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Barry Hirstius

Saints DB Coach Aaron Glenn Has Pro Football’s Hardest Job This Season

Straight out of the frying pan, and into the fire.

For Saints secondary / defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, that's exactly what life has felt like in the past week, as he prepares to coach in the team's 2nd Pre-Season game of 2017 --- when New Orleans visits the Los Angeles Chargers tonight at 7 p.m. Central time at the Stub Hub Center in Carson (suburban Los Angeles), California.

Tonight's game will be televised nationally by the NFL Network, and will be televised locally in the metropolitan New Orleans area on WVUE Fox Channel 8.

Glenn has what can only be described as the hardest job in all of Pro Football once again this year in the upcoming 2017 season, following the news that the team would be without starting #1 CB Delvin Breaux for at least the first 3 regular seasons games after undergoing surgery for a fractured fibula.

Unfortunately, it's the very same fibula that Breaux originally broke nearly a year ago now during Week #1 of last season against the Oakland Raiders.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

The leg has never had the opportunity to heal properly, thanks in part to an ongoing misdiagnosis by team doctors (who amazingly labeled it as a "leg contusion") that led to their much-publicized firings earlier this week.

Now Glenn not only has to go forward once again without Breaux's services, but additionally has to get rookie and top draft pick Marshon Lattimore caught up to speed and ready to play in Week #1 against the Minnesota Vikings in just 3 weeks from tomorrow, after Lattimore has missed most of Training Camp with a sore knee.

Glenn was already trying to guide the Saints secondary and specifically the Saints cornerback position (he oversees both cornerbacks and safeties) back to some semblance of order this year, after he lost 8 --- yes, EIGHT --- total players combined (both at corner and at safety) alone to season-ending injuries during the 2016 season.

Photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune

He most notably lost #2 starting CB P.J. Williams to a season-ending severe concussion injury against the New York Giants last year in Week #2 right after the original Breaux injury, that had the team literally signing players right off the street for the rest of the year.

But to Glenn's credit, he hasn't ever once complained about his predicament, choosing instead to "roll with the punches" and just continue to do what he does best: teach football players how to be the best that they can possibly be, particularly at the much-maligned position of cornerback --- the most scrutinized position in the League other than besides playing quarterback.

“Everything is a learning process at that position,” Glenn told New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill yesterday.

“If you find one corner that has it all down, you let me know who it is, because I want to sit down and talk to him. That’s why you might see a guy that’s at the top one year, and the next year he’s down here. It’s always changing, and guys are always getting better. Guys are learning new techniques.”

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch, Jr.

As it is, Glenn ought to know a little something about technique and the mind-set that's necessary for someone to play the cornerback position in the NFL.

The 45-year is a former All-Pro cornerback during most of the 1990's with the New York Jets and their head coach at that time, the legendary former NFL head coach Bill Parcells.

Prior to playing for Parcells with the Jets, Glenn was a 1993 1st team consensus All-American at CB for Texas A&M University.

Glenn also played for the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and of course the Saints -- where he played his final NFL season in 2008 under Saints head coach Sean Payton, who obviously was well aware of Glenn's accomplishments with Payton's mentor Bill Parcells. 

Payton was actually a part of Parcells' Cowboys staff when they signed Glenn prior to the 2005 season, where Glenn played during Payton's final year as Cowboys offensive coordinator before he was hired by the Saints.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Unfortunately, Glenn's 15-year NFL playing career didn't quite end on a high note, after he injured his ankle during the 2nd game of that 2008 season; which limited his playing time until he was eventually placed on the Saints injured reserve list on November 27th of that year, which would be the final transaction of his time spent as a player in the NFL.

But Payton obviously never forgot about his experiences with Glenn; which is exactly why Payton practically jumped all over the opportunity to bring Glenn to New Orleans when Glenn left the Cleveland Browns coaching staff at the end of the 2015 season.

“One of his great strengths was his film study, his intelligence," Payton told Underhill in an interview last year. "He’s always been one of those guys, even as a player, that the rest of the secondary gravitated to for information."

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, New Orleans Advocate

"Part of playing that position is learning splits, learning route combinations and not defending every pattern on every play based on what you’re seeing. Aaron’s one of those guys that did that as a player, and I think that’s a strength of his as a coach now.”

Part of that strength was what led to the very notable development last year of UDFA cornerbacks Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris, who both made the Saints final roster last year as rookies and saw significant playing time due to the injuries suffered by Breaux and Williams.

Glenn got much of the credit for Crawley and Harris' development last year, and it's the reason why both young men are likely both "locks" at this point to make the Final Roster yet again this year, since both have had a solid Training Camp thus far.

With Crawley specifically, Underhill noted that Glenn was able to recognize early on that Crawley would focus on the wrong things at times; such as locking in on the quarterback during man coverage, or watch the receiver when playing zone.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Underhill observed at the time that you might get away with some of that stuff at the collegiate level, but those issues would have made Crawley an easy mark against NFL quarterbacks had they not be fixed.

But that's exactly the type of thing that Payton was hoping that Glenn could teach and convey in an easy-to-understand manner, given his time spent in the League as a former player himself for 15 seasons.

“The thing is, especially when you’re playing man-to-man, the quarterbacks can fool you so much to where if you’re not locked in on your man, you’re looking at the quarterback, your man can slip by you on double moves,” Glenn told Underhill.

“I think that’s one thing when quarterbacks and offensive coordinators see guys on tape and see you have bad eyes, you can be sure they’re going to come after you with double moves.”

Tonight against the Chargers, Glenn's coaching focus will be turned towards this year's top draft pick in Lattimore, who will be seeing his first ever game action as a professional.

As of this very moment, there will be very little time (now just 3 more weeks remaining until the Monday Night regular season opener in Minneapolis) for Glenn to have a chance to fully evaluate Lattimore and see just exactly what the rookie can (or can't) do.

Lattimore sprained his knee early on in Camp and has only recently just began practicing again earlier this past week.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

However, he has managed to demonstrate that he has some rather impressive man-coverage skills, which Underhill says shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise given that Lattimore only allowed 18 receptions on 41 targets last season as an All-American CB at Ohio State University.

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch, Jr.

But what Lattimore has to prove to everyone tonight at the Stub Hub Center against the Chargers and also going forward into his rookie year during the upcoming 2017 regular season, is that he can play zone-coverage just as well as he can man-coverage --- something he was never asked to do much of during his time spent on the Buckeyes campus under head coach Urban Myer.

As Underhill noted yesterday: the Saints have more options if Lattimore struggles. Crawley or Sterling Moore could play on the outside, and they only need a "temporary fix" because Breaux should be back in late September or early October.

Nevertheless, coaching up the talented but raw young rookie is only just one of the handful of items on Glenn's plate at the moment, as he tries to fix a New Orleans secondary that has undergone a ton of scrutiny in the past several seasons and is often directly blamed for the Saints' failures on defense -- the very same Saints defense that has finished ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL now, for 4 of the past 5 years.

Lattimore's issues aside, there's still #2 CB P.J. Williams to worry about at the other outside boundary position and whether he can "bounce back" this season; and of course 3rd year player Damian Swann; whom Glenn may not be able to help save from getting cut because of some recent poor play and a past injury history with a series of concussions.

Those on-going issues for Swann could eventually make him expendable when the team cuts down to its Final 53-man roster on September 3rd (only two weeks from today).

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

So, it goes without saying that having those things all converging at once, has given Glenn a pretty tough challenge to face right now --- though given everything that he's had to overcome in the past year, it's unlikely to phase him much, if at all.

Straight out of the frying pan, and into the fire.

For Aaron Glenn, coaching the defensive secondary for the New Orleans Saints is probably the hardest job in all of Pro Football.

But for Glenn and all of the Saints DB's, it's the hardest things that will always be difficult --- before they ever become easy......

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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