WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — You can’t be mad at Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Yeah, Vaccaro popped Jimmy Graham near the sideline during Saturday morning’s Black and Gold scrimmage, his way of treating the All-Pro, $40 million tight end like just another guy with a football tucked next to his ribs.
Graham didn’t like it — his football bravado as vaulted as his defensive teammate.
Don’t forget that last offseason, a rookie Vaccaro made local headlines by tangling with this 6-foot-7 monster and daring to stare and even shove him.
Vaccaro’s brashness extend to Atlanta’s Tony Gonzales and others during the regular season, toughening up a defense which one season earlier was the NFL’s worst.
And now, Vaccaro’s athleticism and attitude are a hit — figuratively and literally — with the Saints defense, which moved up last season to fourth in the league.
He’s one of the pulses of a Saints defense with multiple football personalities.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is entertainment. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan is fun. Outside linebacker Junior Galette is energy. Defensive end Akiem Hicks has transformed into rage. Middle linebackers Curtis Lofton are David Hawthorne are consistency. Free safety Jarius Byrd, new to the defense, appears to be smooth.
“I think everyone has a say,” Galette said after Saturday’s Black and Gold scrimmage at The Greenbrier Resort. “We all respect each other and our ability. It’s a unity thing.”
Vaccaro — tattooed, rugged and unapologetic — is himself. He’s motivated by the mayhem he causes offenses, and the family he supports with every tackle. Unfazed by two concussions he suffered in 2013, or the fractured ankle he endured during the regular season finale at Carolina, an injury he tried to twist back into place to stay on the field.
Seconds after his Saturday moment with Graham, Vaccaro followed Mark Ingram’s movements to the right of his defense, meeting him with an embrace which made him last season’s hardest-hitting Saints player.
The Saints defense struggled early against a Drew Brees-less Saints offense before increasing pressure with its pass rush and big plays elsewhere on the field.
“We gave up a few big plays and didn’t tackle too well,” Lofton said. “You’re going to get that in your first live tackling and stuff, but as a defense we’ve just got to get better, watch the film, and see what we need corrected. We’ll get it corrected.”
Vaccaro, always lurking from the secondary, won’t be far away.