Kasim Edebali has spent the past two weeks trying to learn a new position on the fly.
Edebali, an outside linebacker/defensive end “tweener” who has almost always been used as a pass rusher, opened training camp as a defensive end.
Then the defensive staff saw something in Edebali’s skill set.
“Coach told me, ‘You can move in space. You can move around. Let’s put you in a position where you can do all these things,’ ” Edebali said.
Edebali has shifted to strongside linebacker in the Saints’ base 4-3 defense, a role he’s never really played before.
“It actually feels nice,” Edebali said. “You’re standing up, you can see a little bit more. If you’re in a four-point stance, a three-point stance, you see your man. Now I see what’s going on in the backfield, the different sets. It’s a little bit more information intake.”
The hardest part is learning to play in coverage. The former Boston College star has spent most of his career learning to go forward; now he’s being asked to backpedal into coverage on some snaps.
Edebali’s first few days were tough. Now he feels like he’s getting the hang of it, and his days as a pass rusher are far from over. When the Saints go to their nickel and dime packages — which will likely be more than 70 percent of the time in the regular season — Edebali’s hand is back in the dirt, attacking the quarterback off the edge.
“He’s a high-motor player, he plays with great effort and energy,” coach Sean Payton said. “We know he can play in the kicking game, which is a huge plus. The key is finding his growth in the defense. Is that coming in sub downs as a pass rusher? Is it in base as an outside linebacker? That’s what we’re evaluating now.”
Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker may still be neck-and-neck in the race to be the Saints’ next kicker.
Two preseason games and 10 practices remain before final cuts Sept. 5, and Payton plans to use every kick to make the final decision.
“You’re hoping that one stands out,” Payton said. “You’re hoping that one separates himself, so it would be practice, it would be the games.”
So far, Payton sees the two kickers in a dead heat. He wants one to take a commanding lead.
“Hopefully that happens here soon,” Payton said. “Both of them have shown real good signs and then both of them, at times, haven’t been as consistent. So hopefully in this game, throughout the next 10 days of practice, in Green Bay, we’ll get a better feel.”
The Saints’ decision to hold Friday’s practice at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium was something of an 11th-hour decision.
Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis made the decision within the last week.
Payton joked that Tulane coach Curtis Johnson has brought his team over to use the Saints’ field house enough times that Johnson owed him one — but in reality, the practice represents an opportunity to connect with the fan base.
“Certainly, a Friday night gives a lot of opportunity for people who’ve been otherwise working to come see a practice,” Payton said. “The weather’s been fantastic here this week, so we should have good weather. Logistically, it’s pretty easy to get over there.”
Five observations from the practice field:
1. Delvin Breaux has been brilliant since returning from injury, particularly in the one-on-ones, where he has given up only one completion in three days.
2. Brandon Coleman came away with a long TD catch at the end of two-minute drill, but the play was a result of the defense’s blown coverage.
3. Rookie quarterback Garrett Grayson is going to have some ups and downs. He followed two bad throws with a beautiful touchdown to Seantavius Jones.
4. Kasim Edebali had a big day, coming up with two sacks and a tackle-for-loss on the same drive against the second-team offense.
5. Brian Dixon has picked it up on defense in the past week, and his prowess on special teams keeps him squarely in the CB race.