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John DeShazier: Cameron Jordan just scratching the surface

Third-year defensive end for New Orleans Saints keeps making plays

Opponents aren't fooled.

True, to see Cam Jordan off the field or in the locker room is to see a sparkling smile, hear a sharp wit, observe a sometimes mountainous "Fro-hawk" haircut that last year was a Kid 'n Play-sized "Fade," a box cut that reached for the ceiling and nearly scraped against it.

But behind the smile, past the wit, beneath the towering hair is an evolving, improving, third-year defensive end. Beneath is a player whose abilities suggest that last season – when he led the New Orleans Saints with eight sacks and also muscled his way to three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries – might not have begun to scratch the surface.

"I think I've done a lot of work and I'm hoping for it to be enough," Jordan said of his offseason preparation. "You always feel like you can do more. (But) with that being said, I feel like with our D-Line, there's an immense amount of talent within the youth, which is probably the most exciting thing."
It's a lot more exciting, and expectations likely are a touch loftier, because of Jordan's presence.

But then, expectations for Jordan were high from the beginning. He was the Saints' first-round draft pick in 2011, No. 24 overall, after a standout career at California. He had 62 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss as a senior at Cal, along with three forced fumbles and four passes defensed.

And he had a solid rookie year for a 13-3, division-winning team – 59 tackles, six passes defensed, a fumble recovery and a sack, with 15 starts in 16 games, in 2011.

But last season his performance level jumped, even though that of his unit didn't. While the defense was allowing an NFL-record 7,042 yards in 2012, Jordan was becoming one of the few members who played to a much higher standard.

That carried over to the offseason and preseason, where Jordan transitioned from left to right defensive end in the Saints' new 3-4 defense, then went about the business of becoming almost impossible to stop in his pursuit of quarterbacks.

"He's in good shape," Coach Sean Payton said. "He's played at a very high level.
"We're real pleased with (him). His production a year ago was a bright spot, (and) there wasn't many. But his production was good and I would say, for me, a year removed and watching him now in the spring and in training camp, he's been very impressive, watching the film. He's in great shape. He plays with a high motor, he's athletic and he's strong."

He also is practical. Because of the ineffectiveness of the whole, he said it's not really proper to celebrate the individual.

"We were the worst in the league last year," Jordan said. "I don't know how much of a bright spot, does it even matter, when you're 32nd overall in total yardage.
"That's not something you can rest your head on easily at night. This year, I'm looking forward to having a great defense and keep the ball rolling."

Indeed, he rolled into the 2013 season along with his defensive teammates.

In New Orleans' 23-17 victory over Atlanta in the season opener, defensive accolades were spread all around.

Safety Roman Harper came away with two turnovers. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Vaccaro forced them, with a strip (Jenkins) and a tipped pass (Vaccaro). Linebackers Parys Haralson and Junior Galette and defensive end Akiem Hicks recorded sacks.

But Jordan made a play that was just as significant. Harper's fourth-down, end-zone interception that sealed the victory also was caused, in part, by Jordan's pocket-collapsing pressure of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

He was credited with three tackles and a quarterback hurry.

"With Cam, he can play any position on the line," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "He's very athletic, he has a high motor, he doesn't get tired.

"He's actually starting to develop into a great pass rusher. Between this year and last year, there's been a huge jump in him in confidence in just knowing that he's going to the quarterback."

Ah, yes – sacks, the glamour stat.

Jordan appears to be a more than capable quarterback chaser. But he understands, too, that sacks aren't the end-all for a defensive lineman, even if they're the most high-profile statistic that one can amass.

"I definitely think everybody looks at sacks," he said. "From the outside in, everybody is like, 'He had this many sacks, he had that many sacks.'

"But realistically it's, 'How many pressures did he have in the game, how many times did he make the quarterback reset?' Everything that you can take into account as a D-lineman is what you have to go for. If we can put enough pressure on him, then hopefully we can force some errors."

That's what happened to Ryan on Atlanta's final offensive play; the Falcons quarterback was forced to throw a jump ball into the end zone on fourth down because his time in the pocket had expired.

It's what Jordan and his teammates hope to accomplish more of, even if they're missing players who were expected to contribute. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Will Smith, a converted defensive end, were injured in training camp (Coleman) and preseason (Smith) and both are on injured reserve. They're out for the season.

"You can never say enough about the injuries that happened this preseason, this offseason," Jordan said. "We've lost a lot of good guys. You can't really replace people like Will Smith…but at the same time, you have to keep moving."

Moving forward, no doubt. And despite Jordan's jovial demeanor, no one is foolish enough to believe he doesn't mean it, isn't capable of it and isn't poised to do it extremely well.

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