Saints training camp countdown (Part 6): secondary
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints have 17 defensive backs on their roster.
They play five or six defensive backs at a time more frequently than they play the traditional four.
They have to replace both of their starting safeties from last season.
In other words, the secondary is the area of the team demanding the most attention during training camp, which begins next week, and the three preseason games next month.
On top of all that the defensive backs are one of the biggest sources of special teams performers, adding another element to a complex player-evaluation process.
The spotlight on the secondary will shine brightest on a pair of new starting safeties.
Marcus Williams signed with Baltimore as a free agent and Malcolm Jenkins retired, creating the double void at safety. The Saints signed former New York Jet Marcus Maye and former LSU star/NFL veteran Tyrann Mathieu to replace them.
“Marcus and Malcolm had their own characteristics that they brought to the table for us that helped us to be one of the better defenses in the league,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think both Tyrann and Marcus Maye have their own qualities that I think can allow us to be again one of the better defenses in our league.”
Mathieu and Maye will be the starters, but the preseason will be important for them to get up to speed on the scheme, develop relationships with the other starters – cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Paulson Adebo and nickel-back C.J. Gardner-Johnson – as well as secondary coach Kris Richard, who has taken on co-defensive coordinator duties along with defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.
Richard called Mathieu “a consummate professional” and Nielsen said the New Orleans native and St. Augustine High School alumnus is “the epitome of a professional football player.”
“There’s a reason why this guy has been an All-Pro,” Richard said. “He’s early to every meeting, attentive, wants to learn as much as he can and then he comes out to the field and his work ethic translates to that preparation.”
Maye was limited in the offseason because Achilles surgery he had last November. He should be 100 percent sometime during training camp, but he faces more uncertainty. His initial hearing on a DUI arrest in February 2021 in Florida has been postponed three times. It’s now set for August 24.
The Saints signed former Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen as a free agent and re-signed veteran P.J. Williams so they have experienced depth there.
As for the cornerbacks, the Saints made a trade early last season to get cornerback Brandon Roby from Houston, but he couldn’t beat out Adebo, a third-round draft choice who was the only Saints defender to start every game last season.
Still the Saints thought enough of Roby to re-sign him and the battle between Adebo and Roby for a starting spot alongside Lattimore, one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, will be a training-camp highlight. They used their second-round draft choice on Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor.
Younger players battling for the remaining spots understand that one is almost certainly going to go to J.T. Gray, one of the best special teams players in the NFL.
Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mickey Loomis said after the draft that teams can’t have enough defensive backs.
But the Saints might be close.
Projected starters: CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Paulson Adebo, S Tyrann Mathieu, S Marcus Maye.
Arrivals: CB Alontae Taylor (D-2), S Justin Evans (FA), S Daniel Sorensen (FA), S Smoke Monday (UDFA), DB DaMarcus Fields, DB Vincent Gray
Other returning players: DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson, CB Bradley Roby, CB P.J. Williams, DB J.T. Gray, DB Dylan Mabin, DB Jordan Miller, CB Bryce Thompson
Notable departures: S Marcus Williams, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Jeff Heath, CB Ken Crawley,
Roster spots: 11-13
To read all of the pre-training camp analysis on the countdown, click here.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…