Thursday, May 22, 2014
Saints DBs couldn't wait to start competing
By Mike Triplett
Champ Bailey, left, and Jairus Byrd further solidify an already talented Saints secondary.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' defensive backs stand out as a competitive bunch. So it should come as no surprise that they didn’t wait for organized team activities next week to find a way to start battling each other on the field.
Spearheaded by cornerback Keenan Lewis, who is from the west bank of New Orleans, the Saints’ DBs have been getting together this offseason for group workouts at local parks.
That group has included big-name newcomers Champ Bailey and Jairus Byrd in a secondary that is now jam-packed with talent. But, as Bailey said, that won’t do the Saints any good if it doesn’t translate onto the field.
“It can look good on paper. I love our potential, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Bailey, a future Hall of Famer with 15 seasons and 12 Pro Bowls under his belt. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to find out how to work together and mesh and improve. Because that’s really what wins you games is playing together and being a great team.”
So far, though, Bailey said he likes what he has seen from his new teammates.
“A young group. Hungry. I haven’t met one guy that didn’t work hard or didn’t want to be great. So that spells some great things for us,” said Bailey, who said his belief in the Saints’ championship potential has been strengthened by his early impressions of his new teammates.
“Absolutely,” Bailey said. “Everybody carries themselves in a championship manner here. You know, I’ve been around some good teams. I was on a pretty good team last year [the Denver Broncos]. We came up short, and I just want another opportunity. And I think this is a great place for me.”
After spending the past 10 years with the Broncos, Bailey said it has been interesting to get to know a whole new group of guys and their personalities.
None has stood out more than Lewis -- again, not surprisingly.
Lewis himself admitted, “Those guys think I’m real funny because I talk a lot. But I just want everybody to feel comfortable in the locker room and, you know, as a family. And we’ve got one goal we’ve got to reach.”
Bailey laughed when he heard that and said, “He does [talk a lot]. He gets his share of words in. But it’s all good stuff. He’s a great, positive guy. He works harder than anybody on the team. So it’s great to be around a group of guys like that.”
Lewis is arguably the most competitive of the bunch, as he made clear last year when he didn’t hide his disappointment over being snubbed for his first Pro Bowl. This year, Lewis said he is aiming for his first All-Pro selection instead.
However, Lewis said he is keeping his goal of seven interceptions the same as last year, because he knows it will be tougher with interception-magnet Byrd now roaming the back of the secondary.
“I’m scared to have him back there. I hope he just don’t get in the way and take all the interceptions,” Lewis said. “That’s a ball-hawk type of guy, great to work with. I had the opportunity to play [against] him in college [when Lewis was at Oregon State and Byrd was at Oregon]. So I’m glad to have him as a teammate.”
Second-year cornerback Rod Sweeting -- who insists that he won’t step aside quietly in the competition with veteran corners like Lewis, Bailey, Corey White and Patrick Robinson -- said the offseason workout sessions have brought out the competitiveness in everyone.
“We have  DBs here, so we’re all just competing, having a good time, enjoying each other,” Sweeting said. “You know, when somebody does something better than the other, then the other one tries to match that.”
Lewis said he has been playing the role of quarterback in many of those sessions. “I’m another Drew Brees,” he joked.
But he said the main focus has been working on those interceptions. Last year, forcing turnovers was the one area where the Saints defense fell short, despite ranking No. 2 in the NFL in pass defense and No. 4 overall.
“We definitely got better,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve added the pieces that we missed, because I didn’t feel like we had no pieces missing. But we got some guys who can help. ... I’m pretty sure we’ll be ready, competing to be one of the best in the league.”
Vaccaro healing: Safety Kenny Vaccaro -- another ultracompetitor in the Saints secondary -- was unavailable to the media during teammate Ben Grubbs’ charity softball game Wednesday night, when the other defensive backs spoke. But it was worth noting that Vaccaro didn’t have any covering over the ankle that he fractured late last season.
It is unclear if Vaccaro will be limited during OTAs next week, but he is expected to be fully healthy in plenty of time for the season.