The New Orleans Saints inched closer to full strength Tuesday, in time for the team to prepare for its formidable test on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
Defensive tackle David Onyemata rejoined the team after serving his league-mandated, one-game suspension. And considering the caliber of opponent, and the fact that the Saints (1-0) had some areas to shore up defensively after their season-opening, 30-28 victory over Houston, the timing of Onyemata’s return couldn’t be much better.
“That's huge,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “He's a big part of the D-line. Obviously, he's an impact player, but also just from a depth perspective, with especially an up-tempo group like the offense that our defense is going up against with the Rams. The more depth, the more that you can be shuffling guys in and out and keep guys fresh. That's important.”
The return of Onyemata is significant for a defense that allowed 180 rushing yards and a touchdown, on just 23 carries, against Houston. New Orleans started undrafted rookie Shy Tuttle at defensive tackle, and rotated in second-year tackle Taylor Stallworth at the position.
Onyemata, who never had missed an NFL game until the opener, had 4.5 sacks (including three against Dallas), a forced fumble and 36 tackles last year in a rotation that included Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison and Stallworth.
“Just go out there and play ball,” Onyemata said. “You couldn’t do much (while suspended). You could just watch and get your mind right to come back and play ball.”
He was a force during training camp, knowing he would miss the season opener but preparing to be ready when his time came.
“He had a really good camp,” Coach Sean Payton said. “I think he's handled it well. He's tough-minded. He’s a tremendous teammate and a real good football player and it'd be good to have him back.”
In his absence, the Saints produced a six-sack game against Houston, with 11 quarterback hits on Deshaun Watson. If similar pressure is applied to the Rams’ Jared Goff, Onyemata figures to have a hand in it.
“At this point, you have to get him off his spot, you have to be able to make him feel uneasy in the pocket,” defensive end Cam Jordan said of Goff. “And I think, now we’ve got the addition of David Onyemata for this week, that’s going to be a huge plus for us on the D-line.”
They’ll get a rested Onyemata. They also will get a wiser one, who has had three seasons to get more comfortable with the NFL after not playing football until college, and then, playing collegiately at the University of Manitoba.
“It’s just understanding, learning,” he said. “You can never stop learning. Every week you learn something new, that’s kind of the mind-set I approach.
“As (last) season went on, it’s just seeing new things, I’m starting things better, being in the game longer. Being in American football for four years now, you kind of understand and you see different things and it gets slower.”