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Barry Hirstius

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Saints “D” Shines in Camp – Can They Do It When it Counts?

Tell me if you've heard this story already, once before. Well, maybe even 2 or 3 times before. The story goes like this: the New Orleans Saints defense, which has finished ranked near or at the very bottom of the NFL for 3 years straight and 4 out of the past 5, "looked great" in practice at Training Camp, and appears to be improved over the previous season.

Sounds familiar right?

Unfortunately, we all know how the story ends: the Saints then get to the regular season, and the defense either plays horribly for most of the year, or --- they are torn apart by a ton of injuries that seem to pile up one after another after another.

As the Saints went at it hard in practice today after they had taken a day off yesterday, we now find ourselves once again getting "hyped" up over another stellar performance by the defense in Training Camp -- this time in rather spectacular fashion.

In fact, it got so bad at one point that QB Drew Brees -- as in future Hall-of-Fame QB Drew Brees -- angrily threw his helmet down to the ground in disgust, after missing a wide open WR Ted Ginn, Jr. on a deep pass that would have gone for a long TD.

The offense was plagued by tackles for loss, batted down passes, pass break-ups, dropped passes, interceptions, and perhaps most disconcerting: another series of on-going problems with shotgun snaps from the center to the QB, including one from Josh LeReibus that COMPLETELY sailed over Brees' head.

On one particular series when the Saints were in 7-on-7 drills, Brees went 0-for-4 passing --- with a batted down pass (by Cam Jordan), a pass break-up (by linebacker A.J. Klein) and two interceptions (one by CB Ken Crawley and one by safety Marcus Williams).

It was by far the worst day of Camp for the Top 5 ranked Saints offense (and especially Brees) as a unit thus far; but on the flip side, it was easily the best day of Camp for the defense.

It was so good in fact, that head coach Sean Payton made the entire offense run "wind sprints" (or "gassers" as they're sometimes known as) after practice ended.

Now, while all of that is very nice, here's the problem.

This is still a defense that finished ranked #26 out of 32 NFL teams in 2016; and has finished either 31st or dead last in 3 of the 4 seasons (2012, 2014, and 2015) prior to that.

And in nearly every single one of those seasons, the Saints defense has "looked good" at one point or another, only to look like total crap at times, during the regular season.

That might sound a bit harsh, but it's an indisputable fact.

Photo courtesy of Scott Threlkeld, New Orleans Advocate

And most Saints fans will recall that it was just last year at this very same time, that the defense was then also assumed to be a unit that was "much improved".

Grant it, losing a total of 8 -- yes, EIGHT -- defensive backs to injury at one point or another last year had a detrimental effect upon the unit's lack of overall success in the 2016 season.

Being forced to literally sign players "right off the street" clearly can negatively impact any NFL team's chances at achieving ultimate success.

But the defense was clearly deficient in other areas, specifically a pass rush off of the 'outside edge'; and in pass coverage at the linebacker position.

Those two areas -- at least for the moment -- appear to be much improved thus far; and when put alongside with what will hopefully will be a healthy defensive secondary when the Saints open the season against the Vikings in Minnesota in 5 and a half weeks from now, then perhaps the defense will indeed be improved considerably over last year.

And if that's actually the case?

Then there could be exciting things in store in the future for Saints fans as the team heads forward into the 2017 regular season.

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

But a word of caution: it's only 1 week into Training Camp.

We've seen and heard (and read) this same story once before. And unfortunately, we already know how it ends.

Let's see over the course of the next few weeks and months ahead, if the Saints defense can do this when it COUNTS.....

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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