<span style="">Although Pierson Prioleau is listed as a safety, pigeonholing him to one position would serve as an injustice both to the ten-year NFL veteran and to the New Orleans Saints, who signed him as an unrestricted free agent in March.
Prioleau also possesses experience at cornerback, specializing in dime and nickel situations, as well an intimate knowledge of the defense currently being installed by new coordinator Gregg Williams, as well as playing on punt coverage, punt blocking, kickoff returns and kickoff coverage units.
His combination of versatility and veteran leadership is what landed Prioleau in New Orleans this off-season and the 5-11, 188 pound hard-hitter out of Virginia Tech is expected to put all of these qualities to use in training camp as he tries to secure a roster spot and a place in the club's defensive rotation.
"Special teams has played a big part in me being here and being a big part of this game for a number of years," said Prioleau. "We have a lot of talent in this secondary, with a lot of young and talented players. I look forward to mentoring these guys and helping them play in a defense that I've played in for a long time. I can still play in any role in the secondary, and whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'm more than willing and capable of handling."
Prioleau began his NFL career as a fourth-round draft pick in San Francisco in 1999. He started five games at cornerback as a rookie and was a part-time starter again in 2000, while establishing himself on special teams. Despite the promising start, his time with the 49ers would come to a close when he was waived at the end of 2001 training camp.
As he looked toward the next NFL stop, Prioleau felt that he would be able to find his place and stick in the league on special teams, because of his background at Virginia Tech, which has annually featured one of the most feared special teams units in the country, coupled with his willingness to play wherever asked. Although, they would only spend part of an off-season and one training camp together in 1999, four-time Pro Bowl safety Merton Hanks took the then-rookie under his wing and emphasized a point that he now stresses to younger teammates.
"I was told by Merton that it's about 'the more you can do,'" said Prioleau. "Unless you're a premier starter in this league, you can play forever on special teams. I have never taken a rep off. It's as important as any rep I take on defense. It's been the most prominent part of my career."
It took nearly two months, but Prioleau was signed at midseason in 2001 by the Buffalo Bills, who were led by a rookie head coach in Williams and took on a similar role to the one he enjoyed with the 49ers, leading the team with 13 special teams stops despite appearing in only six games. He would play three more years in Buffalo, eventually making his way to reunite with Williams in Washington in 2005 and in Jacksonville last season, forging a career where he has recorded 371 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 31 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, two recoveries and 130 special teams stops.
Prioleau, through his actions and his words, holds Williams in extremely high regard and said that he is never ceased to be amazed at the intellectual and physical challenges that his defenses have traditionally posed for offenses.
"The special relationship I have with Gregg started when I got released by San Francisco and got picked up by Buffalo," said Prioleau. "I had a new hunger for defense. Gregg was the guy that gave me a second chance. The relationship was built there. He knew the type of player he had in me and I knew what kind of coach he was and what he expected. It's fun playing under this defense. You can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and there are a lot of chances to make plays."
While he is well acquainted with Williams and has been free in providing teammates pointers on the defense, Prioleau has not forgotten his value on special teams and is equally excited about developing the same kind of relationship with coordinator Greg McMahon and his coverage and blocking units.
"Special teams definitely wear you down, but it's fun," said Prioleau. "The most exciting reps in the game are being able to go down on kickoff coverage and lay a guy out."
Besides securing playing time, Prioleau is most concerned about winning. A member of only two playoff teams in his ten years in the league, he saw the move to New Orleans as a great opportunity to expand on that number. Having never played with as explosive offense as the one in New Orleans, he feels that the postseason will become a reality and a deep run a possibility if the other two facets can play at a similar level and improve on last season's 8-8 record.
"They're the number one offense in the league," said Prioleau. "What we're trying to do here now is make this a team game defensively and offensively. We have to hold our end of the bargain. We're trying to make it look like a glove, score enough points to win the game or keep them from scoring enough points to win the game. The idea is to win a game. If we can win a game 20-19, it's a win, 40-0 it's a win. The name of the game is winning. They can be the best offense we can be. We have to be the best defense we can be so we can win games."