As training camp opens today, I’m excited to blog about what I view as the deepest and most intriguing tandem position on the roster. The Saints have a lot of veteran and young talent that all deserve to make this team. Traditionally the team has kept four or maybe five safeties. This year, I really think six should be kept. I’m surprised at the team’s desire to stockpile at this position prior to camp, but it seems clear Rob Ryan values it greatly. Speaking of Rob Ryan, I hear he was at Harrah’s playing blackjack last night…
Here are the players:
Malcolm Jenkins: This to me is a make it or break it year for Jenkins. Lots of people talk about Ingram needing to break out, but Jenkins has yet to live up to his potential too. He’s made some plays and had ups and downs in his career, but while he’s held down a starting spot I think I view him as a closer to a bust 1st round draft pick than a hit. He’s still a big hit tackler and can make plays from time to time. He’s still not entirely comfortable with the switch to safety. Could he see more time back at corner in the slot on passing downs? With the lack of depth at corner and increased depth at safety, I’d like to see it. If he ends up being a backup he could also bring tremendous value as a special teamer. Jenkins is a good leader and character guy, too. He’s a lock I would think.
Roman Harper: It was just announced he’ll start the year on PUP, which is not a good sign for him. He’s already been struggling horrible the last year and a half, the Saints drafted a safety in the 1st round, and now he’s not practicing. I have no idea what the extent of his injury is, but it makes me wonder if he won’t start the year on the 53 man roster. If he’s healthy and he comes back, though, I view him as a lock to make the team. Like Jenkins, though, it’s entirely possible he’d have to accept a more limited or even a backup role, but his value on special teams could be intriguing.
Kenny Vaccaro: Along with Cam Jordan and Chris Lofton, Vaccaro is the future of this Saints defense. He has the playmaking skills, versatility and talent this team so desperately needs. I read the Saints have been moving Vaccaro around a lot and he may play some slot in the nickel packages as well. So again, he and Jenkins combined perhaps make the Saints let’s needy to keep several corners as they can provide depth there as well. I don’t know if the Saints will start him week 1, but he’ll be starting soon enough. He’s a roster lock.
Isa Abdul-Quddus: I’m going to stop short of saying he’s a lock, but it’s highly likely he makes the roster. Not only is he a terrific special teams player, I think he’s got the best ball skills of the entire unit. In spot duty and late season starting last year, he’s always outperformed Malcolm Jenkins at free safety. I maintain I’d like this guy to be the starting free safety. He has nice range and antipication, as well as hands, but his angle taking and last line of defense tackling needs work. To me he has the highest ceiling of anyone at this position except possibly Vaccaro. He had 2 interceptions in 3 starts last year, whereas Jenkins only has 3 interceptions in 3 years of starting at free safety.
Rafael Bush: Also adept at special teams, Bush always has a knack for making plays in limited reps. Before the addition of Vaccaro, I lobbied for IAQ and Bush to start at the safety positions this year. Oddly, with Vaccaro being drafted and the addition of Leonhard, Bush could now be on the outside looking in. I view him as the 5th and maybe even 6th safety in this group, which make him firmly a bubble player. He’ll need to prove his worth on special teams now more than ever. For selfish reasons I want him to stay to keep my #25 Bush jersey relevant. I would hate for the Saints to waive Bush, though, because he’s a young player with really nice potential and a solid back up that can start and play well when needed.
Jim Leonhard: The 30 year old is now playing on his fifth team and because he started for Rex Ryan in New York you figure he came with a ringing endorsement from Rob’s brother. He’s also a special teams ace that can play well. He has 8 career interceptions and he started for the Bills, Ravens and Jets during his stints with each. I don’t think he will start for the Saints, but he does bring experience, leadership and toughness to the team. Like Bush I think he’s a bubble player and showing special team worth will be important to his chances of making the final 53. I also wouldn’t be shocked, but worried, if he ends up starting.
Jerico Nelson: I’m a big fan of Nelson as a prospect, as he spent last season on the Saints’ practice squad after being an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas. He never really showed much in preseason but I remember being very excited when the Saints landed him based on his potential coming out of college. I could see him ending up on the practice squad again, but I think he has no shot at the 53 man roster unless the Saints suffer a rash of injuries. Hopefully the Saints can hang onto him, though, because I’m not convinced Roman Harper and Jenkins (in contract year) come back in 2014.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: Just added to the roster, he’s a former 4th round pick of Rob Ryan. He has 4.32 speed, but feedback from Cowboy bloggers on his playing ability are not good. He’s a long shot.
Prediction: I maintain the Saints will keep six safeties due to Jenkins/Vaccaro’s slot ability, and the special teams prowess of so many of these guys. The six they keep are Jenkins, Harper, IAQ, Bush, Leonhard and Vaccaro. It’s also possible Harper starts the season on PUP, which would mean the Saints keep five and that would benefit one of the backup corners that shows promise on special teams.