Kenny Vaccaro feels good about how things might come together this season.
Through his first three years in the league, he’s seen his role change in nearly ever season. He’s been a nickel back, a deep safety, and a weapon down in the box, which is where he’s been at his best.
There isn’t much at this point that can catch the versatile New Orleans Saints safety by surprise. But this year, it looks like defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is going to stick with what has worked best for Vaccaro and the defense.
“Feels like I’m kind of doing what I did back in ’13,” Vaccaro said. “I’m playing over the slot, I’m blitzing, I’m covering tight ends. I’m kind of doing everything.”
His role will be more multifaceted than it during his rookie season in 2013. He won’t just be serving as a nickel. He’ll be doing all the things he mentioned, but will also move around the field a lot more.
How will that look? Vaccaro says that they’re using “it” a lot more than the Saints did during his rookie season.
What “it” means is that Vaccaro will be something of a weapon for the defense, and the team won’t be afraid of creating ways to let him loose and use his skills in different means. That means the rise of more three-safety packages and dropping Vaccaro in various spots to better utilize his unique talents.
“If I got the skill set to do it, then why not be dynamic?” he said. “There’s not a lot of safeties that can do all those things. I think that’s the way (Allen) wants to use me.”
It will be a major benefit to the three-safety sets the Saints are trying to put in place this offseason. The grouping will allow New Orleans to put some combination of Jairus Byrd, Erik Harris and Vonn Bell as the high safeties, with Vaccaro playing more in the box.
The alignment will allow the Saints to be strong against the pass and run since Vaccaro possesses the ability to cover slot receivers and tight ends, as well as set the edge. The other benefit is that it should help New Orleans disguise its packages.
In his current role, there were times when Vaccaro almost looked to be playing a hybrid linebacker position during organized team activities and minicamp. The description isn’t totally accurate, but there are some elements of that play at times.
“Some of the positions are mirrored,” he said. “Any time you’re playing a Cover 3 concept, or maybe setting the edge — I’m pretty good at setting edges just like a Sam linebacker is — anytime you have a guy that can set the edge and cover a tight end, you’re at an advantage.”
That versatility is one of the things the coaching staff values about Vaccaro.
“With Kenny, twofold — we know he’s a strong safety, and he’s also got the ability to play over a slot in a nickel role,” coach Sean Payton said. “Those have been the two main things that we’ve worked with him on. He’s got some versatility.”
After excelling as a rookie, Vaccaro battled injuries during his second season and admittedly at times didn’t perform up the standard he expects of himself, though he refuses to use his ailments as an excuse.
He was healthy again last year and served in a role better suited for his skill set. He excelled, finishing the year with 104 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.
Vaccaro says he feels “light years” ahead of where he was as a rookie, as far as his comfort in the system and ability to perform his job. That should bode well for this defense, especially considering it plans to return to some of the three-safety looks that helped New Orleans finish as a top-five defense during the 2013 season.
That has Vaccaro excited about the upcoming season.
“I’m moving around a lot. We’re using it a lore more than we did,” Vaccaro said. “A lot of teams say they have the three-safety (packages). We’re using it. We practice it a lot more. We’re preparing to use it. You need to practice what you’re going to use now.”
From the looks of it, the Saints are practicing and preparing to unleash Vaccaro this year.