New Orleans Saints: Tyrunn Walker


No Drew Brees? No problem.

The New Orleans Saints found plenty of offensive firepower Friday in their 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams -- most of it provided by running back Mark Ingram and receiver Brandin Cooks.

It wasn't a perfect night by any stretch. Both first-string units had a few hiccups. But the Saints will feel especially good about the way they ran the ball, even without Brees and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' first preseason game of the year:
  • I couldn't help but think of the way Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief compared the speed of these playmakers Ingram and Cooks the other day. Strief said Ingram has the kind of speed where you know he's running hard, like a freight train once he gets going. Meanwhile, Cooks has smooth, natural speed that barely looks like it requires any effort.

    Well, both methods made the Rams defense miss Friday night. Ingram broke several tackles en route to 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. And Cooks torched a pair of defensive backs with a nasty cut in the open field on a 25-yard touchdown. Cooks finished with five catches for 55 yards.

    Fellow Saints running back Khiry Robinson also ran well, with five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Among the guys who provided standout blocks were linemen Tim Lelito, Jonathan Goodwin, Senio Kelemete, Jason Weaver, Thomas Welch and tight end Benjamin Watson.
  • Ryan Griffin won the first round of the backup-QB battle by a landslide. Veteran Luke McCown started the game and did OK, but his night was marred by an ill-advised interception into the arms of blitzing defensive end Chris Long.

    Griffin, meanwhile, continued to show the poise and maturity he's been displaying all summer while completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no picks. Although Cooks got deserved credit for that touchdown catch, Griffin deserves just as much for absorbing a huge hit as he threw the ball under pressure.
  • Thumbs up: Backup defensive end Tyrunn Walker was outstanding with one sack and at least three other tackles for loss. At one point he made back-to-back run stuffs on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. ... Glenn Foster, Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson Jr. and rookie linebackers Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt all stood out for at least one sack or tackle for loss. ... Don't sleep on linebacker Kyle Knox as a roster hopeful. He started on all four special teams, along with tight end Josh Hill and linebacker Kevin Reddick. ... Hill had a big night on offense, too, doing his best Jimmy Graham impression with two catches for 67 yards.
  • Thumbs down: Kicker Shayne Graham isn't a fan of the NFL's 33-yard extra point experiment. He missed one, bouncing it off the left upright. Both Graham and Derek Dimke made matching 37-yard field goals, though. ... Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste got burned for a 24-yard touchdown pass. He's better in bump-and-run, but he never jammed the receiver and never turned to locate the ball. ... The entire Saints defense got burned on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter when no one covered tight end Cory Harkey. ... Cornerbacks Rod Sweeting and Brian Dixon also got beat for big plays in the fourth quarter. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman dropped two passes, one of which was intercepted. ... The Saints' third-string offensive line struggled, especially rookie tackle Tavon Rooks.
A position-by-position look at the New Orleans Saints' draft needs, ranked in order of importance from 1-12:

Current depth chart:

DE Cameron Jordan, signed through 2015

DE Akiem Hicks, signed through 2015

NT Brodrick Bunkley, signed through 2016

NT John Jenkins, signed through 2016

DE Glenn Foster, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016

DE Tyrunn Walker, scheduled to become RFA in 2015

Draft possibilities: This is another position like safety where I don't see the Saints investing a premium pick unless they have an especially high grade on a certain prospect. They're already loaded with defensive line talent for both the short and long term. Jordan is a Pro Bowler. Hicks could join him someday soon. And Jenkins also has the potential to be a standout starter for years to come.

New Orleans also has good depth with veteran Bunkley and young backups Foster and Walker. ... It wouldn't be a shock to see them add a lineman at some point in the draft, because they do rotate so many bodies at the tackle and end positions. It's just not a position that they need to reach to fill.

I stuck with just the interior linemen for purposes of this list. I'll have a separate category later on outside linebackers -- including hybrid DE/OLBs like Junior Galette. I could definitely see the Saints adding an edge rusher like that in this year's draft.

Previous entries:

No. 12 Kicker/punter

No. 11 Quarterback

No. 10 Running back

No. 9 Safety
A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Akiem Hicks. Age 24, signed through 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $582,500. 2014 salary-cap number: $718,225.

Brodrick Bunkley. Age 30, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $4.5 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $6.1 million.

John Jenkins. Age 24, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $515,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $656,890.

Tom Johnson. Age 29, restricted free agent.

Glenn Foster. Age 23, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $497,333.

Tyrunn Walker. Age 23, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $570,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $571,000.

Kenyon Coleman. Age 34, unrestricted free agent.

Analysis:

Since the Saints run a hybrid between a 3-4 and 4-3, I decided to label the guys up front as either interior linemen or edge rushers. And I think this particular group is in good shape going forward.

Bunkley’s future is uncertain since he’s due to make so much money and since he shares time at the nose tackle spot with promising 2013 rookie Jenkins. Based on my weekly film studies, I believe Bunkley was playing better down the stretch of this past season than any other point in his two years with the Saints. He’s a very strong and stout run defender. But I think it would take a pay cut to keep him in New Orleans.

Even if Bunkley leaves, I think this position is in good shape. Hicks is an outstanding young talent, with a great combination of power and athleticism. He could be playing at a Pro Bowl level sooner than later. And you can pencil in Hicks and Jenkins as starters (in a 3-4 or 4-3).

Foster and Walker are solid young backups with a potential to be even better as they continue to develop. Johnson is also a reliable backup if the Saints decide to bring him back as a restricted free agent. And they could add a veteran backup at an affordable price if needed -- perhaps bringing back Coleman, who missed all of last season on injured reserve.

I’m not saying the Saints will cross this position off their draft list completely. If the highest-graded player on their board in Round 1 is a defensive tackle, they’ll probably take him and trust that innovative defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can find a good use for him. … It just won’t be a “must-fill” spot this offseason.

Saints mailbag: Worried about White?

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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Thanks for submitting your questions to me on Twitter this week. I’ll put together a New Orleans Saints mailbag every weekend and occasionally sprinkle some questions into my morning report. So send ‘em my way anytime @MikeTriplett.
 
METAIRIE, La. -- Receiver Marques Colston (knee) and guard Jahri Evans (hip) were additions to the New Orleans Saints injury report Wednesday. They were held out of team drills, along with safety Malcolm Jenkins (knee), safety Kenny Vaccaro (head/back) and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker (knee).

Evans
Colston
On a more positive note for the Saints, tight end Jimmy Graham (foot) practiced on a limited basis. Safety Roman Harper (knee) returned to practice on a limited basis for the first time since Week 2. Receiver Kenny Stills (knee), linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle) and cornerback Rod Sweeting (hip) were also limited.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle), cornerback Keenan Lewis (foot/knee) and running back Mark Ingram (toe) fully participated after previously dealing with injuries.

It's too early to predict whether any of the above players are in jeopardy of missing Sunday's game against the New York Jets. Vaccaro, who suffered an apparent concussion in last Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, has insisted he'll be OK to play. Jenkins, who left Sunday's game early with the unspecified knee injury, remains optimistic that he might be back. “It's getting there. I'm taking it day by day, seeing how it goes,” Jenkins said.

Neither Evans nor Colston was available for comment. It's unclear exactly when they suffered their injuries. Evans wasn't on the field for the final six snaps against the Bills, but there was no indication of an injury on the game tape during the last few snaps he played.

Among all the names on this list, Evans would be the hardest to replace. His backup is undrafted rookie Tim Lelito, who struggled when Evans missed a game with a hamstring injury earlier this season. Lelito has had a little more time to develop since, but the Jets have one of the most disruptive defensive fronts in the NFL. They have the league's No. 1-ranked run defense.
A look at the New Orleans Saints' defensive line through the first six weeks of the 2013 season:

Looking back: The Saints’ defensive line play has been outstanding this season -- especially considering how many young players have stepped up through a barrage of injuries. They’ve arguably been New Orleans’ most valuable unit during the team’s 5-1 start.

End Cameron Jordan was excellent last season, but he’s been even better in his third NFL season, earning a lot of national attention for his play. A power rusher and a standout run defender, he has five sacks and a forced fumble this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Jordan also has five quarterback hits and 24 hurries.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Bill FeigCameron Jordan has led an early season surge by New Orleans' defensive line.
Second-year end Akiem Hicks and rookie nose tackle John Jenkins have also been very good as the primary starters in the Saints’ three-man front. Both are stout run-stuffers, but they’ve also shown an ability to push the pocket back on passing downs, sometimes leading to sacks on the edges. Hicks has one sack of his own. Backup ends Tyrunn Walker, Tom Johnson and Glenn Foster have taken turns producing while rotating in and out of the lineup because of injuries. They each have one sack this season. And veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley just returned in Week 6 from a Week 1 injury.

Looking forward: It’s hard to imagine we’ll keep seeing the same level of dominant production that we saw from this group in September -- especially now that the secret is out around the league. But there is nothing fluky about the individual performances. Jordan has been on this steady rise since his rookie season. Hicks and Walker showed flashes of this kind of talent as rookies last season. And Jenkins and Foster showed signs of this type of ability in the summer. Now that all of the injuries are healing, the Saints are suddenly overloaded with depth.

It will also help the pass rush if they keep things unpredictable. After relying heavily on a four-man rush in the first four games, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan caught offenses off guard with more frequent blitzes over the past two weeks.

Snaps played (out of a possible 375): Jordan 349, Hicks 238, Jenkins 207, Foster 93, Johnson 65, Walker 59, Bunkley 14, defensive end Keyunta Dawson 11.

ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “I love their defensive line. I think Jenkins was a find (in the third round out of Georgia). Hicks has come on strong in his second year. Jordan is a star in the making. They have depth. Bunkley is a good player. And they’re better suited to a 3-4. I think it’s one of the better 3-4 defensive lines out there, and they’re really the unsung heroes of this whole success story.”
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints officially ruled out receiver Lance Moore (hand), running back Mark Ingram (toe), safety Roman Harper (knee), defensive linemen Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and Tyrunn Walker (knee) for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

The only mild surprise on that list is Bunkley, who practiced on a limited basis the past two days. The others were all held out of practice all week. Cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip) and defensive end Tom Johnson (hamstring) are listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis all week.

None of the injuries should be too harmful to the Saints, who dominated the Miami Dolphins 38-17 last Monday night without Moore, Harper, Ingram, Bunkley and Johnson in the lineup. The Saints have so far proven to be deep enough in each position group to absorb those losses -- though they’ll be especially thin on the defensive line if Johnson is not back near 100 percent.

With Moore out last week, the Saints continued to rely heavily on top targets Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles. Backup receivers Kenny Stills and Nick Toon each played slightly bigger roles, with the rookie Stills catching a career-high four passes for 38 yards and Toon catching his first NFL passes for 18 yards on a key third-and-12 play in the first quarter. Tight end Benjamin Watson also caught his first touchdown pass since he joined the Saints this summer (a 4-yarder in the third quarter).

That was Watson's only catch in the game, though. And deep threat receiver Robert Meachem had zero catches. So even with Moore out of the lineup and quarterback Drew Brees throwing for 413 yards, the Saints still didn’t have enough balls to go around for everybody in their deep offense.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' injury report hasn't changed much from last week. Five players were held out of team drills Wednesday -- receiver Lance Moore (hand), running back Mark Ingram (toe), safety Roman Harper (knee), defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker (knee).

The news was good in general, with no new players being held out. Cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip) and defensive end Tom Johnson (hamstring) participated in team drills on a limited basis.

Plus, Ingram and Bunkley were suited up for practice and did some individual work -- a good sign that they're on the mend. And Walker played last week after taking Wednesday off, so he could possibly just be taking a day of rest.

The Saints don't offer any specific details on injuries, so it's too early to predict whether any of those five players who were held out can play Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Moore said after Monday night's game that his hand just needs time to heal -- and that it's different from trying to rehab a muscle injury. He didn't offer specific details on his injury but said he was hoping to return sooner than later.

Obviously the Saints would love to have Moore back since he's such a key part of their offense. But as they proved in their 38-17 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Monday, they still have a deep enough arsenal to thrive in the passing game without him.

Saints' surging defense is the truth

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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Cameron JordanStacy Revere/Getty ImagesCameron Jordan notched two of the Saints' four sacks Sunday versus Arizona.
NEW ORLEANS -- At some point, we've got to stop asking whether or not what we're seeing from the New Orleans Saints' defense is for real.

The defense has been the driving force behind all three victories by the unbeaten Saints, including a dominant 31-7 win against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. New Orleans has already blown open a two-game lead in the NFC South.

How much more real does it have to get?

"It's nothing to get super excited about, other than the fact that we show a lot of promise, and that's what we've got to keep doing," cautioned defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has been the breakout individual player of the bunch with a team-high three sacks so far, including two on Sunday.

"You always want to have that hungry attitude of just straight grinding and building on each game," Jordan added. "I don't ever want to be like, 'This is the defense that we are.' I just want to keep going and keep getting better."

After a disastrous defensive performance last season, in which they set the NFL record for yards allowed in a season (7,042), the idea was that the Saints could get back to being playoff contenders if they could just find some way to get their defense back to being a "middle-of-the-pack" unit.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer and Junior Galette
AP Photo/Bill FeigJunior Galette and the Saints kept pressure on Carson Palmer all game long.
Consider that goal already surpassed.

Of course, the Saints' defense is still a work in progress after making drastic changes this offseason -- both intended (hiring coordinator Rob Ryan, signing free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafting safety Kenny Vaccaro) and unintended (losing veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Victor Butler and Kenyon Coleman to summer injuries).

But they've been thriving behind a youth movement, especially on the defensive front. Jordan, 24, and pass-rush specialist Junior Galette, 25, have been terrific on the edges, while Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster and John Jenkins -- all first- or second-year pros -- have taken turns doing damage up the middle.

Their performance up front has gone hand in hand with improved play on the back end, where veteran cornerbacks Lewis and Jabari Greer have done an outstanding job against top receivers like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Atlanta's Julio Jones and Roddy White and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

"I think that's the bright side of our defense is that we really don't have any stars, if you talk about big-name guys. We've just got a lot of young guys with talent who are building confidence not only in themselves, but in each other," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "So we really don't know how good we are or how good we can be. It's just all about going to work every day and getting better.

"Obviously, with each win and each performance, we gain more confidence. But we really don't know where the ceiling is for this defense, so we go to work every week and treat every week like it was Week 1 versus Atlanta."

The Saints had a total of four sacks Sunday (two by Jordan and one each by Galette and Foster). Everyone on the Saints' defensive front took turns abusing a suspect offensive line to hit and hurry Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer throughout the afternoon. They eventually forced interceptions by Vaccaro and Lewis in the fourth quarter.

After the Cardinals opened the game with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, they punted on their next eight possessions and threw interceptions on the final two.

"They can rush the passer," Palmer said. "There's two very good pass-rushers that people don't know a whole lot about. You hear a lot [about] Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, but Cameron Jordan is really good. He showed that today. Junior Galette is really good. They're physical guys. They stop the run, and they rush the passer. A really good combination of strength and speed."

Jordan is starting to get that respect around the country. Pro Football Focus highlighted him this past week, pointing out that his 12 quarterback disruptions led all 3-4 ends through two weeks (though, to be fair, the versatile Jordan is lining up as a traditional 4-3 end in many pass-rushing situations).

More importantly, Jordan is making his mom proud. He said she gave him grief after he went sackless in Week 1.

She wasn't the only one, though. The Saints' defensive line is clearly a competitive group.

While Jordan was talking to a group of reporters Sunday, Walker yelled over that he stole one of his sacks. After Week 1, Jordan was beside himself that he didn't have any sacks against the Falcons while Hicks already had one.

And while crediting Galette for having tremendous speed on Sunday, Jordan admitted that he is more of a "power" guy. But he said that makes for an interesting race between the two to get to the quarterback.

"I've been claiming the strength of our D-line is just how much youth and talent is on the D-line. It definitely showed today," Jordan said Sunday. "From the outside to the interior, I was highly pleased. Whether it be Tyrunn Walker or big Akiem or Glenn Foster, it was all just pressure everywhere. You couldn't really locate just one spot where we were getting pressure.

"And when you're part of a D-line like that, it's a party."

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