Kristian: Saints defense doesn't want to be second to anyone
The Saints defense made dramatic improvement last season, going from 32nd overall in 2012 to 4th overall in 2013 under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. “We don’t want to be second to anyone” said safety Rafael Bush.
New Orleans has added a few playmakers to the defense from a year ago. Returning are the leading sack guys in Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, but the Saints lacked the ability to force turnovers last season, and that’s been the coaching staff’s point of emphasIs this offseason. The Saints forced just 19 turnovers in 2013, last in the NFC.
Considering their inability to turn the ball over, ranking 4th in total D was a major accomplishment! This year Bush says the next step is give the ball back to Drew Brees and company more often. “We just want to give the ball back to our high powered offense, to give them more opportunities. I’m excited to see what we bring to the table this season.”
The addition of safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey should help the defense force more turnovers. “Byrd's arguably the best safety in the game, it’s going to be exciting to see how we mesh. I’m really excited to see how it’s going to play out this season” said Bush. Byrd is the ballhawking safety New Orleans lacked a year ago. Byrd has 22 career interceptions and has averaged over 4 interceptions a season. Compare that with former Saints safety Malcom Jenkins' 4 career INT’s over the same span. Get the point?
“We just want to be the best,” Bush explained. The best might not be a total numbers improvement in overall rankings. The Saints defense might slip from fourth overall to say 8th, but if the turnovers increase by 10, the defense will be better.
A player to watch this season is defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Entering his third NFL season, Hicks is a prime candidate for that “breakout year." Offensive lineman Zach Strief said Hicks is a handful: “He’s a strong man. If he gets guys extended I don’t know how they’re going to block him.” Hicks joined the Saints in 2012 as the teams 3rd round pick. “He’s really using his hands well this year. He’s explosive. If that guy gets his hands on you it’s not good for business. You better hope he guesses wrong. He’s a tough block,” Strief said. “I’m glad he’s on my team!” Strief added. Look for Hicks to add to the 4.5 sacks he registered a year ago. This is the next rising start on the Saints defense.