After a superb offseason, the New Orleans Saints are locked and loaded at the safety position. Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd look to hold it down for the secondary, but what about the other guys who are going to be battling to earn a spot on Rob Ryan‘s defense?
Rafael Bush was resigned after the Saints matched an offer made by the Atlanta Falcons. Following the departure of Malcolm Jenkins, he was the frontrunner to start at free safety. The addition of Jairus Byrd now gives Bush the upper hand at backing up the former Buffalo Bill. When on the field last year, he played like a solid starter. His skillset and intensity grant him the ability to be a serious playmaker for New Orleans, especially in three-safety sets–something that is used often by Rob Ryan. Bush could be starting for another team, but for now, he adds solid depth to the safety position.
On April 2, the Black and Gold signed Marcus Ball following his release from the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts. Ball started his college football career at Florida State before going to play at Pearl River Community College (MS) and eventually ending his campaign with the University of Memphis. He brings good size and strength to the team and will probably be used in an attacking strong safety role similar to that of former Saint, Roman Harper. The spot behind Kenny Vaccaro is still open for competition, but Ball is the favorite to win it after reaching a three-year deal with New Orleans. His presence will likely be felt on special teams as well.
The Saints made a surprise move by selecting Alabama‘s Vinnie Sunseri in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He looks to be Ball’s main competition during training camp. Sunseri started the first seven games for the Crimson Tide in 2013 before suffering a torn ACL on the opening kickoff against Arkansas on October 19. He was medically excluded from the NFL Scouting Combine, but that didn’t stop New Orleans. He brings great size, big hands and the ability to read and react quickly on defense. Sunseri is a coach’s son and a product of Nick Saban, which has helped him prepare for life at the next level. With a strong performance this summer, he could give Marcus Ball a run for his money or even earn himself a starting role on special teams.
Ty Zimmerman was recently picked up by the Black and Gold as an undrafted free agent. As a safety at Kansas State, he was named First-team All Big-12 by coaches and the Associated Press in 2012 and 2013, but went untouched as the No. 14 ranked free safety in the draft. He will need time to develop in the NFL and will probably struggle to make the 53-man roster for the Saints. However, being a two-time All Big-12 selection shows that the talent needed to succeed is there.
Another undrafted rookie the Saints have landed is Pierre Warren out of Jacksonville State. Like Zimmerman, he looks to be an odd man out. If New Orleans decides to keep all but one safety, a hard-fought battle between Warren and Zimmerman could take place. Warren lacks top-end speed and strength and has trouble recognizing plays. I just don’t see him making the cut, but training camp does present the opportunity for players to prove their critics wrong.
That fact that Rob Ryan said he plans to increase the amount of three-safety packages could mean good news for the underdogs, but a scenario with Ty Zimmerman or Pierre Warren just doesn’t seem likely. In order for them to be considered, they will need to play the best football of their lives this summer. The rest of the safeties will look to make the Saints one of the most feared defenses in the league. With the amount of depth and athleticism, I can assure you that New Orleans’ secondary is going to light it up in 2014, but for now, the Saints’ roster is open for competition. Game on.
Battles to watch: Ball vs. Sunseri and Zimmerman vs. Warren
Projected Safety Depth:
FS: Jairus Byrd, Rafael Bush
SS: Kenny Vaccaro, Marcus Ball, Vinnie Sunseri