I'm not going to lie, this post was entirely motivated by the piece I read by Reid on SaintsWin. In fact, Reid is one of my very favorite Saints bloggers to read and I recommend you follow him on twitter to get more familiar with his stuff. His post got me thinking not just about the safety position, but the entire defense. Remember when football in the 80s and 90s was played where you had your 11 starters and they played the entire game? They were only replaced if someone got hurt or needed a breather. Heck, before that era in the 40s guys used to have to go both ways in a largely one-platoon system. Back then if you subbed one guy out, you had to sub out the entire unit similar to what they do in hockey sometimes with a line change. That time has changed, and I think the drafting of Kenny Vaccaro possibly further signals that for the future of the Saints' defense.
Sean Payton's offense has really shifted from the traditional mold. Unless you're Drew Brees or a member of the offensive line, you are shuffling in and out of the lineup constantly on any given series. You'll see Lance Moore and Marques Colston come out for Jed Collins and Eric Olsen, Jimmy Graham and Mark Ingram come out for Darren Sproles and Joe Morgan and so on and so forth. The constant personnel changes are in an effort to confuse the opponent and create matchup problems and if you know how successful the Saints have been offensively the last half decade it's an understatement to say that it works. The defense under Gregg Williams already showed some of that too, switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 on any given play, and we also saw it some with Steve Spagnuolo. But i'd like to see it more pronounced and for it to become a common thing with the defense too. While down and distance always affect the personnel (Sproles is more likely to be in on 3rd and more than 5, than he is on first and 10, Ingram is more likely to be in on 3rd and short than he is on 3rd and 10 for example) and that's certainly more pronounced on defense (pass rushers like Galette and Wilson see the field on passing downs, Brodrick Bunkley on running downs) I'd like to see it become less predictable. That was part of the problem with Spagnuolo last year, his defense was entirely too predictable.
If you're on a 53 man roster these days, it's not to fill up a bench spot in case disaster strikes. Teams almost never carry three quarterbacks or two fullbacks anymore. If you're a backup, you better be able to play special teams and fill in for spot duty on the field. With the exception of maybe Tyrunn Walker and Chase Daniel (who was the holder), every guy on the Saints' 53 man roster saw the field extensively last year. The Saints have the luxury to do this now. Think about the at least capable linebackers they have now: Galette, pass rusher, Wilson, pass rusher, Vilma, aging multi skilled vet, Lofton, run stuffer, Hawthorne, multi skilled, Will Herring, cover guy, Victor Butler, pass rusher, Chris Chamberlain, swiss army knife. Not even mentioning some of the rookies the Saints picked up (I know Chase Thomas is already a fan favorite) I just listed 8 guys that I view as capable pro football players with ranging skill sets for 4 spots. I'm suggesting down and distance dictate less who plays and I'm suggesting the defensive play call vary to cause confusion. For example, force the offense to call an audible because Butler, Galette and Wilson are all three on the field on 1st and 10 and the offense reads blitz, then don't blitz. That's the kind of chess match I envision.
The defensive backfield is the same way. Honestly, I thought Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush performed better than the "starters" in Jenkins in Harper last year. Now you add Vaccaro to the mix and you've got 5 guys for 2 spots, some with serious limitations, that again I view as capable pro football players with ranging skill sets. Let's get them all on the field in different situations and rotate them like crazy. Have Rafael Bush and Vaccaro back there on first down and bring Jenkins/IAQ together on 2nd and 16. That's just an example, but again my point is to let the play call dictate the personnel more than the down and distance. And of course, with that comes the need for more self scouting to make sure the personnel on the field doesn't tip the play call.
The defensive line is already heavy on rotation and I don't expect that to change (funny because the offensive line is the one unit on offense that doesn't rotate). I see this defense morphing along with Kenny Vaccaro. This plays right into the hands of the feedback I got on Vaccaro from scouting expert Eric Galko. The guy is, to quote Galko, an "Anti-Matchup Nightmare". That is what this defense needs to pursue, more anti matchups by creating their own more extensive sub packages. And yes, I do realize the Saints have done this even on defense on some level already, but I want to see it happen way more often and with less predictability. No more "starters". If you're on the 53 man roster and you're active, you've got skills and you should play. Otherwise, how would we ever have uncovered gems like Joe Morgan, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore or Jimmy Graham? It's time to uncover those guys on defense. Hopefully it all starts with Vaccaro and the versatility he brings.