At some point this season the New Orleans Saints’ secondary will be on the field together. When that point comes remains a mystery.
New Orleans took another hit this week with cornerback Keenan Lewis undergoing hip surgery. According to the NFL Network, he’s expected to miss at least four weeks.
Lewis has been the linchpin of the Saints’ secondary and serves as the No. 1 cornerback. Without him, the team will likely turn to first-year player and Canadian Football League import Delvin Breaux to fill in. Brandon Browner, who signed this offseason, will be the other starter.
Lewis battled an injury earlier in camp and tried to play in last week’s game against the Houston Texans.
The secondary was supposed to be the strength of this defense, but it has been decimated by injuries this offseason. Safety Jairus Byrd has not practiced since organized team activities, as he’s out with an undisclosed injury.
Strong safety Kenny Vaccaro is fighting an injury that kept him out of action against the Houston Texans, and Browner suffered a knee injury in the first week of the preseason and has not played since. Both players are expected to be back sooner than later.
For Byrd, the timetable for his return remains a mystery. The team, however, continues to downplay the situation.
“I think we have a pretty good idea in regards to when those guys will be back, and we’ll plan accordingly,” coach Sean Payton said. “Some of that you can’t control, and it is not just unique to our team. It’s pretty common in the league.”
The members of the defense have been steadfast in saying the group will eventually come together despite not playing with one another during training camp.
The Saints also say they’re confident in their backups.
“I think we pride ourselves on having a good second line,” defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “Most teams look at it as you’re only as good as your backups anyway. If the guy in front of him goes down those guys got to step up. We thing we have a good group of guys that can handle it.”
Still, not playing together was one of the issues often cited last season for the defense regressing to become one of the worst units in the league after finishing in the top five the previous year.
Last year, Byrd missed most of the offseason program and did not get back on the field until late in training camp. It took him several weeks to get up to speed and then he missed the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in Week 4.
Lewis won’t have those issues when he returns. He’s familiar with the system and is a proven commodity, but the current group could have issues getting on the same page and getting used to one another early in the season.
The potential saving grace here is that, unlike last season, the Saints appear to have quality depth at cornerback this season.
Breaux, who was also injured for a period of time this preseason, has appeared capable in practices and should be able to hold down the spot better than some of the candidates who played opposite Lewis last season after Champ Bailey was released coming out of camp.
Behind Breaux and Browner, rookie Damian Swann has also played well. Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Kyle Wilson fill out the cornerback depth. Brian Dixon is also in the mix.
But sustaining and thriving are different things. With a questionable pass rush following the release of Junior Galette earlier in camp, New Orleans needs a secondary that can cover long enough for the front seven to get after the quarterback.
It’s now questionable how well the group can handle that task without Lewis.
What was once a strength of this defense is once again a major question mark.