Davis Tull isn’t able to learn at the same rate as the rest of the Saints’ rookies.
Not right now, at least. The Chattanooga product, who is being asked to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in the New Orleans defense, is still rehabbing his shoulder after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in late March.
Tull is hoping to be healthy in time for the start of training camp, but until he’s cleared, the rookie’s transition to the NFL has to be entirely intellectual. Unlike the rest of the rookie class, he can’t learn from his mistakes and make an immediate adjustment; instead, he has to learn by watching somebody else — somebody who might not have the same playing style or natural tendencies.
“I’ve got to go out there and kind of emulate guys, go through it in my head,” Tull said. “I think that helps, because I played primarily end in college, and now I’m in a linebacker role, so that’ll kind of help me in the transition there.”
Until Tull is able to take the field, it’s unclear whether the rookie will fit in the mix at strongside linebacker, where Parys Haralson plays, or begin his Saints career at the Jack position manned by Junior Galette.
Tull, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, will have to make an adjustment at either spot after lining up with his hand on the ground at Chattanooga, but the technique the Mocs taught may help him make a smooth transition. On running plays, Tull often came out of his stance and set the edge in an even base, playing the blocker head-to-head, instead of driving to the edge of an offensive lineman like most 4-3 defensive ends. Tull will have to learn to drop into coverage but, for the most part, he’ll be asked to drop into a zone rather than run with a tight end or running back down the field.
And the key for every one of the Saints outside linebackers, regardless of their position in the base defense, is what Tull made his name doing: getting to the quarterback.
“We see some upside with him,” coach Sean Payton said. “He was a good, productive player in college. He was a good pass rusher.”
Payton made it clear at the Saints’ rookie minicamp last weekend that disrupting the passing game has become the No. 1 priority for the New Orleans defense. Given the proliferation of three- and four-receiver sets in an NFL dominated by the passing game, New Orleans spends most of its time in its nickel or dime formations, playing with extra defensive backs and its best pass rushers on the field.
In those sub-packages, Tull, second-round pick Hau’oli Kikaha, free-agent addition Anthony Spencer, Galette and Haralson are all essentially playing the same position.
“Whether it’s the two young rookies or whether it’s Spencer, wither it’s Junior, all of them, we feel like our guys who will factor in the sub rush from an outside spot,” Payton said.
Before he can start making the transition, Tull has to get healthy and get on the field.
“He is rehabbing the shoulder; he’s got some work to do,” Payton said. “For him, I’m sure it will be a process, and the rehab being here will be good for him while he is learning the system.”
Now that he’s in Metairie and working out with the Saints’ training staff, Tull feels like he’s making much bigger strides toward recovery.
“We cranked it up a notch as soon as I got down here,” Tull said. “We’ve been going twice a day, five days a week. The healing’s a lot more accelerated since I’ve been down here.”
No date has been targeted for Tull’s return, either by the coaches or Tull himself.
The sooner he can start making the transition, the better his chances to earn a role at outside linebacker.
“I don’t know a specific timetable,” Tull said. “But everything’s right on pace, if not ahead. I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”