In the 2011 NFL draft, the Saints selected defensive end Cameron Jordan out of the University of California with the 24th overall pick. Throughout his rookie campaign, I would say Jordan played pretty well.
He played in every single game, starting in fifteen, and totaled 37 tackles (24 solo, 13 assisted) with one fumble recovery.
Jordan managed just one sack though and was often taken out of the game on third downs and replaced by pass rush specialist Junior Galette.
The Saints knew that coming out of the draft Jordan would primarily be a run defender, and he did that very well towards the end of the season. I can recall many times where he was able to seal the edge, shed a blocker and make an open-field tackle on the ball carrier. Now, while run stopping abilities don't make for great highlight reels, it is obviously still a valuable talent and an area where this Saints team sure needed help.
And really, Jordan's sack total would have been at least four if not for some untimely penalties by the Black and Gold, or the opposing QB having intentional grounding called on them.
Yeah I know; woulda, coulda, shoulda. You never want to hear excuses, but I think it's safe to say Cam Jordan is off to a good start in his NFL career.
Where he needs to improve is rushing the passer.
Enter new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Coach Spags has a past of working with high potential players and making them better. While with the New York Giants he coached the likes of Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
Now, I do not believe that Spagnuolo had a hand in molding Strahan because he was a monster long before Spags joined the G-Men. However, I think Umenyiora and Tuck benefited greatly from learning under Spagnuolo, and the two are still playing great football. That, by the way, just helped the Giants win another Super Bowl title.
Spags also helped with the development of Chris Long during his tenure as the St. Louis Rams head coach.
In 2008, Long's rookie year, he recorded four sacks. The next year Spagnuolo joined the team. Every year after that he helped Long get better. In Long's sophomore year he tallied five sacks, but he really took off in 2010 and 2011. In those two seasons, he combined for 21.5 sacks.
I have no doubt Spagnuolo can help Jordan see similar improvement. We may never see Jordan putting up 16 or 17 sacks in one year, but I do believe that he could get close to 10 a season with Spagnuolo now running the defense.
Spags typically runs a scheme that requires pressure from his four down linemen and nothing but coverage from his defensive backs.
Jordan will immediately be expected to do more, and I think that will help him progress very quickly. It will now become a requirement for Jordan to get constant pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
He may also benefit from the great coverage we will see from the Saints' secondary and athletic corps of linebackers.
Instead of having six or seven guys blitzing on each play, we will see four linemen rush and the other seven players drop back into coverage or help in run support. This will help because the quarterback may have nowhere to go with the ball, thus resulting in coverage sacks.
One last factor to remember is that Jordan will be going through his first real NFL training camp this coming season.
Because of the lockout Drew Brees hosted team workouts at Tulane this past season. While I'm sure they were beneficial, it still had to be difficult on all rookies not having the structure and guidance from the coaching staff.
Listen, Jordan definitely has the skills to be an NFL defensive end, and he has already shown he can stop the run game. Now with Spagnuolo coming to New Orleans to run the defense, he may just be able to develop into one of the league's premier defensive ends.