Saturday's Black and Gold scrimmage turned into a "more of the same" kind of day for the New Orleans Saints defense, and that wasn't a bad thing because that assessment signified another day of positive progress for the unit under first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Unofficially, the unit registered five sacks (defensive tackle Akiem Hicks led the way with two) and two interceptions, along with several pass breakups, against the offense. And given that pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers are points of emphasis, the completion of those tasks hardly escaped unnoticed by the Saints or the more than 5,000 fans who layered around the field at the team's Airline Drive practice facility.
"I thought defensively we made some good plays," Coach Sean Payton said. "They had some turnovers. There were a few false starts and pre-snap penalties that we've got to get cleaned up. This will be good film for our staff to evaluate and for the players to see when they come back in Monday.
"I was pleased (defensively). I was pleased with the turnovers. It was something we've been emphasizing and I thought they took advantage of those snaps. I thought we rushed the passer well at times and probably got into some long-yardage situations a little too much for us offensively."
The defensive performance didn't totally overshadow the fact that four Saints (receivers Joe Morgan, Andy Tanner and Jarred Fayson and running back Travaris Cadet) were assisted off the field with injuries. Tanner, however, ran post-scrimmage sprints with his teammates.
Payton said he will address the injuries Monday, after they properly have been assessed.
Offensively, the Saints were fluid on the first possession, with the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense.
Quarterback Drew Brees led the starters on a long touchdown drive that ended on a 1-yard power run by running back Mark Ingram on the right side, with Ingram muscling across the goal line behind guard Jahri Evans and tackle Zach Strief.
"That was kind of what was slated – 12 plays and let's see what can happen," Brees said. "I thought it was a good mix of run and pass and kind of put us in a couple different types of situations. So it feels like we got a lot of work in that first drive."
But the defense, which has been notably aggressive during training camp, had its share of "wins" during the work.
"I thought we executed pretty well," Ryan said. "It was a good first day. The running game, we have to do better in that. That's always tough the first day you go at it. We've got to be better. We have a preseason game coming up (on Aug. 9, vs. the Chiefs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) and that'll be a good gauge, and with (Kansas City running back Jamaal) Charles and their bunch, that'll be a tough test.
"This is the first scrimmage for everybody, not just on defense. I was just happy to get our guys lined up and playing hard."
Specifically, the defense also was able to create down-and-distance advantages. Tackles in the backfield and offensive penalties (left tackle Charles Brown said he moved early once, in an attempt to get off the snap too quickly) put the offense in situations that were advantageous to the defense.
"One of the things we wanted to look at were two or three specific type of runs," Payton said. "We were able to get about 12 to 15 snaps of some of those slash plays. I thought defensively they did a pretty good job of, if we got into the second and longs or third and longs, chances are there was a minus play or a penalty. There were some good plays on both sides of the ball."
Hicks and Junior Galette, continuing his transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker, both supplied quarterback pressure. Hicks knifed through on a couple of occasions and Galette continued to show the edge speed that helped him post five sacks in 12 games last season.
"He's powerful," Payton said of Hicks. "He's got good size, long arms. He's continuing to improve and really work on the little things, using his hands better and shedding.
"For him, there's a lot of snaps that he's behind compared to a lot of these players who have played a lot more football up to the point they got here. That being said, he's powerful, he's very strong. His explosiveness is something you can notice on film."
"We're excited about those guys," Ryan said. "Junior has really come into his own. We've got to just calm him down a little. But he's what you want. I think this guy is going to be excellent.
"He's just got to - he's so high-strung and so flamboyant, tough. We've just got to monitor him, see how he does in a game. He can't gas out in the second quarter."
Ryan, undoubtedly, will continue to monitor for progress from Hicks, Galette and the defense which so far has been solid. And Payton said that, in totality, his team got in the work it sought.
"Overall, I thought the tempo was good against each other," Payton said. "There's kind of a fine line – you want to be healthy and yet, you still want to see some full-speed action. I thought they handled that well."