Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints' Depth at Defensive Tackle

I've been meaning to write about the Saints' depth at defensive tackle for a while now, so thank you to Amit for requesting it. Please don't hesitate to make REASONABLE requests anytime, I'll be happy to give you my 2 cents on any Saints topic, whatever that is worth. You can either comment below or email me at saintsnation @ gmail dot com.

Right now the two unquestioned starters at DT for the Saints are 2nd year phenom Sedrick Ellis (pictured as #98), and a guy who would rival Scott Shanle as the most underrated Saint in Kendrick Clancy. I don't think those two players are going to blow anyone away, but they are solid players that can be very productive. Ellis especially is only going to get better and his ceiling definitely includes a pro bowl birth. Clancy is a very solid veteran who has been around a long time, and while he flies mostly under the radar with fans he's also very seldom the target of negativity. The depth behind those 2 guys is what worries me, and I honestly believe that defensive tackle is the thinnest position the Saints have going into 2009.

Rod Coleman, currently the #3 DT, has had an accomplished 9 seasons in his NFL career featuring double digit sack seasons 3 times (2002, 2004, 2005). Coleman sat out all of last year and did not play a snap (after only playing in 5 games for 2007), so while he's had lots of success we have to assume his best days are behind him. Hopefully he doesn't catch Dan Morganitis because the depth behind him is even thinner (literally and figuratively). To his credit I believe he still has loads of ability at 32 and can help the Saints in limited reps. The danger comes if something happens to our starters and Coleman is thrust into a more prominent role where he has to play full games. Behind Coleman the Saints also have DeMario Pressley, Remi Ayodele and rookie Earl Heyman. Pressley was a rookie last season that showed promise but went on IR for the entirety of last year before the season started. Hard to count on a guy that has been unable to suit up in a small sampling, but hopefully he can stay healthy and help the Saints. Ayodele is nothing more than a journeyman backup, and Heyman is a long shot to make the team. The final player who is mentioned last, but not least, is defensive end Paul Spicer, who has the ability and versatility to move inside if needed.

The Will Smith/Charles Grant 4 game suspension throws a big wrench into how the rotation at DT works. With both players out, Spicer is thrust into the starting role at DE alongside Bobby McCray. What this means is he is less available to fill in at defensive tackle until Grant and Smith return in week 5. Based on this the Saints really can't afford any injuries at the defensive tackle position whatsoever. The Saints released veterans Hollis Thomas and Brian Young this year and overall those were good decisions based on their health, age and price tag. But those moves left the Saints incredibly vulnerable at the position behind Ellis and Clancy. We have to hope Coleman can regain his magic of the mid 2000's for a limited number of snaps and hope/pray that nothing happens to the starters. Pressley could probably give the Saints a quality number of reps if needed, but behind him the quality really starts to drop. You'd love to have Spicer rotate in as the #4 DT in certain situations (especially pass rushing downs), but that's not realistic until Grant and Smith come back. Coleman and Ellis have solid pass rushing ability, and Ellis/Clancy/Pressley are all solid run stoppers, but don't be the least bit surprised if the Saints track the waiver wire for a veteran defensive tackle they can add during preseason as cuts get made. My opinion is that no position is currently less thin for the Saints. Injury/Suspension is something they can least afford at DT, and this position worries me more than most. Be on the lookout for a signing at this position before week 1 unless some of these backups come out of nowhere and show the Saints something incredibly promising.