The New Orleans Saints’ effort to revamp their defense took a hit after defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha suffered a torn ACL during practice earlier this week, according to a source.
Kikaha figured to be a major piece of the defense, and the team was planning to move him down to defensive end to help aid with the pass rush this season. The former second-round pick served as a strongside linebacker last season and finished the year with four sacks and four forced fumbles.
“My man Kikaha has come back before (and will do it again .. this time even better -- count on it,” his agent, Timothy Younger, wrote on Twitter.
The coaching staff was impressed with the work Kikaha had done during organized team activities.
“The technique that we coach is different than most people in base technique, and Hau had really grabbed a hold of it,” pass-rush coach Brian Young said. “He was probably one of the best guys we had so far at truly coming out of his hips and attacking square and doing all the things we’re asking for.”
It’s not immediately clear which knee he injured, but the pass rusher suffered two torn ACLs while in college at the University of Washington.
New Orleans began reaching out to some free agent players earlier this week, according to a source.
If the Saints stick with internal options, Obum Gwacham could serve in the Jack position. It’s also possible Cam Jordan serves as the so-called “rush end,” a position he served in last season after previously working as the strongside end.
Bobby Richardson served as the strongside end last season.
New Orleans also has second-year player Davis Tull, who spent last season on injured reserve, and Kasim Edebali at the position.
“At that position you have Obum Gwacham, who showed enough last year and started with a sack against the Redskins and kept pushing forward,” Cam Jordan said. “Of course, Kasim Edebali. He’ll have to come back healthy. I mean he had five (sacks) last year, but he showed a lot of versatility last year. Stout against the run, plays the pass rush from the outside to the in. With that being said, we also have Davis Tull. ... But we’re looking forward to seeing him progress.”
It’s also possible the Saints could look to use more three-man fronts this season. The defense has pledged to be more multiple, and it’s not out of the question for the team to use some three-man fronts with six defensive backs on the field.
But that would likely only be one wrinkle to the defense. The team will need someone to step up and serve as a pass rusher opposite Jordan when it looks to use a four-man defensive line.
This is a hit for the defense, much the same it was a hit for the defense last season when Junior Galette first suffered a pectoral injury and then was released after details of his alleged off-field activities came to light.
New Orleans ultimately released Galette before training camp and was then forced to piece together a defensive line that struggled to generate consistent pressure on quarterbacks throughout the season.
It appears there are better internal options this season, and Kikaha was not guaranteed to win the spot he was competing for, but he was considered the frontrunner to work off the edge opposite Jordan.
The Saints were looking to find out if Kikaha, who is listed at 249 pounds, could serve as an every-down player. At the very least, the team was looking to utilize him as a defensive end in subpackages, which the team operates out of on nearly 70 percent of its snaps.
Kiakaha excelled at the position while in college, where he recorded 19 sacks as a senior and 12.5 as a junior.
That kind of potential isn’t as obvious in some of the other players. They have shown flashes of potential in limited doses but have yet to have the same kind of consistent success.
For the Saints to buck the trend of the past few seasons and perform better on defense, at least one of the other players is going to have to step into the void.