Delvin Breaux rarely says a word on the football field.
Off the field, Breaux is a charming, easygoing communicator, but he keeps his mouth shut once he steps between the lines, bucking the long-standing tradition of brash, trash-talking cornerbacks.
Breaux can’t even be drawn into a verbal test of wills by the chirpiest of receivers. Snap after snap, the New Orleans native just goes about his business, a personal ethos that can drive opposing receivers nuts.
“When it’s on the field, it’s time to do work, it’s not time to talk,” Breaux said. “People talk to me, but I just ignore them and go back to the huddle. ... They get more frustrated because I’m not responding.”
Breaux lets his hands do the talking.
Powerful is rarely a term floated around the cornerback position, but Breaux is the exception, not the rule. At 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, Breaux has the heavy hands of a boxer, so strong that the Saints’ receivers have learned that the only way to beat the CFL import in man-to-man coverage is to try to make him miss at the line of scrimmage.
Even veteran wide receiver Josh Morgan, a 225-pounder who prides himself on the physical nature he brings to the passing game, uses reps against Breaux in practice to work on quick, shifty moves to beat press coverage. Trying to engage Breaux in hand-to-hand combat is almost always a mistake.
“He’s one of the strongest corners I’ve ever played against,” Morgan said. “You definitely have to keep his hands off of you. I call him ‘Vise Grips.’ Once he gets his hands on you, he’s locking on like a pit bull. Not that he’s holding or anything, that’s just how his strength is. It’s rare in the secondary.”
Breaux’s ability to disrupt a receiver’s route shines in one-on-one situations.
A big part of playing cornerback is leveling the playing field. On every snap, the wide receiver knows where he’s headed; the cornerback doesn’t. That inherent advantage creates the need to press the receiver at the line, to force him to take his route where it’s not supposed to go. Win the line of scrimmage, and the rest becomes a lot easier.
Breaux wins the line of scrimmage so often that he’s developed a reputation in the Saints’ receiver room. When Joe Morgan was asked earlier this week to pick the corner that gives him the most trouble in one-on-ones, the first name that popped into his head was Breaux’s.
The hardest part is knowing when to take off the vise grips. Like a lot of rookie cornerbacks, Breaux finds himself adjusting to the NFL’s receiver-friendly rules on contact.
“In the CFL, you can actually have contact all the way down the field until the ball’s in the air,” Breaux said. “In the NFL, you have to know when to stop. It’s been a difficult transition, but I’m getting it every day with more repetition.”
Despite his relative inexperience, Breaux has rarely been flagged during training camp, a testament to the rest of his skills as a cover corner.
Breaux’s hands stand out, but he’s also got enough speed to run with Brandin Cooks on a deep ball down the sideline, as he did during Wednesday’s practice, and the quickness needed to take on smaller receivers in the slot.
When the Saints signed Breaux, the initial plan was to use him to back up Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner on the outside. By the end of minicamp, Breaux was working in the slot as the Saints’ primary nickel back.
“He has some great cover skills,” assistant coach Joe Vitt said. “There’s going to be a learning curve in this league with the formation variation and the motions and the things he has to learn, going from man to zone concepts, but man, he’s been quite the surprise.”
Breaux, who opened in the slot against Baltimore in the preseason opener, suffered an injury breaking up a deep ball against the Ravens that kept him out of the Saints’ second preseason game against New England.
All the injury did was delay a triumphant moment for Breaux. When he takes the field against the Houston Texans on Saturday, he’ll be playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first time since he made a cameo appearance as a Little League running back.
The rest of the Saints said Breaux has a chance to be a household name right away.
“Watching his technique, watching him work every day, you would think he’s a five or six-year vet,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “I think he’s going to be a superstar.”
Turns out Breaux’s teammates can do the talking for him.