NEW ORLEANS -- Slowly but surely, first-year coordinator Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense is beginning to take shape for the New Orleans Saints.
The latest additions are two free agents from the Dallas Cowboys, outside linebacker Victor Butler and defensive end Kenyon Coleman, both of whom played the past two seasons for Ryan in Big D.
Each brings a working knowledge of Ryan's defense and will help in the transition period.
Two weeks before the start of offseason workouts, let's project a skeletal look at the defensive front seven:
Up front -- DE Kenyon Coleman, DE Cameron Jordan, NT Akiem Hicks, NT Brodrick Bunkley, NT Tom Johnson, DE Will Smith, NT/DE Tyrunn Walker and others.
Linebackers -- OLB Junior Galette, OLB Martez Wilson, OLB Victor Butler, ILB Curtis Lofton, ILB Jonathan Vilma, Chris Chamberlain, David Hawthorne and others.
It's getting there but there are more pieces needed via free agency and the draft, specifically at outside linebacker where there is not an established pass rusher in the bunch.
Russ Lande, director of scouting for The National Football Post, offered this perspective.
"The Saints have some young pieces in place that are well suited to play the 3-4,'' Lande said. "Jordan, Galette, Wilson, Hicks to name a few. Then, they have veteran guys like Smith, Lofton, Vilma and Bunkley, who might be at the right stage of his career to play in a 3-4. A lot of interior linemen don't like the 3-4 because they go against so many double teams and offensive linemen are always going for their knees (chop blocks).
"The key in making a successful transition from the 4-3 to 3-4 is not making it a lifetime move for the veteran guys. It's hard to get guys who will do it over the long haul. The successful teams are those teams that slowly move people from a 4-3 to the 3-4. You can't ditch everything overnight.''
Lande suggested the Saints/Ryan might consider moving veteran defensive end Will Smith into a rotation at outside linebacker and ask him to shed some weight in order to play quicker as a standup rusher. Smith is listed at 282 on the offseason roster but he played around 270-ish a few years ago under defensive coordinator Greg Williams.
In other words, Smith might be asked to play leaner, meaner and faster if he wants to keep a job. Just because he agreed to a restructured deal doesn't guarantee him a spot on the opening-day 53-man roster.
Stay tuned. "The Ryan Project'' remains a work in progress.
NOTE: The Saints offseason workout schedule has been released: The voluntary nine-week program begins April 15. The 10 OTAs are slated for May 21-23, May 28-30 and June 10-13. The lone mandatory minicamp is set for June 4-6.
Here are the guidelines as laid out by Article 21 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement:
-- Phase One consists of the first two weeks of the program with activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only.
-- Phase Two consists of the next three weeks of the program. On-field workouts may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a "separates" basis. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted.
-- Phase Three consists of the next four weeks of the program. Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or "OTAs". No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permissible.
Editor's Note: Story updated at 4:30 p.m. (on April 1) with news of the signing of veteran free agent defensive end Kenton Coleman from the Dallas Cowboys.
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