The New Orleans Saints defense rose to the occasion in 2017.
Under the direction of Dennis Allen, who's entering his third season as Saints defensive coordinator, the New Orleans defense had the seventh best passer rating in the NFL, the highest since the team's Super Bowl winning season in 2009. That improved defensive play helped the team to an 11-5 record, the NFC South title and a wild-card win over the Carolina Panthers.
Much of the success was attributed not only to Allen, but the young defenders of the 2017 rookie class: cornerback Marshon Lattimore, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, safety Marcus Williams and linebacker Alex Anzalone.
Lattimore, the 6-foot 192-pound Ohio State product, went on to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after ranking No. 3 among cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Williams, the 6-1, 195-pound safety from Utah, was the highest graded rookie safety in the league, according to PFF, and was second on the Saints with four interceptions.
Allen and Saints players said during this week's minicamp that they know that past success doesn't mean future triumph.
"We were in the playoffs last year but we could go 6-10 this year or something like that," Lattimore said when asked about the Saints being thought of as a Super Bowl-contending team. "We have to stay level-headed and stay humble and just keep working like how we were working last year to get where we were at."
After the first day of minicamp and three weeks of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Allen said Tuesday he's looking for "small increments of improvement from everybody."
The defense started two rookies in the secondary in 2017 and those players said they hope to build off the knowledge they gained.
"I feel a lot more comfortable with calls and the personnel, now I'm the one making some calls," Lattimore said.
This week's minicamp is the final team activity until training camp when the competition to make the 53-man roster begins in earnest.
"Quite honestly, we don't know who's going to be on this football team…But we've got great competition at all levels of our defense," Allen said. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun to see how those guys compete and how that plays out during training camp."