmaker on the field and better decisions off it. Jefferson is attending the NFL Combine and the NFL teams interviewing him will ask about his comments that game to see if he's a malcontent. Hokie Gajan, a Saints scout for 15 years, said NFL teams may draft him or sign him as a free agent as an athlete, not as a quarterback...

Former Hornet Chris Paul is having a banner season with the Clippers and is being billed as the NBA's best point guard right now, even better than the Knicks' Jeremy Lin...Jay Leno: "One of the most talked about Super Bowl commercials was the one with Clint Eastwood where he said, 'It's halftime in America and our second half is about to begin. The bad news? China has the ball and we're down $15 trillion.'"...Chad Jones said he's 80 per cent back to normal and is looking forward to wearing that Giants' Super Bowl ring. He was the Giants third-round draft choice a couple of years ago, but was severely injured in an auto accident that almost cost him a leg...Parting thought: "Now that I know all the answers, nobody asks me any questions."...I'm not saying Madonna, 53, looked a little old dancing around on the stage during the Super Bowl halftime, but I'm surprised she didn't break into a Charleston...

Baseball players are the only college students who want to spend their summers in Nebraska...Former Red Sox pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd revealed he often pitched while on cocaine and nobody was the least bit surprised. He got the nickname from drinking beer in his hometown, Meridian, where they call beers oil cans...Fellas, don't forget Tuesday is Valentine's Day. Do like I do and give that special someone a photo of a dozen roses...Whitney Houston? Her National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl brought the song to new heights. My favorite female voice. Everyone can't handle fame...Why can't Tiger Woods win? He has the LeBron James disease. He can't score late in the game...

by Ed Staton

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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