New Orleans Saints second-year linebacker Zack Baun spent his rookie campaign battling through injury and adjusting to an entirely new position at the NFL level.
"I'd say the difference between this year and last year is I'm just way more comfortable," Baun said during his Saints Minicamp interview with local media. "Comfortable with the playbook. Comfortable - I know everybody. I know all the coaches. I know I'm just coming into this season way more comfortable and way more confident."
New Orleans traded up into the third round of the 2020 draft to select Baun after he spent four years at Wisconsin terrorizing offensive linemen off the edge including 12.5 sacks his senior season. The Saints believed they saw an athlete who could transition to playing in space, thus moving him to play as an off-the-ball linebacker.
Baun spent much of his rookie campaign learning and developing. Now, with Year 2 just around the corner, Baun is eager to show the difference a year makes.
"I've made so much progress," Baun said. "I'm excited to see where I go."
Baun once again switched positions this offseason, moving from strongside linebacker to the weakside, a change that will require him to be stronger in coverage. He trained for a few months back home in Wisconsin but has been working in New Orleans since April on his technique.
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen elaborated on Baun and the process of working him into the weakside position.
"Certainly there were some things that he was able to do last year that gave us confidence he was ready to take the next step," Allen said. "Zack really got hurt last year with the hamstring in training camp and we all knew there was going to be a development (curve) from him in terms of being an off-the-ball linebacker and last year we kind of played him at Sam and Mike off the ball. Well, he lost a week or 10 days of opportunities in terms of reps with an injury last year. That development was slowed and once you get into the regular season it's hard to find all those reps to continue develop guys. Where you saw him have success was as an off-the-ball linebacker at Sam, what he had done in college. But the things that we ask the middle linebacker to do in terms of responsibility and the things we ask the Sam linebacker to do in terms of responsibility are very similar."