- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan met with the media for the first time this week Friday to discuss his unit’s outstanding start to the season and preview their upcoming Week 3 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Here are some of the highlights:
Stepping up: The Saints were down to three healthy defensive linemen in last Sunday’s 16-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after backup end Tom Johnson suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter (plus a couple of hybrid outside linebacker/ends). But they held up extremely well, thanks to stand-up efforts by young ends Cameron Jordan (all 59 snaps) and Akiem Hicks (53) and rookie tackle John Jenkins (51).
That young trio has been a huge part of the Saints’ success on defense this year -- particularly Jordan and Hicks, who are emerging as two of their more dynamic difference-makers up front. All three of them figure to be a big part of the team’s nucleus going forward.
“Especially for young players, they’re really coming on,” Ryan said. “We got a lot of fight out of them last week, a lot of snaps. And that was the players’ game, all the way. There wasn’t a whole lot of checks to it or anything to it. It was just us lining up and playing. And I thought our D-line competed really well.
“I know we gave up a lot of (rushing) yards. But a lot of those yards are on me, calling a game, just with the way the game was being played and living with some of those runs.”
“Absolutely,” Ryan said of Vaccaro, who has played every defensive snap so far this season, bouncing around in what Vaccaro estimated to be six or seven different positions at safety, cornerback and linebacker. “We drafted a special guy there. (General manager) Mickey Loomis and (director of player personnel) Ryan Pace and Sean (Payton), they wanted this guy. When I just got introduced to him, the first thing that jumped out were the sweet tats he’s got. And then the second thing was how much he loves football.
“You can do so many things with him, and we’re just scratching the surface with this guy. He’s got a lot of talent, now. He can play man coverage, he can blitz, he can play zone. He’s smart, he’s tough. There’s a lot of great things about this guy and probably the best is how much he loves football.”
Ryan said he has never used a starter in the same versatile role that he’s using Vaccaro in now. But he said that’s how he used current Saints cornerback Chris Carr as a backup when they were with the Oakland Raiders together several years ago.
“Of course, I think (Carr) is a Phi Beta Kappa and he’s a lawyer in his spare time, and a doctor, and something else,” Ryan cracked. “But this kid (Vaccaro) loves football. And I think the more you put on his plate, the more he wants.”
Man of the people: Ryan was asked if he is aware that he’s becoming a “cult hero” in New Orleans -- both because of the way he’s turning around an embattled defense and because of his contagious personality.
“No, I’m trying to work and stay out of that,” Ryan said. But he then added, “I think this town appreciates normal people and good hard-working people, so maybe I am a good guy.”
Ryan did take time out to personally spread the love last week when he bought a round of drinks for the patrons at local bar Ms. Mae’s after a Week 1 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He said he “unfortunately” didn’t do the same after the team flight returned from Tampa Bay in Week 2.
“But hopefully this week,” Ryan said.