Dec 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is sacked by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette (93) and defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive end Akiem Hicks (76) during the first quarter of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The New Orleans Saints finished fourth in the NFL in overall defense in 2013. It was a complete turnaround from the previous year when the Black and Gold concluded their 2012 season as one of the worst defenses in the history of the league. Rob Ryan came in and completely reorganized the structure of that side side of the ball, bringing out the best in guys like DE Cam Jordan and OLB Junior Galette with a fresh, hybrid 3-4 scheme.
CB Keenan Lewis was added to the equation and shined in the team’s new game plan, becoming one of the league’s top shutdown corners. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was drafted No. 15 overall in the first round; he manufactured himself into an immediate contender for defensive rookie of the year. ILB Curtis Lofton played his role and led the team in tackles for a second consecutive season. Imagine the idea of introducing additional talent to the strategy…
Free agency was a tough time for many Saints fans after parting ways with defensive veterans Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, Will Smith, Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins. However, the NFL is a business and sometimes business decisions need to be made. It’s time for the younger guys to shine. Out with the old, in with the new. Right? By freeing up that cap space, New Orleans equipped two new weapons to their defense; they acquired an elite playmaker in Jairus Byrd and 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
Bailey has certainly lost a step or two with age, but his leadership and experience are undeniable. Byrd, on the other hand, is still blooming and just now entering his prime. Since the NFL showcased Byrd’s talent in 2009, his 22 interceptions are the most among players at his position. The Vaccaro/Byrd duo will be an electrifying obstacle for opposing offenses to overcome this season.
Rumor has it that players on the New Orleans Saints’ defense are refurbishing an old team nickname and dubbing themselves the “Dome Patrol HD.” The Dome Patrol was the nickname of the Saints’ linebacker corps in the late 80′s and early 90′s. It consisted of OLB Rickey Jackson (6 Pro Bowls and first Saint to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame), OLB Pat Swilling (5 Pro Bowls), MLB Sam Mills (5 Pro Bowls) and MLB Vaughan Johnson (4 Pro Bowls).
With the resume of those four guys, is “Dome Patrol HD” a little farfetched? Maybe, but the reference is now regarding to the entire defense, not just the linebackers. The display of toughness, aggressiveness and determination that Rob Ryan’s unit conducted in 2013 gives them the right to call themselves whatever they want.
Let’s take a look at the potential starting 11 on defense for the 2014 season: DE Cam Jordan, NT Brodrick Bunkley, DE Akiem Hicks, OLB Junior Galette, ILB Curtis Lofton, ILB David Hawthorne, OLB Victor Butler (missed 2013 with a knee injury), CB Keenan Lewis, CB Champ Bailey, FS Jairus Byrd, and SS Kenny Vaccaro.
That seems like high-definition talent patrolling the Superdome to me. Will the New Orleans Saints’ live up to their name in 2014? Odds look to be in their favor. Watch for the Black and Gold to accompany the defense with additional playmakers when the NFL Draft kicks off tomorrow night.