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Five defensive players to watch during Saints training camp

Posted Jul 22, 2014

Saints added some play-makers in the offseason

1. Is cornerback Patrick Robinson completely healed from a torn ACL suffered last season in Week 2? If so, he may reclaim the starting job at left cornerback. He lined up with the first unit during OTAs and minicamp, which suggests that Robinson, a former first-round pick who’s entering the final year of his contract, is ready for the challenge. If he’s not…

2. Maybe cornerback Champ Bailey is ready for that duty. The question surrounding Bailey is obvious: How much does he have left? He’s 36 years old and while he has a Hall of Fame resume – 52 career interceptions, nine forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 235 passes defensed and 12 Pro Bowl appearances in 15 seasons – he missed 11 regular-season games with a foot injury last season and didn’t record an interception for the first time in his career. The best-case scenario might be Robinson claiming the starting position and Bailey starting at nickel. His experience is invaluable; the Saints believe he has life left in his legs, too.

3. Linebacker Victor Butler missed all of last season with a torn ACL, so he’s almost like a free agent signee (again) this offseason. If he’s healthy, he could join the starting unit and if he’s what the Saints believed he was when he was signed as a free agent – and no one knows that better than defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was Butler’s defensive coordinator in Dallas – then he’ll be a valuable addition to a Saints defense that was outstanding last season. Another pass rusher is never a bad thing. Bookend rushers Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks) and Junior Galette (12 sacks) were more than most blockers could handle last season.

4. Jordan and Galette should draw increased attention this season, which could pave the way for defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to shine even more than he did last season, when he posted 4.5 sacks. There were times last season when Hicks appeared pretty close to unblockable. If opposing offensive lines are forced to single up on him because of the attention they have to give Jordan, a first-time Pro Bowler last season, and Galette, then Hicks could have the kind of year that defensive tackles dream of, in terms of pass rushing. He’s an every-down force (72 tackles last season) who has room to improve.

5. Safety Jairus Byrd had back surgery this offseason, so training camp will be an opportunity for everyone to see (1) how well he has recovered from surgery and (2) the ball-hawking skills that made him a priority for the Saints in free agency. Byrd has 22 interceptions, five fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles in five NFL seasons. The Saints are counting on his ability to attack the football to help the defense create more turnovers this season (only once in his career has he had less than three interceptions in a season; three times, he’s had at least four). His talents should allow fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro to concentrate on fewer responsibilities and make the secondary even more formidable than last season.

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