Josh LeRibeus Jersey

At a position of undervalued importance, Josh LeRibeus could be one of the more undervalued prospects. A victim of the academic rigors of Southern Methodist University, LeRibeus played the 2010 season on the practice squad as a result of classroom struggles the previous year.

Had the 6’2″ 311-pound guard enjoyed the opportunity to build on his honorable-mention All-Conference sophomore season, he could have entered the draft with a substantially higher ranking.

Still, LeRibeus displayed tremendous heart as he shed weight and returned for a successful senior campaign at guard for the Mustangs. In three years as a starter, LeRibeus consistently earned his position on the field and his newfound dedication earned his teammates’ respect in the 2010-11 offseason.

Shedding 70 pounds before last season demonstrated that LeRibeus not only possesses the internal fortitude to recognize his mistakes (as opposed to blaming teachers, coaches or teammates), but also the intensity and discipline to follow through.

With concerns about his athleticism circling, LeRibeus’ dedication to fitness not only helped him fulfill his personal goal of regaining his position on the Mustang offensive line, it also solidified his position as a quality offensive guard prospect in the 2012 draft class.

Strengths: Physical strength, determination and discipline. LeRibeus could immediately contribute at guard. Additionally, should LeRibeus struggle upon arrival, the SMU Mustang has demonstrated his character in the face of adversity and certainly would go down swinging.

Weaknesses: Scouts still question LeRibeus’ ability to engage in space, and while his comeback displayed incredible commitment and discipline, one must double-check on any student who missed a season for off-field issues—even if they’re as affable as LeRibeus.

That said, LeRibeus has the raw ability to develop into a starter or capable backup at guard, especially if he continues to approach his football career with the same dedication he showed as a senior at SMU. While his weight-room strength is above-average at 29 bench press repetitions, LeRibeus’ on-field strength makes him a potentially very nice “value” pick.

Pick Analysis:

Considering the Redskins gave up the kitchen sink to get RG3 on their roster, it’s only logical they try to add some pieces to protect their investment. Sure, LeRibeus has some work to do and has to prove doubters wrong on his maturity, but his upside was obviously enough to make Washington bite.

The New Orleans Saints offense is facing tough sledding against the Baltimore Ravens, and it got tougher when left guard Josh LeRibeus exited the game with a lower leg injury. LeRibeus was only even playing after the starter, Andrus Peat, was ruled out with a head injury suffered in practice earlier this week.Weirdly, this happened minutes after the Ravens lost their own left guard, who was already filling in for the injured starter. Bradley Bozeman, a rookie out of Alabama, went down after hurting his ankle. Alex Lewis, who hadn’t missed a snap until the end of last week’s game, wasn’t cleared to play with a neck injury.

In LeRibeus’ place came second-year reserve Cameron Tom. Tom started for several years at Southern Mississippi and was well-regarded by his coaches, but mostly played center. He doesn’t have much experience at left guard, so starting him against one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL is a dicey situation.

Offensive lineman Chaz Green had not found a job since the Cowboys cut him coming out of the preseason. But the former third-round pick finally got his second chance as the Saints signed him Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

He will take the place of veteran backup offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus, who the Saints placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. LeRibeus started three games this season in place of injured left guard Andrus Peat, who returned to practice Wednesday after missing last week’s game with a concussion.

Green played in 18 games for the Cowboys after entering the NFL, with injuries and poor play keeping him on the sideline for most of his career in Dallas.

Green started the first three games at left guard last year before Jonathan Cooper replaced him. He then started at left tackle in place of Tyron Smith against the Falcons but got benched after allowing four sacks to Adrian Clayborn.

The Saints also re-signed guard Landon Turner to the practice squad after cutting quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The Saints offense found some life in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers, but the first half of that game and the entire Week 13 loss to the Cowboys were low points for a team that’s scored at least 30 points in nine games this season.

The unit may be getting a couple of players back from injured reserve in the near future. Head coach Sean Payton said on Monday that wide receiver Ted Ginn and offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus could be activated from injured reserve.

“Both [Ginn] and LeRiebeus have progressed, I would say, on schedule,” Payton said, via NOLA.com. “So each week we’ll look at that, we’ll talk about it during the beginning of the week, get an update from our medical team. But I’m encouraged with how both of those guys are doing.”

Ginn had knee surgery in October and is eligible to play now. He had 12 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns in four games. LeRibeus started three of the six games he played before hurting his ankle. He’ll become eligible to play again in Week 16.

Taysom Hill Jersey

METARIE, La. — A little more than a year ago, Mike Westhoff came out of retirement to coach special teams for the Saints. He didn’t know any of the players on his new team.

Westhoff walked through the locker room and noticed a player coming out of the shower wearing a towel around his waist.

He thought, “He’s big, put together.”

Later, he was with head coach Sean Payton.

“Who the hell is that guy?” he asked.

“He’s a quarterback,” Payton told him.

“A quarterback?” Westhoff said.

“A quarterback,” Payton replied.

“How big is he?”

“He’s 6’2″, 230.”

“How fast is he?”

“He ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day.”

“Excuse me?” Westhoff said.

Then Payton told Westhoff the story of Taysom Hill.

Playing for Highland High School in 2009, Hill was the All-Idaho Player of the Year. He committed to Stanford, but he then decided to fulfill a two-year Mormon mission to Sydney, Australia. Then he resumed his football life at Brigham Young, where he threw an 18-yard touchdown pass on his first play from scrimmage.

By the time he was a junior, he was a Heisman candidate along with Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. But that season—like all but one of his five college seasons—ended with an injury. There was a knee injury in 2012, a broken fibula in 2014, a fracture of his foot in 2015 and an elbow strain in 2016.

The Packers liked his potential and brought him to camp as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and he was impressive. They waived him on cut-down day, but they planned on signing him to their practice squad.

As Payton studied wide receiver Max McCaffrey, whom the Packers had waived, he kept noticing the player who was throwing him the football. He saw the last name on his jersey and thought it was veteran Shaun Hill. Then he found out the player was a rookie. He asked around the building to find out why the Saints had not been interested in Hill. He kept watching him, and the more he watched, the more he liked.

The Saints put in a claim and got their man. For most of the 2017 season, Hill served as the team’s third-string quarterback behind Drew Brees and Chase Daniel.

Late in the season, the Saints needed a player to cover kickoff returns. Payton asked Westhoff if he thought Hill could play on special teams. Yeah, Westhoff said, he sure could.

That week, Hill practiced on special teams in what has become the first chapter in one of the NFL’s most fascinating stories.

In his NFL debut, Hill splits a two-man wedge and tackles Panthers kick returner Fozzy Whitaker. He brings down Whitaker again on another return. He also comes close to blocking two punts, including one the punter drops. In the locker room after the game, Payton gives Hill a game ball.

As a sophomore in high school, Hill played wide receiver on varsity because the team had a senior quarterback. He became the quarterback the next year, and he also was the team’s punter and kicker. He moonlit as a cornerback, safety and linebacker. He also lettered in basketball and track, competing in the long jump and the 200 meters.

The Saints play a game similar to horseshoes in their weight room with washers, and Hill dominates. He drives a golf ball 100 yards farther than anyone in the foursome, according to his golfing buddies on the team.

His combination of strength and speed would be outstanding for a running back. It’s unheard of for a quarterback. Saints coaches shake their heads and smile recalling him squatting 625 pounds, which would be impressive for an offensive lineman. His 40-yard dash time was faster than Marcus Mariota’s (4.52), Russell Wilson’s (4.55), Cam Newton’s (4.59), and Tim Tebow’s (4.71). It also was faster than the 40 times of teammates Alvin Kamara (4.56) and Michael Thomas (4.57).

P.J. Williams Jersey

The New Orleans Saints are aiming to make one more run at a Super Bowl. But as an already supremely talented roster has learned over the past two years, depth often determines who plays in February. And luck of course.

In a move that screams to the “you can never have too many cornerbacks” mantra, the Saints added to their secondary with a very familiar face agreeing to terms with P.J. Willams on a one-year deal Tuesday worth $5 million.

Contrary to FS1’s Colin Cowherd’s belief, the New Orleans Saints do not have “really weak corners”. While their defensive backs weren’t perfect last season and had various cringe worthy lapses, the group improved immensely throughout the season.

And with talented slot cornerback Patrick Robinson returning after a season ending injury in 2018, it should only be better. Robinson’s replacement last season was the now five m-year pro in Williams. While he had been plagued by injury and inconsistency throughout his time in New Orleans, his struggles weren’t a secret.

But there were several games when the potential that made Williams a third-round pick in 2015 flashed. And sometimes the light shined extremely bright.

2018 however, gave him another chance to put it all on display. With another struggling defensive beginning to the season, Robinson on IR, and the Saints eventually welcoming Eli Apple aboard after a rough campaign from Ken Crawley —the pressure remained thick on Williams.

And he responded in a manner in which a former Florida State cornerback should. With swagger and success.

And he responded in a manner in which a former Florida State cornerback should. With swagger and success.

Now with a healthy returning Robinson, Williams will join an even more crowded secondary in 2019. With Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple expected to hold down the number one and two positions on the depth chart, Williams will be more than likely fighting it out for nickel and dime package snaps.

But nothing is ever guaranteed in a New Orleans Saints secondary, so his opportunity to contribute could easily arrive in another manner unexpected. If history is to repeat itself however, he’d have it no other way.

The New Orleans Saints announced today that they have agreed to terms with CB P.J. WIlliams on a one-year contract. The announcement was made by Saints’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis.

Williams, 6-0 196, was originally selected by New Orleans in the third round (78th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Florida State. He has appeared in 33 career games with 14 starts, posting career totals of 106 tackles (83 solo), one sack, three interceptions, one returned 45 yards for a touchdown, 20 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. In four postseason contests with two starts, he has added 16 tackles (13 solo) and four passes defensed.

In 2019, Williams played in 15 regular season games with six starts and posted a career-high 53 tackles (44 solo), one sack, a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble. With his 45-yard pick brough back for a score in the club’s 30-20 win over Minnesota on October 28, Williams was selected as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week Eight. He opened both postseason contests and posted 11 tackles (nine solo) and two passes defensed.

charges early Wednesday morning, New Orleans Police confirmed to NFL.com.

According to a report from the NOPD, Williams was “arrested and booked into the Orleans Parish Justice Center for driving while intoxicated, speeding (80 mph in a 50 mph), improper lane usage and failure to use a turn signal.”

Williams was released on bond later Wednesday morning.

This is not Williams’ first arrest for driving under the influence. Per the Tallahassee Democrat, he was arrested and charged with DUI in 2015 before that year’s draft, though the charge was later dropped.

The Saints selected Williams in the third round of the 2015 draft. This past season he appeared in 15 games with seven starts and logged an interception, which he returned for a touchdown, in addition to 53 tackles.

Williams is set to be a free agent in March when the new league year begins.

P.J. Williams is treating it just like any other game.

Never mind that he’ll be in Tampa, just 90 miles from his hometown of Ocala, Florida.

Never mind that he’ll be going up against his college teammate and friend, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.

Never mind that he grew up a huge fan of the Bucs, rooting for guys like Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott and Ronde Barber and others as 9-year old kid when they won Super Bowl XXXVII.

“It doesn’t mean much now, because I’m far from a fan now,” Williams said. “I don’t think about playing the team that I liked growing up. I just want to win.”

For the fourth-year cornerback used primarily in nickel packages, it’s a chance to continue building on what has been his best season yet.

His 40 tackles this season leaves him just seven shy of tying his career-high 47 from a season ago.

“I feel like I’m getting comfortable every week, playing with a lot more confidence and being able to play fast,” Williams said. “Just knowing the game plan and executing the game time. Just overall, I’m taking my game up.”

It helps that Williams is finally healthy after an injury-plagued start to his career. A hamstring injury ended his entire rookie season in 2015. He played in just two games the following year but suffered what at the time looked like it could be major injury in Week 2 against the New York Giants. Williams lay on the turf at Met Life Stadium after taking a knee to the side of the helmet and another knee to the back of the helmet on the same play. Williams was immobilized and carted off the field.

His recollection of the play?

“I remember being in the ambulance,” Williams recalled. “But I never think about it. It doesn’t affect me at all.”

Williams was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of that season after what was determined to be a concussion, but he never doubted he’d return.

Neither did his teammates.

“It was a scary moment for all of us, but God kept him close and he bounced back, and it’s like he never left,” safety Vonn Bell said. “He isn’t afraid to make the big hit, and he’s still sticking his nose in there when it gets cloudy and muddy. He lays his body on the line for us, just playing fast and making plays.”

Williams said he is as healthy as he’s ever been after playing the end of last season while battling tendonitis.

His performance in the seventh game against the Minnesota Vikings — when he returned an interception for a touchdown and also helped force a momentum-swinging fumble — earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Williams also recorded his first career sack on Thanksgiving night against the Falcons.

“P.J.’s really intelligent, he’s really smart and understands how to operate inside in that nickel position,” said Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. “He understands leverage and when we ask him to play receivers, he knows where his help is. He knows zone coverage and how teams are tyring to attack him. You can win a lot of games and do a lot of good things with highly intelligent players. I think P.J.’s had some success. That builds your confidence and allows you to come out and play more freely and aggressive.”

There was a time this season when it didn’t seem like Williams would get those snaps, particularly after a Week 3 when he struggled against the Falcons. His woeful day included giving up a 75-yard touchdown to Calvin Ridley.

“I feel like I didn’t play well at all that Atlanta game,” Williams said. “After that, I just wanted to make sure I played a whole lot better to help the team.”

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore noticed the difference.

“After the Atlanta game, he really locked in after that,” Lattimore said. “From that point on, he was great. Playing corner in the NFL, you’re going to have those rough games and you have to know how to bounce back, and that’s what he did. We knew how P.J. could play, and he’s showing that more this year.”

Now Williams returns to his home state of Florida, where his football journey began.

He stays in touch with Winston, with whom he played for three seasons at Florida State. The two were on the Seminoles team that beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. Winston and Williams were named the game’s most valuable players.

They stay in touch, with Williams giving Winston a bit of ribbing leading up to Sunday’s game. Williams’ last interception against Winston came in practice at Florida State. He has yet to intercept Winston as a pro.

“Hopefully this week,” Williams said. “I talk junk a little bit to him, told him not to come at me. Don’t look for him to complete any passes on me.”

But Williams is more focused on the Saints getting a win, avenging their season-opening loss.

“They are a lot better, but I feel we are a lot better too,” Williams said. “I feel like we are the better team. We just have to play like it. We are trying to win the NFC South championship. Losing last week (against Dallas) makes me want to win this week. That’s the main thing for me.”

Andrus Peat Jersey

College football linemen tend to have thighs the size of tree trunks. Not too many have calves that wide.

Meet Andrus Peat, and if you’re a defensive end or an outside linebacker in the Pac-12, you’re probably going to get your chance – and it’s probably going to make an impact on you.

He’s listed as 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, but the sophomore is still growing. He can also run, and that means trouble for would-be tacklers.

He’s undoubtedly going to be Stanford’s next great blind-side offensive tackle, a probable first-round draft pick following the likes of Gordon King, Brian Holloway, Bob Whitfield and, yes, Kwame Harris – who might not have been a great pro with the 49ers and Raiders but was a force on the Farm.

Peat is part of the latest incarnation of the Tunnel Workers, the hard-hatted creation of former Stanford tackle Chris Marinelli. For the past several years, the offensive line has banded together under that blue-collar sobriquet and given out a distinctive “Woo-woo” group cheer after every practice.

The line is back intact this week. Guard David Yankey, who missed the Washington State game because he was needed in Georgia to attend to a family matter, is back for Saturday night’s game against No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0). That’s a big lift for the line, especially for Peat, who plays next to Yankey.

“Dave is a great leader,” he said. “It’s always great to have an All-American back in the lineup, a guy who’s got experience like him playing next to me.”

Yankey played mainly at left tackle last season. With Peat now a fixture, Yankey is back at his natural guard position. Khalil Wilkes, who played left guard in 2012, is at center. Guard Kevin Danser and tackle Cameron Fleming are experienced hands on the right side.

Stanford still loves that bone-rattling ground game, but this year it has given its offensive linemen more pass-blocking responsibilities as Kevin Hogan is looking to throw deep far more than he did last year.

That’s fine with Peat, who wants to be known for his versatility as well as for the forearm punch he likes to deliver to the chests of his adversaries. “There are a lot of left tackles who are known for their pass blocking,” he said. “I try to do both.”

The punch was something his father taught him. When your dad is Todd Peat, who played six years in the NFL with the Cardinals and Raiders, you tend to listen when it comes to the fine points of offensive line play.

When Andrus started playing for Corona del Sol High in Tempe, Ariz., his father “started emphasizing that,” he said. “Especially with a speed rusher coming off the edge, he always said, ‘Punch him, try to redirect him, stop his first move.’ That’s what I really try to do.”

Father and son went over some of Todd’s old NFL films this summer so Andrus could pick up a few more pointers.

“Having a dad who played in the NFL, you get to know the little parts of the game,” he said.

The Cardinal have 10 players with that paternal advantage, including Barry Sanders, whose father is a Hall of Famer.

They might have inherited their size, speed or talent from their fathers. Peat might have gotten all three from his.

“People ask me, ‘Why are your legs so big?’ ” he said. “I guess it’s just genetics.”

Andrus Peat, Stanford’s All-America offensive lineman, said Tuesday he’ll forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

The 6-foot-7, 312-pound left tackle called it “a long and hard decision,’’ but he’ll follow his father, Todd, a former Cardinals and Raiders offensive lineman, into the NFL.

Peat is expected to be drafted in the first round. Most mock drafts have him going in the middle of the round or higher.

“I would like to thank all of my Stanford teammates, coaches and the faculty for helping me grow and enjoy an amazing experience at Stanford University,’’ he said in a statement released by the school. “I’m excited and ready to take the next big step of my life.”

Peat anchored the Cardinal’s offensive line in 2014 as the only returning starter from the 2013 Rose Bowl team. He teamed with four classmates from Stanford’s heralded 2012 recruiting class. The Chandler, Ariz., native was one of the most highly rated recruits in program history. He was listed as the nation’s top recruit by the Sporting News as a senior at Corona del Sol High School.

This season, the offensive line struggled at times but helped the Cardinal average 158.8 yards per game on the ground and allowed only 23 sacks. Peat was an Outland Trophy quarterfinalist and member of the All-Pac-12 first team.

He became the starting left tackle at the beginning of the 2013 season and started the next 27 games.

Todd Peat played played six seasons with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals (1987-89) and the Los Angeles Raiders (1990, 1992-93).

Another Stanford junior, cornerback Alex Carter, announced moments after the Foster Farms Bowl victory over Maryland that he would enter the draft. His father, too, played in the NFL. Wide receiver Devon Cajuste said he would return for his senior year. Still mulling a possible pro move are quarterback Kevin Hogan and cornerback Wayne Lyons.

Next season, Stanford right tackle Kyle Murphy might switch to the left side to replace Peat, although freshman Casey Tucker is also a candidate for the key position on the offensive line.

Vonn Bell Jersey

Marshon Lattimore has spent a lot of time watching Vonn Bell play football.

The two played together in college before being reunited in New Orleans last year. Lattimore knew all the safety needed was a chance. Even though the Saints often used three-safety sets, Bell was playing behind Marcus Williams and Kenny Vaccaro.

“He was boxed in like a caged animal,” Lattimore said. “I know what he’s capable of, and I know that he’s a great player. Even in college, you’d look at him like, ‘Vonn’s the truth.’ When I got here, he was kind of in and out, but if you just let Vonn get into his game, you’re going to see a different player.”

Bell is now uncaged. He’s sharing the strong safety position with newcomer Kurt Coleman, but Bell has claimed the nickel snaps, which has kept him on the field for 70 percent of the defensive snaps versus Coleman’s 42 percent. Bell might not be the starter on paper, but he is in practice.

The Saints didn’t intend for the situation to play out this way. They didn’t sign Coleman to a three-year, $16.35 million contract to have him play base downs. Bell forced that situation by stepping up, improving and claiming the role. He received the message and was motivated to do it.

While he’s enjoyed having Coleman around and said the two have meshed well both on and off the field, Bell knew he had something to prove when New Orleans signed someone else instead of giving him the job once it moved on from Vaccaro.

“Being around, we lost KV, ‘OK, I’m next up, I’m going to be the guy,’ ” Bell said. “They brought another guy, we like veteran guys, but I stepped up to the plate. Iron sharpens iron. You never shy away from that.”

For his part, Coleman, in his ninth season, has embraced his role on the field and as the veteran member of the secondary.

“I’m excited for what Vonn’s been able to do,” Coleman said. “I told him from the moment I got here that I want to see him succeed. That’s part of my role here, to see the guys around me continue to grow and get better as a group and individually.”

There’s a reason Bell doesn’t shy away when asked if this is the best he’s played. “I think so; I’m growing into myself,” he says.

Everything has become easier for this season, and that is probably why everyone has a different answer when asked where Bell has shown the most growth. Some say coverage, others cite his angles on tackles. There are even a few submissions for explosiveness.

But the common thread behind all of those things is Bell’s improved awareness and understanding of what he’s supposed to be doing and why he’s doing it. In his third season, Bell is grasping all of it on a deeper level and has been able to make more plays.

“The first couple of years, you can see when the play is going on there’s a thought process that’s going on through his mind,” defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. “And I think now he’s able to just rely on his instincts and see the play happening and be able to make a fast decision.”

In Week 5 against Washington, Bell got off a block, worked his way through the wash and stopped Adrian Peterson for a gain of 2 yards. Later in the same game, he blitzed and broke up an Alex Smith pass. Later, he dropped running back Chris Thompson in the backfield for a loss of a yard.

These highlights keep coming. In a game against the Giants, working as a deep safety, Bell read a pass to tight end Rhett Ellison up the seam and broke it up. Against the Ravens, he dropped into a shallower zone, read a pass to Alex Collins and crashed down to make an open-field tackle. Against the Vikings, he quickly realized tight end Kyle Rudolph was open on a delayed route and crashed over to stop him for a gain of a yard.

So, yes, Bell is winning in a variety of ways, and it’s clear that most of them are the result of him seeing the field and making quick decisions.

“The game slowed down,” Bell said. “Just knowing the situation of the game, because I’ve grown through situational football, which has helped me the most though every phase, the red zone, third down, two minute, and that’s what wins games. I think I’ve elevated my game with that, just being knowledgeable.”

So now that he’s getting out of that box, is Bell living up the standard Lattimore has for his teammate?

“You’re going to see,” Lattimore said, “once he goes out and unleashes it.”

He’s out and unleashed, and by all accounts it has been the best stretch of Bell’s career.

Sheldon Rankins Jersey

INDIANAPOLIS — Defensive tackle could quickly become a top need for the Saints.

While Sheldon Rankins is recovering well from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his season prematurely, he is not expected to return as quickly as Alex Okafor did from a similar injury last season, according to a source.

Rankins’ injury is lower in his leg, which means it will take him longer to recover than someone who suffers a higher tear, such as Okafor. The defensive tackle suffered his injury during the playoffs, and it could take him as long as 10 months to recover. It is possible, and possibly likely, that Rankins will start the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Sean Payton mentioned that with Rankins’ injury, the team might look to address that spot this offseason. He also said interior offensive line and tight end are areas the team will keep an eye on.

The defensive tackle finished last season with eight sacks, the best season of his career. New Orleans is expected to pick up his option for the 2020 season before the May deadline.

With Rankins expected to miss some time to start the year, New Orleans might look to add another defensive tackle to help with depth to start the season. David Onyemata could face disciplinary action from the league after being charged with possession of marijuana, which could further thin the depth.

Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison is also a free agent. The Saints have expressed interest in bringing him back, but he could find a healthy market if he’s allowed to reach free agency.
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Sheldon Rankins was one of the best players on the field for the New Orleans Saints this past season, but now there is a very real concern he won’t be there when 2019 begins.

The defensive tackle is likely to start next season on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from his Achilles injury, according to a report from The Advocate.

Physically unable to perform, or PUP, is a designation used by the NFL for players who have suffered football related injuries sometime before the start of a season. Players on the list may participate in team meetings and use training and medical facilities, but are not allowed to practice with the team.

The PUP list is divided between a preseason list and a regular season list.

Players assigned to the preseason PUP list are those who cannot take part in training camp. They can be moved off the PUP list to the active roster at any time.

A player who finishes the exhibition season still on the PUP list can be placed on the regular season PUP, but must then miss the first six weeks of the regular season. From there, teams have a five week time frame in which to let the player start practicing again.

From the day they begin practicing, teams have another 21 day window to decide whether or not to activate the player to their 53 man roster. If either of those deadlines should pass, then the player has to stay on the PUP list for the entire season.

Despite the concern that Rankins may not be on the field when the season begins, the report notes that Rankins is “recovering well” from the injury he sustained during the playoffs.

Early in the Saints’ NFC Divisional Round victory over Philadelphia, Rankins tore his Achilles tendon and required a cart to get off the field and back to the locker room.

He was eventually placed on the team’s injured reserve list with the ailment.

Medical experts contend that an injury of this kind requires 10 months recovery time.

Two seasons ago, defensive end Alex Okafor suffered an Achilles injury similar to the one Rankins is dealing with, but was able to recover faster because the damage to Okafor was higher up on the leg than the issue Rankins is dealing with.

Rankins’ potential absence from the defensive line to begin the 2019 coincides with a probable NFL mandated suspension to defensive tackle David Onyemata after he was arrested for marijuana possession early in the offseason, further compromising the team’s depth at this position.

These developments inspired head coach Sean Payton to admit that the Saints will be looking into the defensive tackle position during the free agency period and in the NFL Draft.

In his third season from Louisville after being a first round draft pick by the Saints, Rankins has developed into one of their best defensive players, ranking second with eight sacks.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan, who ranked ahead of Rankins with 12 sacks this season, said his teammate has a history of coming back from injury, notably a broken fibula in 2016.

“He’s nothing but a warrior anyways,” Jordan said. “I expect nothing but the best for his comeback.”

Trey Hendrickson Jersey

Defensive end has become a headline position for the New Orleans Saints.

Cameron Jordan might be better than ever. Alex Okafor’s potential is a vaulted ceiling as long as the foundation remains intact. First-round pick Marcus Davenport commands a spotlight whether he’s on the field or off.

Better not forget about Trey.

A third-round pick out of Florida Atlantic in the historic draft class the Saints put together last season, Hendrickson is coming off of a rookie season that looked a little more typical than his classmates’ debut performances.

Hendrickson recorded 13 tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hits, two tackles-for-loss and a pair of batted passes in 282 snaps, even though there were four games in which he didn’t play a defensive snap due to injury.

What he did show was enough to catch the attention of the All-Pro he plays behind.

“He is probably the most exciting in my mind, in terms of how he is going to progress this year,” Jordan said.

Hendrickson, offered a chance to play extra snaps during this training camp as Jordan eases his way back from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot, has been a force on the practice field.

Always a high-effort player, Hendrickson appears poised to make the second-year jump a lot of players make after their rookie season.

“You feel him,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “There is a physical presence to him. It is not necessarily the feistiness, it is how a player plays between the whistles.”

By virtue of his motor, Hendrickson always had a presence to him on the practice field.

A season of NFL football has given him a body better capable of taking advantage of all that effort.

“He is stronger,” Payton said. “Fortunately, right now he is healthy.”

Health was Hendrickson’s biggest issue as a rookie.

A training-camp injury slowed his growth before the season opener, and a knee injury suffered against Atlanta cost Hendrickson the final three games of the year. In between those two injuries, Hendrickson dealt with a bunch of nagging injuries.

Being fully healthy throughout this camp has allowed Hendrickson to stack lessons on top of each other, and on top of all of the lessons he learned as a rookie.

“I’m just trying to absorb as much information as possible,” Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson’s work ethic fits well with defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, a stickler for the details who has helped the rookie refine all aspects of his technique.

Hendrickson believes that attention to detail can help him take the next step.

“A heightened focus on the little things,” Hendrickson said. “The details are what separates people in this league.”

The results have been obvious.

Hendrickson has two tackles and two quarterback hits in the preseason, but he’s been a daily force in practice. Playing mostly on the left side — Jordan’s natural spot — Hendrickson has caught the eye of the Defensive Player of the Year candidate in front of him.

“He doesn’t have that skewed perception of just seeing a man in front of him now,” Jordan said. “Now he is broadening that vision, he is able to take in what motion is (happening) and what the backfield looks like. He is growing nicely.”

With Jordan, Okafor and Davenport all competing for snaps and a long list of other edge rushers trying to make the roster, Hendrickson’s role in the rotation remains to be seen.

But that might not matter.

Hendrickson, Okafor and Jordan can all rush from the inside, and the NFL’s best defensive lines can send wave after wave of pass rushers at a quarterback without missing a beat.

The way Hendrickson’s been playing in camp, the Saints might have another on their hands.

Hendrickson twice denied Arizona Cardinals star running back David Johnson in short-yardage situations last night, showing the combination of snap anticipation, dynamic first step, and good technique to shed a block and meet Johnson behind the line of scrimmage.

And while the sacks haven’t come yet, they will. Hendrickson has just outplayed most tackles set up against him through that combination of athleticism and practiced technique. We saw some hints of this last year when he was a rookie:

It’s great to see Hendrickson hasn’t just entered 2018 how he left it, he’s grown and developed. Check out how he beats the right tackle in this clip with a similar move, but manages to run a tighter arc to the QB. If Bortles were throwing to his right instead of his left, this is very likely a sack.

So yeah, get excited for the Trey Hendrickson experience. With Davenport and Okafor returning to action on different time-tables, Hendrickson looks up to the task of holding things down until the Saints are ready to field a full stable of pass rushers.

Alex Anzalone Jersey

Alex Anzalone didn’t take long to impress new teammate Demario Davis during the offseason.

The two Saints linebackers were running sprints in practice when Davis glanced over to his side.

“He was right there beside me,” Davis said. “I am not bragging on myself, but I know there ain’t too many linebackers running side by side with me. But he was right there, so I knew he was really gifted.”

Fast forward a few months — particularly the Saints’ past three games — and Anzalone continues to show just how gifted he is.

Anzalone, a third round draft pick out of Florida in 2017, has made highlight-reel plays in victories over Minnesota, the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati.

It started in Minnesota with a momentum-swinging tackle with P.J. Williams that jarred the ball loose from Vikings receiver Adam Thielen. Marshon Lattimore scooped it up to set up a touchdown.

A week later against the Rams, Anzalone showed off the athleticism that his teammates rave about to snag a Jared Goff pass out of the air to help set up a touchdown.

Then on Sunday against the Bengals, he almost beheaded Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton on a sack when he went untouched.

“I’m not strictly the linebacker with the cowboy collar that plays,” Anzalone said. “I feel like I’m an athlete that can make those plays. I’m more of an athletic type guy who can do multiple things.”

Anzalone rates his interception against the Rams as the best play among his trifecta the past three games.

“Just because it’s something that as linebackers we work on that all the time and the way I was able to get the ball from the position I was in and I took a step to the left and then cut back,” Anzalone said.

It was his first interception since his high school playing days at Wyomissing High School in Pennsylvania, where he garnered all-state honors as both a linebacker and a running back. He also excelled in lacrosse there, more proof of his athleticism.

“It’s just something God blessed me with,” Anzalone said.

He has a nose for the football, forcing two fumbles to go with his interception.

“He has real good instincts and I think that’s almost a must at that position, but it’s something that helps him tremendously,” coach Sean Payton said. “He has good ball skills. I think he plays in space very well.”

Of the 43 defensive plays the Saints defense had Sunday, Anzalone played 30 of them. That 70 percent rate was highest among the team’s linebackers and more than every player on defense except defensive end Alex Okafor, cornerbacks Eli Apple and Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams.

Anzalone welcomes the playing time, especially after playing just four games last season before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. Shoulder injuries also plagued him in college, keeping him off the field time and time again at Florida. So for Anzalone, staying healthy has been just as important as wreaking havoc on defense.

“That’s been a main focus of mine,” Anzalone said. “I want to have a complete season and contribute so I’m staying on top of everything with my body. I feel like I have done a good job with that.”

And in the past three weeks, he’s made sure that folks noticed No. 47.

“I just want to do my part,” Anzalone said. “I think coaches do a good job putting us in good positions to make plays. I think that you just have to execute and the plays will come if you’re there. So just being (in) the right spot at the right time, making the right move at the right time is really what I credit that too.”

Is there another big play in the works for Sunday when the Saints play the Eagles?

“I hope so,” he said. “I hope so.”

The New Orleans Saints got more out of their 2017 draft class than any team should expect to get from one group of rookies.

The first four picks were just about perfect. Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara swept the NFL’s Rookie of the Year awards; Ryan Ramczyk established himself as one of the game’s best young tackles; and Marcus Williams turned in the best season a free safety has had in New Orleans in years.

And the fifth pick might have been able to make a similar impact if he hadn’t gotten hurt.

“There are some other players in that class, too, that we’re excited about,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said on the eve of training camp. “How does Alex come back from his injury?”

Alex would be Alex Anzalone, the linebacker the Saints plucked out of Florida with a third-round pick.

Anzalone, like the other four, opened the season as a starter, and he recorded 16 tackles, a sack and a pass defended before dislocating his shoulder early in a win over the Miami Dolphins in London on Oct. 1.

The shoulder — a joint he’d injured twice in college — is now repaired, a fix Anzalone fully believes will hold. He found out his injuries stemmed from the repair done on his shoulder when he first injured his shoulder as a freshman at Florida.

“It’s good to see him back out, obviously, being healthy,” fellow linebacker A.J. Klein said. “He was disappointed last year with his shoulder injury, and sometimes that’s just how the game goes. He’s obviously made a lot of strides since his rookie year.”

Anzalone returns to a linebacker picture that got even more crowded in the offseason. One week into training camp, he has taken most of his snaps behind free-agent prize Demario Davis, who can play either weakside or middle linebacker but has lined up almost exclusively at the Will, Anzalone’s natural position in the New Orleans defense.

That picture could still change; the Saints say their linebacker competition is still wide open.

“Everyone wants to start,” Anzalone said. “If we rotate, we rotate, and if you play, you play. You have to play your role and know where you can contribute.”

Anzalone’s best case for playing time during this training camp has been made when he’s matched up against Kamara, one of the best route-running backs in the NFL, in coverage during practice.

Kamara, who caught 81 passes for the Saints last year, has won his share of the battles, but Anzalone looks far from lost in coverage against his 2017 classmate. On the contrary, Anzalone has broken up passes to Kamara in each of the past three practices.

“Obviously, he’s a great player, a great route-runner and a mismatch on linebackers,” Anzalone said. “It gets you better.”

Anzalone’s sideline-to-sideline speed and ability in pass coverage has flashed two or three times per practice, not only in coverage against Kamara, but also dropping down the seam, where he has made plays on a daily basis against running backs and tight ends, including a highlight-reel interception in a 7-on-7 drill Monday.

“He’s extremely athletic. He’s long. I think … when we look at the college tape, you see a lot of linebackers playing in space, and he was one of those guys,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “But he has good size and he’s smart, so those instincts I think are extremely valuable.”

Anzalone is the kid of the group of experienced linebackers competing for a starting role.

But he doesn’t feel like it. Already comfortable with the Saints’ scheme a season ago, Anzalone spent his rookie year learning that the rest of the NFL is not as complicated as it’s made out to be.

“Everyone runs the same type of stuff, it’s just a matter of different tweaks here and there that you do,” Anzalone said.

As a rookie, Anzalone often focused on his own role within the Saints’ defense; as a second-year player, he spends most of his time thinking about how the offense is trying to attack him.

“You learn a lot — not necessarily about what you’re doing, but more about what offenses are trying to do to you, how they’re trying to space you out, where their mismatches are, what adjustments you can make off of where you feel they have a mismatch,” Anzalone said.

Make all of those adjustments, and Anzalone can play even faster than his natural instincts allow.

And that might give him a chance to join the rest of his draft class as an impact playmaker for these Saints.

Alvin Kamara Jersey

2018

Alvin Kamara knew it was time to go. He spent this muggy Atlanta day entertaining spectators at his friend Quavo’s star-studded flag football game, “Huncho Day of the NAWF,” by scoring the first touchdown and penning as many autographs as he could. Once the game ended, and Julio Jones was named most valuable player, Kamara walked inside the locker room and ghosted out the back door.

Chasing Kamara around in his hometown is as difficult as a linebacker attempting to tackle him on any given Sunday. He’s easy to spot, a compact frame at 5’10” with dreads resting comfortably around his neck, but difficult to contain. In a split second, the Saints running back can hit you with a real-life “B” button, effortlessly spinning outside of your peripheral, as he often did during his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign last season.

But after an hour of waiting, through the same doors that Takeoff and Todd Gurley casually exited, there was no sign of Kamara. The parking lot, once crammed with dripped-out custom cars, thins out. His sister, Garmai Momolu, warned that, like a car engine in freezing temperatures, it takes time for Kamara to warm up to strangers. Except in this moment, Momolu was having a tough time reaching him, too.

From the airport to the game to the hotel, where he went to unwind, Kamara was on the move. Without a moment to himself, he was surrounded by athletes, rappers and fans throughout the day. That is until he bounced out the back door. Kamara is cordial to outsiders, but he is protective of his space, reserving it for himself and his tight-knit circle.

These days, everyone wants to be around the chicken wing-eating, gold-grill- and nose-ring-rocking Kamara. Even beyond his thrilling season, effortlessly making the transition from backup college running back to one of the NFL’s best offensive weapons, Kamara has a personality that can make the sternest NFL-boycotting fan consider purchasing his jersey.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Describe him.’ Man, I can’t,” says Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields, who has known Kamara since high school and is a close friend. “He’s one of the most amazing people I know. But he’s also so simple. He has his layers and intricacies—all these layers that make him this dynamic person.”

Everything is a test with Kamara. Guided by his intuition, a gift he inherited from his mother of Liberian descent, he will watch how you respond and react in certain situations that will reveal your true character. He seeks to find an authentic person, and these tests determine how many layers he will peel back.

If Kamara doesn’t sense something genuine, his walls don’t come down. Even close friends can become distant memories if they act out of character.

“He will cut you all the way off like you don’t exist,” DeShields says.

It’s why Kamara has been described as “weird” or an “asshole” by some within the NFL, but he won’t waste headspace offering a rebuttal beyond a shrug.

Nearly three hours after the game, Kamara finally texts back his location.

“Just pulled up to Houston’s on Peachtree,” he says. Say no more.

After racing down the 30-minute drive to Houston’s, I quickly spot Kamara, who is accompanied by Dave Raymond, Kamara’s business manager, and Lil Coach K, the official photographer of rapper Lil Yachty and the son of Quality Control Music co-founder Coach K.

They were in the middle of an active conversation until I walked up to their dimly lit booth in the back corner of the restaurant. The mood suddenly changes at the table. Kamara’s wall is up and, naturally, Raymond and Lil Coach K follow suit.

The tension drags on for a few minutes as high-pitched piano keys echo across the room. Finally, the NFL’s reluctant star sits upright, pouring his “boujee” Hildon mineral water and squeezing a lime slice into a glass while sternly asking, “So what you wanna talk about?”

His food preferences and facial features are like an orange rind, appealing to the eye with its bright color and texture, but an outer layer protecting the fruit it bears. It’s not what makes Kamara special. These signifiers are just synonymous with black life in Atlanta, the real chicken-wing capital of the U.S. (sorry, Buffalo), where a satisfying bite of lemon pepper flats can be found from the rural suburbs to the strip clubs. Black men with dreads and grills are common in Lenox Square, the city’s biggest mall, where they walk around head-to-toe in the latest Gucci or Ralph Lauren Polo.

Just one nose ring? In Little Five Points, a vibrant district in East Atlanta that embraces individuality and where Momolu would take her younger brother thrift shopping, that’s conservative.

“That’s the mystique behind [me],” Kamara says. “There’s no person with an inside scoop, because I don’t move around like that. Period. Unless one of these motherfuckers tell you. And guess what? Not happening.”

It’s simply the influence of the city that raised Kamara on display, and a trap. Don’t fall for it.

“If you’re distracted by that, then I know I don’t even need to fuck with you,” Kamara says. “You don’t even have the depth to even fuck with me or the group of people I’m around.”

What makes Kamara special is that he’s always unapologetically Alvin, whether he’s posing in the stands with Saints fans after one of his 14 total touchdowns last year, picking DeShields up from the hospital following surgery at Tennessee or ignoring the world to play Fortnite. His recently gained status as a young NFL star won’t change how he operates, even if the outside world doesn’t understand just how he does.

“Niggas put on capes in the league,” Kamara says as he leans back in the booth. “They got a character. They got a persona they fulfill, a brand. I don’t see a problem with it. Maximize your pockets. But what I put on, I ain’t gotta put on no cape. I just do what I feel. That’s what draws people. This isn’t an act.”

He’s more comfortable when three more friends, and food, arrive. DJ Tonee, a childhood friend who’s now one of the biggest DJs in Atlanta after breaking in artists such as Migos, Rae Sremmurd and up-and-coming artist Retro, joined for dinner just as Kamara munched on spinach artichoke dip.

Kamara hangs out with the same group of friends, who compare themselves to LeBron James and his circle, the Four Horsemen. They’re often on the road, achieving success relative to their fields, and rarely get moments to reflect together. The dialogue makes Kamara vulnerable for the first time when he thanks his friends for holding him accountable and not being the “yes” men NFL athletes often carry in their circles.

“We don’t put the load on him,” says Tvenchy, a New Orleans streetwear fashion designer sitting next to our booth with his friend, Ralph Carter. Tonee searches for a club to attend for the night. Quavo is hosting his birthday party at Empire, complete with a petting zoo in the club’s parking lot. Quavo would eventually ride up to the front door on a camel for his grand entrance.

They decide against it, knowing it will attract clout-chasers and Instagram “influencers” that want to feel important. Instead, they plan to hit up a club called Josephine.

Kamara has warmed up significantly after the nearly three-hour dinner. He extends the invitation to the club and offers some advice before we left Houston’s.

“If you just vibe, you’ll figure out what you need to know,” he says.

Marcus Williams Jersey

In his second season, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams put together another strong year for the defense. Through 16 games Williams nabbed two interceptions, which he ran back for 100 yards, along with three pass deflections, one forced fumble, a career-first sack, and 59 combined tackles. One of Williams’ interception returns was 78 yards, giving him the sixth place spot on the NFL’s longest interception return of the year.

BEST GAME: Statistically, Williams best game(s) each came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the safety coming up with season-high six tackles in each outing against the Buccaneers. Though Williams had relatively consistent numbers for the Saints defense, he made his biggest play against the Cincinnati Bengals when he intercepted a ball from Andy Dalton intended for John Ross. Williams intercepted the ball at the Saints’ 5-yard line and returned it 78 yards, leading to a Saints touchdown on the following play.

BEST QUOTE: “I think it’s been significant,” Coach Sean Payton said on Williams’ ability to eliminate the explosive plays. “One of the things that we saw with him coming out (of college) was his football instincts and his awareness. He has a great feel for that. He is always around the ball and I think it’s something that he’s really brought a lot to us being smarter and disciplined.”

Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ miraculous game-winning catch wasn’t the only play in Sunday’s game, but it is the only one we’ll remember, so no need to talk about anything else. I watched the film looking for the answer to the question we all had: How was Diggs able to make that play?

Yes, former Maryland Terrapins receiver Diggs made a difficult catch. But this play was more about the New Orleans Saints. Free safety Marcus Williams could and should have made that play. In a deep zone like that, he should attack the ball with an awareness of the receiver. He did the opposite. After the ball was thrown, he broke to the man and got there a bit too early. With his attention on the ball, that would be an interception or incomplete pass. However, he shouldn’t be the lone scapegoat. One of the smartest coaches in the league, Saints head coach Sean Payton, and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen did not play the situation as well as they could have. Given the circumstances, the Saints were not in the optimal defense.

They should have been in Victory Fence. Victory is a suite of defensive plays for end-of-game or end-of-half scenarios. The first word, victory, normally means that there is a special personnel group of three D-linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs. The second word communicates the coverage and situation to the defenders. Victory 30Cloud is like a souped-up Cover 3. It is what you run toward the end of the game if the offense has a timeout or enough time to spike the ball after a completion. If the opponent is in a Hail Mary situation, the defense should use Victory Jump. And if you are in the situation the Saints were in, the D should build a fence along the sideline and the goal line and invite a catch in bounds, then tackle the man with the ball.

The Vikings were on their own 39-yard line with no timeouts. They needed to gain about 25 yards to give kicker Kai Forbath a chance at a 54-yard field goal attempt (his career long is 53). But the most important number was the 10 seconds left on the clock. In my rookie year, I learned in practice with coach Mike Shanahan that if 14 seconds were left on the clock, the offense could run a play and have enough time to either spike the ball or run the field goal team on and attempt a hurried field goal. Even if the defense didn’t tackle the ball carrier, he could kneel and stop the play immediately after catching the ball in field goal range. As long as it took seven seconds or less, the offense would have enough time for another play, so 30Cloud would have been an appropriate call for the play before the Diggs touchdown. That’s not what they did.

Instead, they played some sort of hybrid Cover 2 fence, with four D-linemen rushing the passer and the linebacker, Craig Robertson, playing man with a heavy outside leverage on Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who ran a flat route to the trips side. Robertson vacated the middle hook zone, leaving Jarius Wright wide open in the middle of the field with enough time to set up a field goal. But Vikings quarterback Case Keenum didn’t see him and threw incomplete to the running back.

That was a bad call for that situation, but it would have stopped the Diggs touchdown. On the game-winning play, the Saints again rushed four but kept Robertson in the middle of the field for no reason. Rudolph again ran a flat route to the trips side, but this time the cornerback stood with his back to the sideline between the tight end and the boundary. Wright ran a deeper out, and the nickelback kept him from getting to the sideline with no regard for him going deep because he had Williams, the safety, behind him. That left Diggs running at Williams. Williams cannot play a back to the sideline “fence” technique because there is no safety behind him. Williams must protect both the goal line and the sideline. He should be able to do that, but he shouldn’t have to had the Saints run the same defense that they ran the play before. Rather than Robertson being wasted covering the middle hook zone, he would have covered the tight end flat. That would have allowed the corner to cover Wright’s out, and the nickel could have aggressively covered Diggs’ corner route because Williams would have only one responsibility: protect the goal line.

Although that would have worked, it still is not the best option, starting with the personnel: three defensive linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs. The offense will be in trips to the quarterback’s throwing side (in this case the defense’s left). Before the snap, the lone linebacker should go to the trips side and press the best receiver, and there should be three defensive backs standing along the sideline waiting to receive the three levels of out cuts. And one defensive back in the deep middle of the field would be ready to roll over top in case a receiver runs a go route. That leaves three defensive backs to do the same thing over the two remaining eligible receivers on the back side. At the snap of the ball, the defensive ends should slant in and the defensive tackle should loop to the left. After the linebacker jams the receiver and slows down the play’s development, he goes on a delayed blitz from the defensive left side. The D-line stunt should have flushed the quarterback right to him. Now, the fence is set along the sideline and the goal line, no one on the defense is responsible for protecting both, and the quarterback is running out of time.

Instead, we got an all-time great playoff ending that you may tell your grandkids about. If you do, make sure you teach them the full story.

In his second season, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams put together another strong year for the defense. Through 16 games Williams nabbed two interceptions, which he ran back for 100 yards, along with three pass deflections, one forced fumble, a career-first sack, and 59 combined tackles. One of Williams’ interception returns was 78 yards, giving him the sixth place spot on the NFL’s longest interception return of the year.

BEST GAME: Statistically, Williams best game(s) each came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the safety coming up with season-high six tackles in each outing against the Buccaneers. Though Williams had relatively consistent numbers for the Saints defense, he made his biggest play against the Cincinnati Bengals when he intercepted a ball from Andy Dalton intended for John Ross. Williams intercepted the ball at the Saints’ 5-yard line and returned it 78 yards, leading to a Saints touchdown on the following play.

BEST QUOTE: “I think it’s been significant,” Coach Sean Payton said on Williams’ ability to eliminate the explosive plays. “One of the things that we saw with him coming out (of college) was his football instincts and his awareness. He has a great feel for that. He is always around the ball and I think it’s something that he’s really brought a lot to us being smarter and disciplined.”

Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ miraculous game-winning catch wasn’t the only play in Sunday’s game, but it is the only one we’ll remember, so no need to talk about anything else. I watched the film looking for the answer to the question we all had: How was Diggs able to make that play?

Yes, former Maryland Terrapins receiver Diggs made a difficult catch. But this play was more about the New Orleans Saints. Free safety Marcus Williams could and should have made that play. In a deep zone like that, he should attack the ball with an awareness of the receiver. He did the opposite. After the ball was thrown, he broke to the man and got there a bit too early. With his attention on the ball, that would be an interception or incomplete pass. However, he shouldn’t be the lone scapegoat. One of the smartest coaches in the league, Saints head coach Sean Payton, and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen did not play the situation as well as they could have. Given the circumstances, the Saints were not in the optimal defense.

They should have been in Victory Fence. Victory is a suite of defensive plays for end-of-game or end-of-half scenarios. The first word, victory, normally means that there is a special personnel group of three D-linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs. The second word communicates the coverage and situation to the defenders. Victory 30Cloud is like a souped-up Cover 3. It is what you run toward the end of the game if the offense has a timeout or enough time to spike the ball after a completion. If the opponent is in a Hail Mary situation, the defense should use Victory Jump. And if you are in the situation the Saints were in, the D should build a fence along the sideline and the goal line and invite a catch in bounds, then tackle the man with the ball.

The Vikings were on their own 39-yard line with no timeouts. They needed to gain about 25 yards to give kicker Kai Forbath a chance at a 54-yard field goal attempt (his career long is 53). But the most important number was the 10 seconds left on the clock. In my rookie year, I learned in practice with coach Mike Shanahan that if 14 seconds were left on the clock, the offense could run a play and have enough time to either spike the ball or run the field goal team on and attempt a hurried field goal. Even if the defense didn’t tackle the ball carrier, he could kneel and stop the play immediately after catching the ball in field goal range. As long as it took seven seconds or less, the offense would have enough time for another play, so 30Cloud would have been an appropriate call for the play before the Diggs touchdown. That’s not what they did.

Instead, they played some sort of hybrid Cover 2 fence, with four D-linemen rushing the passer and the linebacker, Craig Robertson, playing man with a heavy outside leverage on Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who ran a flat route to the trips side. Robertson vacated the middle hook zone, leaving Jarius Wright wide open in the middle of the field with enough time to set up a field goal. But Vikings quarterback Case Keenum didn’t see him and threw incomplete to the running back.

That was a bad call for that situation, but it would have stopped the Diggs touchdown. On the game-winning play, the Saints again rushed four but kept Robertson in the middle of the field for no reason. Rudolph again ran a flat route to the trips side, but this time the cornerback stood with his back to the sideline between the tight end and the boundary. Wright ran a deeper out, and the nickelback kept him from getting to the sideline with no regard for him going deep because he had Williams, the safety, behind him. That left Diggs running at Williams. Williams cannot play a back to the sideline “fence” technique because there is no safety behind him. Williams must protect both the goal line and the sideline. He should be able to do that, but he shouldn’t have to had the Saints run the same defense that they ran the play before. Rather than Robertson being wasted covering the middle hook zone, he would have covered the tight end flat. That would have allowed the corner to cover Wright’s out, and the nickel could have aggressively covered Diggs’ corner route because Williams would have only one responsibility: protect the goal line.

Although that would have worked, it still is not the best option, starting with the personnel: three defensive linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs. The offense will be in trips to the quarterback’s throwing side (in this case the defense’s left). Before the snap, the lone linebacker should go to the trips side and press the best receiver, and there should be three defensive backs standing along the sideline waiting to receive the three levels of out cuts. And one defensive back in the deep middle of the field would be ready to roll over top in case a receiver runs a go route. That leaves three defensive backs to do the same thing over the two remaining eligible receivers on the back side. At the snap of the ball, the defensive ends should slant in and the defensive tackle should loop to the left. After the linebacker jams the receiver and slows down the play’s development, he goes on a delayed blitz from the defensive left side. The D-line stunt should have flushed the quarterback right to him. Now, the fence is set along the sideline and the goal line, no one on the defense is responsible for protecting both, and the quarterback is running out of time.

Instead, we got an all-time great playoff ending that you may tell your grandkids about. If you do, make sure you teach them the full story.