The New Orleans Saints made Cameron Jordan the face of their defense in the summer.
By signing Jordan to a five-year extension that would keep the defensive end until 2020 and making him a captain, New Orleans handed the keys to the fifth-year product, a budding star coming off of a season where his numbers fell.
Despite a disappointing season for the defense as a whole, Jordan lived up to the billing. Jordan notched his 10th sack of the season by taking down Matt Ryan early in the third quarter, cementing an impressive individual year that still left him wanting more.
“Hopefully, it would have translated into a playoff run this year, but that’s not the case,” Jordan said. “This year, that’s a great personal note for me, but it’s not enough for the team. There’s got to be more.”
Jordan, who led a defense that started as many as five rookies or first-year players at times, said he believes there’s potential for this Saints defense.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who are growing up,” Jordan said. “With everything that’s gone on this season, we have so much room for improvement that I’m looking forward to the growth of everybody who’s on our defense.”
Man of many talents
Terron Armstead has battled through a painful knee injury all season long.
But when Armstead warmed up for Sunday’s game against Atlanta, the knee wouldn’t let him go, and rookie tackle Andrus Peat was already sidelined with a concussion.
Enter Senio Kelemete, the third-year player who spent most of training camp learning to back up Max Unger at center, made five starts at right guard in place of Jahri Evans this season, and hadn’t taken a snap at left tackle in a game since he was in college in Washington.
“He went out there, tested it out, and it didn’t feel right,” Kelemete said. “That’s when I got the nod.”
Kelemete got the nod instead of Tony Hills, a veteran who stepped into the first game against Atlanta in a similar situation. A left tackle at Washington, Kelemete has always been projected as an interior lineman since he entered the draft, but the versatile guard stepped up and anchored the blind side for an offensive line that held Atlanta’s punchless pass rush without a sack Sunday.
“Senio was tremendous,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was all quiet on the left side.”
For Kelemete, the performance is big heading into an offseason where he will be a restricted free agent. A lineman who can play all five spots on the offensive line is a rare luxury in today’s NFL.
“It shows them that I can play wherever they want me to play,” Kelemete said. “It shows them I have value.”
The Saints’ opponents for the 2016 season have been set. By beating Atlanta on Sunday, New Orleans will play Seattle, St. Louis, Denver, Oakland, Detroit and the NFC South teams — Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta — at home.
The away schedule will consist of dates against the NFC South, Arizona, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego and the New York Giants.
Carolina, Seattle, Arizona, Kansas City and Denver all made the playoffs this season.
Along with their divisional opponents, New Orleans also played Detroit, Arizona and the Giants this season, winning against only the Giants. Times and dates for the games are typically announced in April.
First-year Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux injured his foot late in the second half and did not return to the game, but the injury likely won’t affect his offseason. After the game, Breaux said his injury was not serious. ... Rookie middle linebacker Stephone Anthony also suffered an ankle injury and did not return. Anthony could be seen running on the sideline after the injury. ... Wide receiver Willie Snead came up just shy of giving the Saints two 1,000-yard receivers. Snead caught three passes for 35 yards, leaving him with 984 yards for the season and just 16 short of his goal.