<span style="">The Saints secondary has undergone more changes this offseason than any other position group on the team. It started near the top with the hiring of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, continued in free agency with the additions of CB Jabari Greer, S Pierson Prioleau and S Darren Sharper and concluded with the selections of CB Malcolm Jenkins and S Malcolm Jenkins/Chip Vaughn.aspx">Chip Vaughn in the NFL Draft.
S Roman Harper, who opened 15 games at strong safety in 2008, making more starts in the secondary than anyone else, is determined to be one of the constants in the club's revamped backfield. Although he is competing to continue to be one of the holdovers and led the secondary in tackles with a career-high 106 stops, he knows that based on the upcoming competition at the position, continued improvement combined with digesting a new defensive scheme presented by Williams in the offseason and training camp will be a key to holding onto his spot.
"I think I'm still growing as a player," said the hard hitter. "I'm still learning as a player and I want to be that guy. I've worked harder than I ever have before this offseason on my whole game. I really took a step back, looked at myself in the mirror and did an overview. I really like playing in the NFL and I want to be here for a long time."
The defense as a whole has made an emphasis on improving on specific areas for the upcoming campaign. For the secondary, a key area of emphasis is defending the big play, important in a division with top-flight wideouts such as Antonio Bryant, Steve Smith and Roddy White, along with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens showing up on New Orleans' 2009 regular season slate. Another area is increasing the number of big plays in the form of forced fumbles, recoveries and interceptions.
In addition to extensive study of the defense in the classroom and working on repetitions at OTAs and the veteran's minicamp, the University of Alabama product started his self improvement campaign when the team began its voluntary offseason workout program in March. Harper placed an emphasis on lifting heavier weights than in the past to improve his strength as well as seeking to work on his hands.
Harper's hard work has paid off in recent offseason practices. Pairing with Sharper in the deepest reach of the secondary, he's been making interceptions, being in the right place at the right time for the coverage of a pass route, or putting himself in line for what would potentially be a big hit if it were a training camp practice or game where shells or padding were worn.
The 6-0, 200 pounder also credits the experienced additions of Prioleau and Sharper to helping him with their vast experience and knowledge both on the field and in the meeting room. Prioleau is a ten-year NFL veteran and special teams ace, who possesses extensive knowledge of Williams' defense, having played for him in stops in Buffalo, Washington and Jacksonville for eight seasons. The ball hawking free safety Sharper is a veteran of 183 regular season contests and has racked up nearly 1,000 career tackles, while his playmaking resume boasts of 54 interceptions, the highest total by an active NFL player.
"These guys have really helped me out with the defense and showed me how to practice," said Harper. "Before we start practice, we look at the little things to try to improve our games. I think we've done that this offseason and the results will show. These older guys know and have seen a lot of football. Anything I can take from them, I will."
Head Coach Sean Payton seconds the notion that the additions at safety along with Harper's hard work in the offseason could have him poised for a breakout campaign.
"We expect him to have a real good season," said Payton. "He's someone that has real good athleticism, has great run entry, is physical and is not afraid of the contact. I think he's getting better and better on the back end. Having a guy like Darren next to him and helping him along the way will certainly be a plus."
In 2008, despite losing over 40 starter games to injury, the Saints defense improved their league overall defensive ranking by three spots and their pass defense ranking from 30th to 23rd. With the personnel changes, combined with the return to health of players such as DE Mark Brunell/Charles Grant.aspx">Charles Grant, CB Tracy Porter and DE Will Smith, who missed significant time or struggled with injuries, Harper feels that the arrow is pointed further upward for he and his fellow defenders in 2009.
"With everybody coming back, we have a lot of experience and a lot of high draft picks, said Harper. "With that combination, we're going to be so much more confident. I know how guys like Mark Brunell/Charles Grant.aspx">Charles Grant, Jonathan Vilma and Randall Gay are going to play and during this time, I'm learning how guys like Darren play. We're excited about the cohesion that we're establishing and I think it's going to show up on the field."
NOTE--SAINTS ADD VETERAN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ANTHONY DAVIS:
The Saints announced Wednesday that the club has signed free agent offensive lineman Anthony Davis. Davis competed in the club's recent minicamp on a tryout basis.
Davis is entering his sixth NFL season, having spent four-plus seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after originally signing with Tampa as an undrafted free agent in 2003. The former Virginia Tech standout also spent time on the roster of the St. Louis Rams in 2008. Davis has played both tackle and guard in his five professional seasons, serving as Tampa Bay's starting left tackle in 2005 and 2006. He has played in 47 career regular-season games, starting 32 of them and has also played in a pair of postseason contests with one start.
Davis takes the place on the roster that was created when the Saints placed LB Dan Morgan on the reserve/retired list.