Top 10 New Orleans Saints to watch at training camp: No. 7, Hau’oli Kikaha
The New Orleans Saints made a handful of necessary offseason moves in an attempt to revamp a roster that struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball a year ago. Between the draft and several free agent acquisitions, the Black and Gold have a boatload of faces to keep an eye on at training camp, including second-round pick Hau’oli Kikaha, a star outside linebacker from the University of Washington.
The Saints had a hard time getting after opposing quarterbacks in 2014. Kikaha could potentially come in and change that immediately, especially since he may be thrown into a sizable role with Junior Galette’s status uncertain after a very bumpy offseason.
The sky is the limit for Hau’oli Kikaha. After facing adversity in 2011 and 2012, falling to back-to-back season-ending injuries, the Hawaiian native became one of the nation’s most polished pass rushers.
In 2013, Kikaha rebounded, and in extreme fashion, earning first-team Academic All-Pac 12 as a student athelete and second-team All-Pac 12 for his performance on the field. He led the Huskies with a team-high 13 sacks, just 1.5 short of the school record.
But 2014 would be even bigger. He led the FBS in sacks with 19, shattering numerous school records before heading to the draft. His records include career sacks (36), career tackles for loss yards (275), a staggering single-season sacks record (19), single-season tackles for loss (25), and single-season tackles for loss yards (139). All single-season records came in 2014.
Draft experts like to question the Saints’ decision to take Hau’oli Kikaha with their second-round pick. Some say he was a drafted a bit high due to his injury-plagued past and a lack of speed. But last time I checked, he’s been healthy and dominant for the past two years, and explosiveness off the snap and hand usage (his specialty) are far more important than what 40-yard dash time you run as a linebacker.
The former Judo champion has a mean streak. The kid can play football. He’s a high-motored, passionate, resilient individual — ideal characteristics for a guy who looks make a career out of being a quarterback’s nightmare.
New Orleans Saints fans, players and coaches hope to catch a glimpse of Hau’oli Kikaha’s propitious talents first hand, beginning at training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Of course, the NFL is an entirely new level of football, so there’s really no telling how he’ll transition until the pads are on.
I can’t sit here and say Hau’oli Kikaha will be great since he hasn’t taken a single snap in the NFL. But, with a very high ceiling, he will be one of the more intriguing prospects to keep an eye on this summer as he looks to outshine his competition with hopes of earning a starting role sooner rather than later.
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