The New Orleans Saints brought in free agent defenders Victor Butler and Kenyon Coleman this off-season not only to fill holes on defense, but to also help the team transition into Rob Ryan's 3-4 defensive scheme. Not only are both of these players familiar with the 3-4 defense, they both played under Rob Ryan as recently as last season. Some considered this experience to be key in their signings, but now their mentoring will be relegated to the sidelines.
Here's a look at the potential on-field production lost:
Butler has two seasons worth of experience in Ryan's 3-4 defense and Coleman has four (2 in Dallas and 2 in Cleveland). While neither player could be considered a breakout star in their past seasons under Ryan, they were both expected to contribute heavily in defensive rotations for the Saints in 2013, especially Butler who may have been primed to start at outside linebacker. Although Who Dat Nation may have preferred to have Anthony Spencer, the Butler/Coleman combination could have provided on-the-rise potential (Butler) with leadership and experience (Coleman).
Now the Saints move on without Rob Ryan's guys and the negatives are twofold, the team lost potential on-field coaches as well as guys who were expected to produce this season. This puts defensive end Akiem Hicks and outside linebacker Martez Wilson in more of a hurry to be productive in the new 3-4 scheme. The room for error for these young talents has shrunk considerably over the last week, especially for Wilson who is on the mend himself with an elbow injury that will sideline him through the remainder of training camp.
I've thought that the mentor angle regarding Butler and Coleman has been overplayed since their signings. If the Saints needed these guys to explain Rob Ryan's defense to the rest of the team then what is Rob there for? It's not like he's speaking in a foreign tongue and those two were going to translate for him. The defensive message isn't lost without them. Coach Ryan losing "his guys" is unfortunate but not devastating to the Saints transition to the 3-4 scheme.
While I don't expect the loss of Butler/Coleman to impede the progression of the Saints' transition to the 3-4, the team will feel the loss hardest in the depth chart. At this point in the year the choices are pretty slim and ultimately it should come down to the players currently in house to produce. Some fans may want to see a player like Richard Seymour signed to fill Coleman's spot, but his asking price would likely be far greater than the Saints would be willing to pay, or even greater than they could afford to pay.
In the end, the biggest tragedy is that Butler, finally getting his chance to escape the shadows and enter the spotlight, will have to wait another season for his chance to shine, and we will all have to watch Will Smith get more playing time at OLB. The Saints just watched two of their more notable free agent signings hit the shelf before they ever got a chance to contribute, and that is unfortunate. Hopefully the "next man up" will be up to the challenge of replacing them this season.
More from Canal Street Chronicles:
- Saints Training Camp Recap: Is Anyone Really Blaming Kenny Vaccaro For Joe Morgan's Knee Injury?
- Performance-Enhancing Drugs in the NFL: We Simply Don't Care
- The Rise of New Orleans Saints Linebacker Junior Galette
- Saints Lose Joe Morgan and Kenyon Coleman for the 2013 NFL Season
- Saints vs. Chiefs 2013: Scouting the Enemy