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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Ross Jackson

Saints, defensive coaching staff emphasizing secondary for good reason

As the second wave of NFL free agency picked up, the New Orleans Saints went back to the open market with a seemingly very specific focus. After adding cornerback Troy Pride Jr. to a reserve/future deal and signing safety Ugo Amadi earlier this offseason, the Saints retained their best special teamer and key depth on the backend of their defense by re-signing safety J.T. Gray to a three-year deal. But they didn’t stop there when it came to building out their secondary. The Saints instead continued to focus on a position group they know best.

Since free agency opened on March 15, the Saint have signed defensive backs Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Johnathan Abram while also retaining cornerback Isaac Yiadom. Yiadom was a fantastic special teams acquisition in 2023 primarily making noise as a punt gunner opposite the All-Pro Gray. But the additions of Johnson and Abram stand out.

The Saints have a full safety room before draft month:

  • Tyrann Mathieu
  • Marcus Maye
  • JT Gray
  • Johnathan Abram
  • Ugo Amadi
  • Lonnie Johnson Jr.
  • Smoke Monday (returning from injured reserve)

Add in cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, Alontae Taylor, Bradley Roby, Troy Pride Jr., Isaac Yiadom and Vincent Gray and New Orleans has clearly put an emphasis on its defensive back units and their depth at corner and safety. But perhaps this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the team’s specializations on the defensive coaching staff.

Both head coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Joe Woods are defensive backs specialists. They have successful histories as secondary coaches and Woods added a prolific 2019 season as a pass-game coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners ranked No. 1 across the NFL in passing yardage allowed that season. Add to that duo another new coaching staff addition: secondary coach Marcus Robertson.

Robertson was a fourth-round draft pick by the Houston Oilers in 1991. The 12-year NFL safety went on to total 24 career interceptions and was selected First-Team All-Pro in 1993. He’s been coaching defensive backs in the league since 2007 and has worked with star coverage players like Michael Griffin, Jason McCourtney, Charles Woodson. Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker.

It’s no wonder that the Saints have put a big focus on defensive backs so far this offseason. They have the talent to develop players at these positions on the coaching staff. And the unit’s intending starting lineup in 2022 never took a single snap together. So bringing in talent with upside is one part of it all, building out the depth the other.

Last year, they were without their top cornerback, Lattimore, for 11 games with a lacerated kidney. Maye missed a total of 7 games here and there throughout the year. Taylor and Adebo each missed 4 games a piece and Roby, who was expected to man the slot, also missed 4 games after suffering an injury just five snaps in to the Thursday Night Football matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.

Not a single snap taken with Lattimore, Adebo, Roby, Maye and Mathieu on the field in 2022. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but something this team looks like it’s going to be ready to handle if the worst-case scenario were to repeat itself. The Saints now have a ton of talent in a defensive backs room that absolutely needed attention as free agency opened, especially with a DUI suspension still possible for Maye, but also have the coaching staff to develop that talent as well.

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