For the most part, the New Orleans Saints are keeping things status quo while coach Sean Payton is suspended.
But interim coach Joe Vitt revealed a few tweaks when he met with the media after Thursday’s practice. There are changes coming on defense, which isn’t Payton’s side of the ball. But you can bet Payton signed off on the changes before he began his suspension. He already had brought in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to improve a defense that struggled at times the past two seasons.
Vitt said the Saints gave up too many big plays last season and the defense will look to include more zone schemes. It appears that also means there will be some personnel changes. Linebacker Martez Wilson, who showed some promise last year, has been moved to defensive end. He was lining up Thursday opposite Greg Romeus, another 2011 draft pick who missed last season with an injury.
"We've got a lot of zone pressures now and it's going to call for a defensive end to drop into coverage," Vitt said. "And Martez has got a pretty good foundation from being here a year ago with coverage and coverage aspects. So we've been very encouraged for the first week of what he's done. He'll be our right end. He does a pretty good job with pattern recognition. This is a time to experiment and we'll see what he can do."
Wilson has some quickness and that should help him at defensive end in a Spagnuolo defense. Spagnuolo likes to generate most of his pressure from the front four, but Wilson’s ability to drop into coverage could give the Saints some flexibility. Wilson’s quickness also could help him as a pass-rusher. Romeus also has potential as a pass-rusher.
Cameron Jordan, a first-round pick last year, is set to start at one defensive end spot. The Saints could have three players from the 2011 draft as their top three ends on opening day. Will Smith is New Orleans’ top end, but the NFL has suspended him for the first four games. Smith is appealing the suspension, but it looks like the Saints are coming up with alternatives.