The nicks and bruises that kept the Saints starting secondary off the field last week against the New England Patriots might actually be a positive.
Keenan Lewis is sure of it.
Now that Lewis, Kenny Vaccaro and Delvin Breaux are back to full speed, and Brandon Browner appears to be on his way back soon, the Saints starting secondary is headed in the right direction health-wise, but a week with all five out could help the Saints down the line.
“It’s a great opportunity for some of the young guys to get that experience,” Lewis said. “Last year, a couple of guys went down and there were new people in, and they really didn’t know how to adjust. So to see them go against quality opponents like (Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady and those guys definitely helps them get ready.”
Young Saints cornerbacks like Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Damian Swann, guys who will likely make up the Saints’ second line of defense in the secondary, were thrown into the fire.
“You’re seeing Stanley get more work, you’re seeing Swann get more work. … You’re seeing a lot of those guys competing for playing time get more reps,” coach Sean Payton said. “Now, all of a sudden, Keenan’s back, and there’ll be a handful of these guys that are gradually working their way back into the lineup.”
The flip side, obviously, is whether the time away will hurt the chemistry of the Saints’ starting four, plus Breaux, when safety Jairus Byrd makes his eventual return.
“No, I think our top five has been playing in the league for a long time, so they know how to adjust. They know how to prepare; they know how to get ready for a big game,” Lewis said.
Two games into the preseason, the Saints are still looking for their first sack.
Undrafted free agent Bobby Richardson came the closest, getting both hands on Jimmy Garoppolo late in the first half Saturday night, only to watch the Patriots quarterback spin away.
New Orleans will continue to try to find the best way to rush the passer through the final two weeks of the preseason.
“It’s a work in progress, but certainly, it is a point of emphasis,” Payton said. “Whether you’re getting it from your four-man rush or you have to get it from pressure, but it’s something we’re working on.”
According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints have 13 hurries and four quarterback hits.
With a crowded race for a roster spot underway, the rookies are trying to do whatever they can to get a sack.
“Even this week, we’re working extra pass rush moves with (Saints assistant Brian Young), trying to get to the passer,” rookie defensive end Tavaris Barnes said. “That’s what the league is about.”
Chris Manhertz, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound former basketball player from Canisius College, failed to make it in training camp as a tight end with the Buffalo Bills.
But when he worked out for the Saints, something caught the team’s eye.
“He’s athletic, he’s big, so we brought him in,” Payton said. “When you see his size and stature, obviously, he’s got a lot to learn, but the workout was pretty impressive.”
Friday night lights
Friday’s practice will be held from 7-9 p.m. at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium and be open to the public. The practice was originally scheduled for 11 a.m.