NEW ORLEANS -- As the candle burns out on another New Orleans Saints offseason program, unanswered questions still remain about a defensive unit that yielded an NFL record 7,042 yards in 2012.
Is first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the man for the job?
Is the 3-4 the right way to go?
Where is the pass rush going to come from?
Do Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith have any gas left in their tanks?
Can a rookie safety solidify the back end?
"Those 7,042 yards don't mean anything now,'' Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins said Tuesday after the media's last access to the team before the summer break. "The biggest thing is 7-9. Giving up yards doesn't mean anything. We still could have won a lot of the games we played. We weren't last in points allowed (second to last of 32 teams).
"It's all about wins and losses. It's obviously a stat you don't want to be associated with. But, right now, it means nothing to us.''
Veteran cornerback Jabari Greer said the past is for losers.
"I knew that we had given up a record amount of yards last year but I didn't know what the exact number was,'' Greer said. "But hearing that number means that it means nothing at this point. We start with a clean slate. If we go out and redeem ourselves, not only as professional athletes but if we exceed the expectations that we have for ourselves, then it ultimately will be erased from everybody's mind.
"This is a win-now business, no matter what happened in the past. That's the good thing about the business.''
On paper, signing veteran free agent Ben Watson seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the Saints' tight end-friendly offense.
Now all Watson has to do is get medical clearance to play.
Watson, 32, missed Tuesday's OTA with an undisclosed health issue/injury just as he has all offseason since signing a three-year, $2.95 million contract in March after coming over from the Cleveland Browns.
Other players who did not participate were strong safety Roman Harper, rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, cornerback Patrick Robinson and cornerback Ryan Steed.
In keeping with the team's offseason theme, Saints coach Sean Payton did not elaborate on the absentees.
"Certainly, you'd feel better about going into the summer by watching (Watson) practice but I've watched him play for enough years to know that he knows what to do,'' Saints tight ends coach Terry Malone said. "If this was a problem that would occur in the fall, it's much better that we've gotten it taken care of now.
"Believe me, he'll be right in step with what we do come day one of fall camp.''
A healthy Watson would give the Saints a formidable one, two punch at the tight end position, now that Jimmy Graham has established himself as one of the game's best.
Watson played in all 16 games for the Browns last season, catching 49 passes for 501 yards and three touchdowns. In three seasons with Cleveland, Watson caught 154 passes for 1,674 yards and eight touchdowns.
His breakout season came in 2010, his first in Cleveland, when he led the team in receptions (68), receiving yards (763) and scoring catches (3). In 2011, he suffered concussions on three different occasions and missed three games.
Besides Watson, a No. 1 pick of the New England Patriots in 2004, other tight ends on the roster include Michael Higgins and undrafted rookie free agents Keavon Milton and Josh Hill.
"I'm excited about Mike Higgins being a big part of what we're doing, and I think we hit twice with those two young guys,'' Malone said. "We got to keep enough healthy legs at tight end to be able to run what we do. I think we're in pretty good shape right now.''
A hush fell over the indoor practice field when veteran outside linebacker Victor Butler went down in a heap after colliding with running back Mark Ingram. Butler, a free agent signee from the Dallas Cowboys, stayed on the ground for a few minutes before being assisted off the field.
"I think he is going to be fine, actually, so we are fortunate,'' Payton said.
Butler emerged from the locker room with an ice wrap on his left knee.
KING FOR A DAY
Cornerback Jabari Greer will fill in July 1 as a guest columnist for vacationing SI.com senior writer Peter King, author of the popular Monday Morning Quarterback column.
"I'm excited,'' Greer said. "I'm trying to find inspiration and usually it happens spur of the moment. I don't want to be like Peter. I want to make sure I have my own vision and my own tone so when people read it, they know it's me.
"I can't give away my secret formula. But let the people know it will be written in my style. I do like to talk about sports but I like to inject a life into it, a breath of fresh air.''
TIME WELL SPENT
Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, the team's No. 1 draft pick, said he has benefited greatly from the past month spent in the offseason program.
"When I first got here, I was a little uneasy,'' he said. "I didn't know the defense. I didn't know anybody. But now, I've gotten to know the guys, we're friends now, and the way I've been practicing I think I earned the respect of the locker room a little bit. So, it's been good.''
Vaccaro said he will remain in New Orleans one more week with the other rookies before returning to Austin, Texas, to resume training for the start of training camp.
Former Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft, has signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears. ... Payton said the team's off-season program will conclude with OTAs Wednesday and Thursday. Training camp is expected to start July 26. Payton said he was pleased with his team's offseason program, calling it "one of the better ones'' in terms of players lifting and training. "Our attendance has been outstanding, and we were able to install a new defense,'' he said.
"We were at the bottom last year, so we have nothing to do but go up.''
-- Saints FS Malcolm Jenkins when asked if he could see an improvement in the defense.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton
Post-OTA Media Availability Transcript
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Opening Statement: “These players did not practice: Benjamin Watson, Ryan Steed, Terron Armstead, Roman Harper, and Patrick Robinson. We are obviously in our last week of organized team activities, and we have two left. Today we put a little bit of the emphasis on some third down and some heavy personnel groupings.”
Can you discuss Victor Butler’s status after leaving practice?
“I think he is going to be fine actually, so we are fortunate.”
Was it a head injury?
“No, he banged knees with Mark Ingram and I think he will be alright.”
How tough is it to kind of scale back from full speed in these unpadded practices without contact?
“I think they have done a good job, the tempo has been pretty good and guys have worked together. For the most part, guys have stayed off the ground, and have handled that part of it pretty well.”
Do you anticipate going the next two days or getting the players out early at all?
“No, our plan is (to work on) Wednesday and Thursday, just like it is on the calendar and we will be finished up until players come back for training camp.”
Are you going to give the guys any kind of instructions before they leave?
“Pretty typical of what we would normally do in regards to the last day (of OTAs), (where we) hand out packets of information, reporting times and weight, pretty standard (policy).”
We saw how competitive it was that last sequel with the offense and defense. How have you seen the progress of this defense?
“I think that’s what we do every year. We try to create that environment and it prepares them for what it’s going to be like and how the team periods are when we get into training camp before you ever get to go against another opponent.”
After a normal offseason, is there high confidence that the team could get back to the results of the 2009-2011 teams?
“Every year is different, I never talk with this team about us being like the 2009, 2010, or the 2011 teams, so there is nothing promised. There is a process of working hard and obviously there are a lot of things that we have to improve on and that is what we are working on, but outside of that, shoot we haven’t even put on pads yet. We are working to make the improvements and we are working to get ready for the opportunities when we are in full pads.”
What are some of the best things you got out of these offseason on-field workouts?
“Well, on-field we were able to install a new defense. I think, most importantly though, time spent in the weight room and the conditioning I think have been one of the better offseasons in regards to players lifting and training. Our attendance has been outstanding. Those would be some specifics.”
Is there a reason to why you think it was one of the better ones?
“Coming off a disappointing year, I think we have enough veteran leadership on this team and players recognize that we can be a lot better and we need to be better. I think it starts with that.”
Last week you talked about the early struggles of Marques Colston in 2006 and not overevaluating these offseason workouts. Do you have a sense of where the 45 new guys are and what do you like about them?
“I think it’s ongoing, certainly for me. I have been able to put the names with faces and also the video in what they are doing, and again it is still early in the process, but that’s kind of been taking place for the last couple of months.”
We saw Charles Brown get all the snaps in minicamp and then Jason Smith getting another look, would you still label that as an open competition?
How well do Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton work together?
“Well they are both veterans and smart players, and I think their experience being at another defense, from a learning curve standpoint, they pick things up pretty quickly. Obviously one of them is playing the mike over a guard bubble and the other is playing weakside (middle), talking about Jon Vilma now, there are some nuances to the inside linebacker positions, but both of them have handled it well (as well as) the transition of this defense and I think their experience has really helped.”
Have you been pleased with the running backs?
“Yes, it’s predominately a veteran group besides a couple of players, so I think those guys obviously understand the system, the protections and all of the things that go into being versatile at that position. So I think they are in good shape, they are healthy and that’s been encouraging.”
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