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Defensive tackles inexperienced as New Orleans Saints, but ready for season opener

'You've been dreaming about this your whole life, and who wouldn't want to have a bigger role in the NFL?'

Malcolm Roach • #97 • DL

The defensive tackles have played in the NFL.

They just haven't played much, in the league or for the New Orleans Saints. So entering Sunday's regular-season opener against Green Bay at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., the Saints will do so with a collection of tackles whose on-the-job training will be crucial to the team's success.

Among the group will be Malcolm Roach, undrafted in 2020 who played nine games last season, looking to take advantage of a gaping opportunity.

The chance for increased game snaps opened via a combination of circumstances. David Onyemata, a starter and the standout of the unit, will open the season serving an NFL-issued, six-game suspension. Jalen Dalton, a promising prospect, tore a triceps and is on Injured Reserve. And Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown, starters and/or key rotational players last year, joined other NFL rosters this year via free agency (Rankins) and a trade (Brown).

"It's something I've been thinking about the whole offseason," Roach said. "I've been preparing hard just for this, (to) go out there and make plays, be a football player, a ballplayer. It's just taking it day by day, snap by snap.

"If I keep doing that, plays are going to come. Just being able to help out this defense, being able to help out this football team."

That also is the goal for Christian Ringo, who's entering his fourth NFL season, but his first with the Saints, and his first since 2018. He played 20 games, from 2016-18, with Green Bay, Detroit, Cincinnati and Dallas, missed '19 after being waived injured by the Bengals, and signed with Winnipeg in the CFL last year. The CFL canceled its season due to Covid-19, and Ringo opted out of his contract.

So Sunday would be the first time he has played since Dec. 30, 2018, for the Bengals against Pittsburgh.

"Man, I'm excited man," he said. "Words can't explain how excited I am. That's why I try to let my actions do everything."

Add to the group Shy Tuttle, the old man of the group with 29 games played with the Saints in his two seasons, and Montravius Adams (45 games and three starts, but none with the Saints), and New Orleans will attack one of the NFL's most potent offenses, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers – the NFL's Most Valuable Player last year – with a position group that hasn't had significant exposure.

"I think they play with good pad level, they play with good energy," Coach Sean Payton said of the group. "It's going to take a huge group effort this weekend. We're playing a good football team, obviously – a team that's been right near the top of the league in most offensive categories.

"So I think it's going to be important that we do have a good rotation there, especially with the heat that we're expecting."

In addition to the weather-related heat – early forecast: high of 88 degrees, slight chance of rain for the 3:25 p.m. kickoff – there's the pressure that's sure to be applied by the Packers.

But Roach is improved from his rookie season. The nine-game experience was vital for him, he said.

"Just playing faster, knowing the defense more being here two years now," he said. "So I understand the reason behind why I'm doing what I'm doing on the field, why I'm going to this gap, why I'm taking on this double-team, things like that. So I'm able to play faster, able to think faster on the field, able to make more plays.

"We've just got to get in there and go to work. We've got guys that have to step up, including myself. Guys just taking on bigger roles, and when I say that, I include myself in that, too. But this is what we prepare for.

"You've been dreaming about this your whole life, and who wouldn't want to have a bigger role in the NFL? I've been thinking about this my whole life and I've just got to take full advantage of it and just attack it head on. (Assistant head coach/defensive line) Coach (Ryan) Nielsen has done a great job preparing me in training camp and things like that. Now I've just got to trust my technique and go out there and play."

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