WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Cam Jordan finds himself standing squarely in the spotlight.
The big defensive end is the Saints’ new defensive centerpiece, a $60 million man locked up for the foreseeable future. His longtime running mate, Junior Galette, is gone, released after a maelstrom of his own making, leaving Jordan to lead the resurrection of a pass rush that failed to live up to its disruptive potential last season.
The Saints say Jordan can bear those kinds of heavy expectations. From the Saints’ perspective, Jordan is underrated.
“To me, in this league, what people like to see is a sack number. People are like, ‘He’s got 13 sacks, he’s elite,’ “ tackle Zach Strief said. ”The reality is, some guys are put in positions where you’re there, literally, at an advantage. You put a guy in a situation where he has a good environment to get a sack. Cam has never played in that environment.”
Jordan is about to get his chance.
When the Saints lined up in their base defense on the first day of training camp Thursday, Jordan was in Galette’s old Jack position, lined up with his hand on the ground in a 7-technique, far outside the tackle and away from the tight end. Up until now, Jordan has spent his career lining up on the inside shoulder of the tackle, forcing him to deal with both the tackle and the guard. By placing Jordan at the Jack, the Saints are figuratively removing a 300-pounder from one of Jordan’s arms.
“It’s starting to feel a little bit more Cam-friendly, for sure,” Jordan said.
New Orleans is betting big that highlighting Jordan will fix a pass rush that nose-dived last season.
A defense that finished fourth in the NFL with 49 sacks in 2013 tumbled all the way to 34 sacks and 25th a year ago, putting even more pressure on an already beleaguered secondary. New Orleans shored up the defensive backfield with several additions in the offseason, but even an elite secondary needs an effective pass rusher to hurry quarterbacks and keep mobile passers from extending the play. In the wake of the decision to release Galette, the pass rush leapt right to the top of the questions the Saints need to answer in training camp.
Sean Payton is confident the Saints can replace the loss of Galette’s production, in large part because of Jordan’s presence.
“Absolutely,” Payton said. “Where we’re playing Cam, with what we’re going do defensively, because there’s some changes with how we line guys up, absolutely.”
By virtue of his importance to the defense, Jordan is sort of automatically going to be asked to assume a leadership role.
And although he resisted the notion that his new contract and new role make him the face of the Saints defense, Jordan admits he considers himself a leader on a defense that has already lost five starters off of last year’s unit.
“I’m one of the older guys that have been on this team,” Jordan said. “I mean, there’s plenty of guys who’ve been around the league for years, everywhere from seven to 13 years in, but we’re talking about guys who’ve been here for five years on this defense? Me.”
Despite the 29 sacks he’s racked up over the past three seasons, Jordan is often overlooked when the topic of conversation turns to elite pass rushers.
But the Saints think he should. The deal Jordan signed in June placed him among the 20 highest-paid non-quarterbacks in the league.
Strief has been trying to block Jordan in practice for years, and after a nine-year career spent going up against the NFL’s best pressure players, Strief thinks his teammate should be included among the NFL’s top tier.
“I think Cam is an elite rusher,” Strief said. “He (has been) out-leveraged, and it’s just the way that the defense is kind of built, but he’s got as much energy as any guy I’ve ever played against. He can beat you in the pass game with different moves. He can push you to the quarterback, beat guys with power. He’s very good, very accurate with his hands, so if you put that guy in a situation to be on an island...”
The Saints think the results will earn Jordan the accolades he deserves.