WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — A weird thing happened this week in the film room at The Greenbrier when the Saints coaching staff sat down to review the tape from each day’s practice session.
Typically, at some point within the first few days, the coaches are logging the mental mistakes made by players and work to correct those errors. Those things are expected when the system is being installed, and especially when the defense is scrapping last year’s system and using new concepts.
But Rob Ryan wasn’t taking many notes on mistakes during those film sessions. No mistakes after the first day. Same for the second day of practice. It wasn’t until Saturday, the first practice conducted in pads, that he finally spotted some mental errors that needed to be corrected.
“You don’t like to make those mental mistakes, but usually they come a lot faster than Day (3),” the New Orleans defensive coordinator said. “Especially going against a Sean Payton offense. You got everything to stop. It’s not easy.”
Not much looked easy on defense for the Saints last year. They finished 31st in the league in yards allowed and played a big part in a disappointing 7-9 finish.
It was clear things needed to change. After the season ended, Payton came up with an idea for how to simplify things and make it easier for the players to simply go out and execute after seeing too many mental errors on film.
So far, the results have been good. The team is using more single-high safety looks and playing press coverage in the base defense, as opposed to using multiple looks in the secondary last season. Across the line, the team is using a four-man front in the base package. The changes also allow Kenny Vaccaro to play in the box, where he can make more plays.
“You can line him up backwards, and he’ll be able to go,” Ryan said. “We love him and this style of play is going to be great for Kenny.”
For a coach like Ryan, who likes to mix things up and is known for coming up with new ideas on defense, this transition might seem difficult or suffocating. He says it isn’t.
“I like stopping people,” Ryan said. “I didn’t like last year, that’s obvious, it’s well documented, you guys did a great job on that.”
Ryan also believes the perception of him is a bit off.
“The thing is I’m also the guy who worked for (deceased Oakland Raiders owner) Al Davis for five years and all we did is play post-safety defense. There’s a vision of the team and no one is going advance that vision, I’ll speak for myself, in my opinion, better than I will.
“I’ve coached 3-4, 4-3, 7-2 — I don’t even know what that is — but I’ve coached everything there is. ... We got the beautiful vision here, we got the players to do it, we’re excited.”
Now that beautiful vision needs to work if Ryan wants to change the story this season.