Big changes for Saints' defense: Possible new role for Cam Jordan, different looks at safety _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints DE Cam Jordan (94) rallies DT Kevin Williams (93) and NT John Jenkins (92) during the Saints' afternoon "walk-thru" practice in the 2015 Training Camp in White Sulphur Springs, WV.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — The assumption after Junior Galette was released earlier this week was that either Anthony Spencer or Hau’oli Kikaha were going to fill the pass rusher’s void.

Those assumptions were wrong. Early indications at training camp suggest the Saints plan to move Cam Jordan into Galette’s former role, which has led to several other changes within the base defense.

If the move takes, it would put Jordan, who collected 20 sacks over the last two seasons, in a position where he could primarily focus on getting after quarterbacks. In his previous position, which was more of a 5- or 6-technique role, he often found himself up against a guard and tackle.

In the new role, he would line up to the inside shoulder of the tight end, which should provide a clearer path to the quarterback. In theory, by sliding over, he should face fewer obstacles on his way to the quarterback.

“We felt like some of his best production has come obviously when we are in (our sub defense),” coach Sean Payton said. “He is an outside player, but I think his versatility is a plus. I see him as a guy that can play that end position for us.”

Jordan spent the majority of his snaps lined up in that spot, dubbed “Jack” by the Saints, during Thursday’s practice at The Greenbrier. However, Jordan’s shift left a vacancy at his old spot, which was filled by Akiem Hicks. Kevin Williams and John Jenkins served as the defensive tackles.

Though he’s officially listed as a defensive end on the roster, Hicks spent the majority of his time playing defensive tackle last season in both nickel packages and the team’s 4-3 base defense. The move to the outside isn’t completely out of character, since he’s done it at times throughout his career. He also dropped some weight this offseason, which should help with the transition.

Hicks will not be expected to record the kind of sack numbers Jordan posted the previous two seasons. If he ends up in this role, he will line up tighter to the formation and be flanked by an outside linebacker. Anthony Spencer filled that role during Thursday’s practice.

In theory, these changes should help a run defense that finished 29th in the NFL last season. The Saints allowed 898 yards between the tackles last season on 200 attempts, for an average of 4.9 yards per carry. The team’s run defense should be better on the interior with Hicks, Williams, and Jenkins on the field.

On Thursday, there was also an additional player in the box with Kenny Vaccaro roaming around.

The Saints spent the session using single-high safety looks, with Rafael Bush filling in for Jairus Byrd, in centerfield. This allowed Vaccaro to roam the box, helping out in coverage when needed. The cornerbacks played press coverage.

Last year the Saints often used quarters coverage, Cover 2, or other concepts that forced Vaccaro to stay back and cover a deep portion of the field. He said he’s comfortable in either coverage, but prefers being close to the ball.

“I love covering anyone, I love being in the fire,” Vaccaro said. “That’s my game, relentless. That’s just me. We’re built to do it. We got two great press corners. We’re going to do a lot of it.”

However it ends up or whatever the personnel, the Saints are certain to look different on defense this season.