Last year the Saints’ secondary performance was in need of help nearly all year long. At times it was good enough in coverage and run support. But usually the secondary just wasn’t up to the task. Mike McKenzie is a league-wide respected coverage and run support cornerback right up there with the best of the cornerbacks in the NFL. He had a respectable year, though he had a couple of bad games in which he got beat for touchdowns or good gains.
And then there was the only real bright spot with the veteran Jay Bellamy stepping in and using his experience to provide balance in coverage and run-support during the year after strong safety Roman Harper went down with a knee-injury, hindering the Saints secondary all year long. His injury, and the rest of the DBs not really ready for various reasons, i.e., as in their first year with the Saints or not quite ready for a starting position in the saints system, is why the Saints didn’t do so well in the secondary last year.
The scrappy, tough veteran Freddie Thomas bit on one too many pump-fakes resulting in long plays and/or touchdowns. Freddie Thomas had to pay for his mis-steps on the field with a pay cut. But he should be back with the team to continue to provide, if nothing more than, a very solid fifth or sixth back. He still has lots of skills if he can get back to the Freddie Thomas of old, a great run supporter and underneath man cover guy.
And while Josh Bullocks has had two solid years with the Saints he just wasn’t ready last year to be a standout safety. This year, his third year, with the addition of now league-standout safety, Kevin Kaesviharn, we should see even greater play from Josh Bullocks.
Kevin Kaesviharn was signed to a four-year 10 million dollar contract with a 3.5 million signing bonus.He’s very versatile, able to play both safety positions and can line up at cornerback as well. The very fact that he can be utilized in multiple ways is stand-up on it’s own in the NFL as anybody playing in the NFL will tell you; very few players garner the respect to be able to be known as a player to line up at multiple positions and be known for that. Last year in Cincinnati that’s just how well Kevin Kaesviharn was playing. He’s rangy, smart, with a nose for the ball. He even had his best game of the year against the Saints; recording 10 tackles 1 assist, 2 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 1 interception.
He comes from a team in the Cincinnati Bengals who were #1 in punt coverage and #6 in kickoff coverage in the NFL last year. Part of that reason was because of his superior special-teams play. So now the New Orleans Saints’ special-teams coverage gets a big boost, too. They already have the solid standout play of veteran Steve Gleason in special-teams coverage and a host of speedy guys to get down the field in a hurry on coverage. But now the defensive side of the special-teams coin looks almost as good as the offensive side with its superb punt and kick-off receiving play of Reggie Bush, Michael Lewis, and come-along Terrance Copper.
Cincinnati special-teams coach Darrin Simmons said about the character and play of Kevin Kaesviharn, ” he’s professional, and a leader, and he paid attention to detail.” He went on to make particular note of last season’s game against the Carolina Panthers in which Kevin made a couple of big plays to help win the game. One was a touchdown-saving interception of Jake Delhomme in the end-zone. And then on the last play of the same game, he ran-down the ball, caught it and downed it making sure of no chance of a Carolina run back to win the game. “He’s a guy that I had 100% confidence at any position and I knew I could have put him in the game anywhere, anytime.”
He’s had a couple of big game-saving plays last year. The other one against Pittsburgh when he stepped on front of a Ben Roethlisberger end-zone pass to prevent a last ditch-effort by Pittsburgh to win the game, thus sealing the victory for his team. And on the interception which he had against the Saints, he did so just before half-time, stopping the Saints from going in at half-time ahead of the Bengals when it looked like they would.
He keeps improving from year-to-year and last year was his best year yet. In 14 games played he recorded 63 tackles, 48 individual and 15 assist, 6 interceptions (two were game-saving), 4 sacks, 2 passes defensed, and 1 forced-fumble. In 2005 he had 87 tackles, 63 solo and 24 assist, 1 sack 3 interceptions, and 4 passes defensed.
So what do you get when you get a free-safety putting up those kind of numbers? Possibly the next John Lynch. Those are big-league numbers. With his addition, the Saints now have the kind of secondary they need to not only keep teams from throwing as much as they did last year, but overall a big improvement when you look at what the Saints now have as a group of safeties.
“Kevin will be a good addition to our group of safeties from a productivity standpoint,” Saints’ Gen. Mgr. Mickey Loomis said, ” on the field in addition to being leader for our young players. He has been a solid, consistent player for the Bengals for several years and a good influence in the locker room. Kevin is the kind of player we were looking for to add to our mix on defense.”
He lead all NFL safeties last year with 6 interceptions. That’s a solid year as far as the history of safeties and interceptions go. You couldn’t ask too much more out of veteran safety,first year starter for the Saints Omar Stoutmire. He had a banner year as far as his history goes. He had 56 tackles, 44 individual and 12 assist, 2 interceptions in big away games against Green Bay and Dallas, and had 5 passes defensed.
Safeties-Kevin Kaesviharn, Josh Bullocks, Roman Harper, Jay Bellamy, Steve Gleason, and Otis Stoutmire make the Saints real deep and ready at these positions.
Brian Scott, fifth year starter out of Penn State returning for his second year with the Saints. We should see a lot of him in the secondary, too. He’s a bigger defensive back at 6’1′ and 220 lbs. He played with the Saints last year more or less getting his bearings. The three years prior to that he put up solid years in Atlanta, grabbing 96 tackles that year with 85 being solo and 11assist, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 4 passes defensed. He should be coming in to his own this year.
If McKenzie can step up and have another 5-6 interception year and Jason Craft play like he’s in his prime as a 9 year cornerback then the starting two corners should make it a lot easier for the safeties and vice-versa.
Look for the big 6’2″ 218 lb 4th year CB Deloatch to use his size to shut down the long out routes. And look for DeJuan Groce as a fifth year cornerback to bring great competition to Jason Craft and Fred Thomas not only for the starting right cornerback but also a nickle or dime back in different packages. But don’t be surprised if you see this guy possibly becoming the starting right cornerback this year. With Jason craft handling the base duties and the two of them sharing duties at right cornerback in other packages and either he or any of the other now-deep stable of DBs ready to fill the nickle and dime slots.
With six solid safeties for the saints to utilize in the system we should see a lot of ball hawking this year. This group should have an outstanding year. It’ll be hard to keep all six of them but with ideal circumstances they’ll be able to use all six of them throughout the year should they need to. All of them are ready to contribute to this year’s much-improved secondary. Even if the saints don’t get a shutdown-from-the-start cornerback from the draft or somewhere else this year, they’re a lot more ready to be a very good defensive secondary this year, especially with the pick up of Kevin Kaesviharn.