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New Orleans Saints defense begins quest to re-establish as a top turnover-forcing unit

'It happens when there's a conscious effort on everybody's part to attack the ball'


There are pros and cons to seeing the New Orleans Saints defense force turnovers in training camp, Coach Dennis Allen said.

The con is, he'd like to see the offense protect the ball better.

The pro is that a defense which only forced 14 turnovers last season has been extremely aggressive and fortuitous in the first two days of camp, with linebacker Andrew Dowell again standing out this year courtesy of wrestling the ball away from tight end Juwan Johnson on Wednesday, and scooping up a forced fumble Thursday.

"It starts in practice," Allen said. "We call them takeaways, because nobody gives us the ball. We've got to go out and take it away. The ball is the important thing on the field so we focus a lot on it. It's good to see our guys taking the coaching from the meeting room out on the field.

"It has to start with the mentality, because if you don't have the right mentality and you're not searching the ball out on every single play, then they're not going to come. It happens when there's a conscious effort on everybody's part to attack the ball.

"That starts with us as a coaching staff – coaching it, preaching it, demanding it – and then having our guys execute it in practice. And then those things will happen in the game. But it's a habit that's created. Again, they don't give them to us, we've got to go out and take 'em."

The New Orleans Saints took the field for workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Thursday, July 27.

New Orleans only was able to take 14 of them last season, seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. The team committed 25 turnovers, and the minus-11 ratio was second-worst in the league.

"Since I've been here, the standard has been very high for our defense," linebacker Demario Davis said. "And that doesn't change. The things that we have to do to be good as a defense, or be great which is our goal, we have to be good on first and second down stopping the run, which creates long third downs and lets us get after the quarterback and get off the field on third down, be great in the red zone and force takeaways. All of it begins on first and second down, which sets up everything else.

"I think that's a part of being a great defense, you've got to be able to create takeaways. We've been able to do that in the past, and we didn't do that as well as we wanted to last year. So getting back to that is important to us."

Last season, Davis' fifth with the Saints, was the first time that the Saints were minus in turnover ratio. New Orleans was plus-7 in 2021, with 25 takeaways and 18 turnovers, plus-9 in 2020 (26 takeaways, 17 turnovers), plus-15 in 2019 (23 takeaways and eight turnovers), and plus-eight in 2018 (24 takeaways and 16 turnovers).

TOASTY DAY: Three Saints were unable to finish practice Thursday. Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders left with an illness, and receivers Shaq Davis and Keith Kirkwood didn't finish due to heat-related issues. Left tackle Trevor Penning didn't practice with a foot injury, but Allen said it was unrelated to Penning's previous foot injury and listed Penning as day to day. "Really minor, probably more of a precaution to keep him out today," Allen said.

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