The Saints' defense is shouldering a lot of expectations, and when training camp opens later this week, all eyes will be on Rob Ryan's fledgling Black and Gold version of the 3-4 scheme.
"When you start from the gutter, the only thing you can do is come up. They were in the gutter last year! They were pretty horrendous. They have nowhere to go but up," says former Saint, turned NFL Network analyst Darren Sharper.
The former safety put in 14 years in the NFL and now predicts Ryan's aggressive, attacking style will fit better in New Orleans than that of former Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo - on both sides of the ball.
"Rob Ryan brings in that confidence, that swagger, that aggressive style of defense that complements the Saints offense, which can score a lot of points. It's the perfect compliment for them," says Sharper.
For Sharper, the Saints new defense must use training camp to boost their confidence and condition themselves to initiate more plays.
"The top defenses in the league - that's how they play. They force the issue, and they don't sit back and wait for an offense to choose what it wants to do. If you play defense that way, you can have some success against these complex, star offenses," says Sharper.
One of Sharper's best friends and fellow Pro Experience Football Camp instructor Roman Harper agrees - and believes getting the defense on the same page during training camp is crucial:
"The biggest thing - if you can make a team sit up and drive on you 80, 90 yards consistently, they're not going to have a lot of success doing that. We've got to be able to cut down on explosive plays and mis-communications. Then you always give yourself a chance," says Harper.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to sport an effective defense in today's NFL. Pro offenses are faster moving and more complex than ever. Plus the rules of the game favor the offense. But Harper says he's betting Ryan's new defense will help counteract much of that:
"It just muddies up the looks for the receivers. They're trying to spread you out, run it, get your eyes going all over the place. I think having more linebackers on the field in different positions able to do more things - I think it's good. We want to be more multiple."
The challenge now is transforming those goals into a reality on the field.
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