White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Bigger especially is better when bigger have jump-off-the-page skill.
So if the New Orleans Saints are giving off the vibe that they feel good about being bigger and better at cornerback, that they have the size and skill level they want in the secondary for this defense, it's because those facts appear to have been in evidence through much of the team's offseason work and throughout the first several training camp practices at The Greenbrier.
There's incumbent starter Keenan Lewis (6 feet 1, 208 pounds) at one cornerback, joined by genetic outlier Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) at the other. Among those competing for snaps behind them, or with them in the sub packages, are Delvin Breaux (6-1, 196) and Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-3, 218).
They've been responsible for a good portion of the balls that have been slapped to the ground on the practice fields – pass breakups have accumulated at a steady rate – and for much of the disruption that receivers have been battling through.
Particularly, Lewis and Browner, former college teammates at Oregon State, have been clingy and stingy.
"We feel like we've got some bigger corners that can get their hands on you at the line of scrimmage," Coach Sean Payton said Saturday. "We would like to be able to move a safety down in the run front and if you're playing pretty good one-on-one defense outside, it allows you to be more flexible that way. If you're not then you end of giving up big plays or you end up having to play with a safety over the top.
"Those are two guys with experience but they have size, they have length and they're kind of suited for what we're trying to do."
What the Saints want their corners to do is simple – engage, occupy, harass, redirect, disrupt.
Browner, Lewis and Co. are at the line of scrimmage and getting their hands on receivers as soon as possible. The script calls for them to play a substantial amount of man-to-man coverage, and if the way they're sticking to receivers is an indication, they're welcoming the challenge and living up to it.
"When you're playing man-to-man like that, they're depending on you to win that matchup," Lewis said. "The linebackers, the D-line, the coaches, offense – everybody is expecting you to win that matchup. And when you've got that pressure you take it on, head up, and you'll be ready to go."
"(We're) big, long guys, like to put our hands on guys at the line of scrimmage," Browner said.
"That's what suits me, being up closer to the line of scrimmage. I'm a bigger guy, not as quick and as subtle as some of these other guys, so man-to-man suits my abilities."
It's a bit of a philosophical shift from the previous two seasons, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said, as the Saints look to simplify their defensive playbook. But it's a shift that suits the personnel, just as the previous philosophies fit those personnel groups.
In the secondary, that begins with Lewis and Browner having the ability to hold their own against receivers.
"They're more the same than they are different," Ryan said. "They're long, they're athletic, they compete, they love football. They're great to be around and you can't work either one of them hard enough. They're going to give you everything they've got until they just drop. That's how they are.
"I think you have to have corners to play any kind of defense nowadays. That's what I always have believed in and these guys are great people."
Said Lewis: "When you simplify the playbook, you give the players the opportunity to play faster. That's what we're doing. Coaches feel like we've got the pieces to the puzzle to simplify it, so when you do that, guys can just be themselves.
"We make some checks, but it's not too many. You don't have three or four guys making checks. Usually there's one in the front and one in the back, so that makes it that much easier."
And so far, the two and their position group have adjusted quickly. They've gotten their hands on receivers and on the football, and that didn't happen nearly enough for the Saints' liking last year.
"That's something we lacked last year," Lewis said. "We were (fourth from) the bottom of the league in takeaways (last year, with 17), and that's what wins Super Bowls, when you can take the ball away and give your offense another opportunity."
"I think we'll be good at getting our hands on some balls, hopefully get more takeaways than just getting our hands on the ball," Browner said. "Get Drew (Brees) the ball back as much as possible, because he's special with the ball in his hands."
That's another challenge they're accepting, and endeavor that, if successful, they're certain will lead to team success.
"Everybody has got to be accountable, and that's something Coach preached, that accountability is everything," Lewis said. "If we account for one another and help out each other, that makes it a better football program."