On the whole this unit was just a huge disappointment this season. With all of the money invested in defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant we should all expect more than what we got this year. It's an overstated point but it's definitely true. Bobby McCray a Sedrick Ellis were the only bright spots on this line. McCray proved to have a nose for opposing quarterbacks while Ellis stepped up to contribute nicely in his rookie year. Big Sed definitely shows a lot of promise. Following the Giants example, the Saints stressed the importance of a pass rush and put great effort into making sure theirs was improved. After all that hype though, these guys fell way short of expectations.
Jonathan Vilma is to the Saints defense as Drew Brees is to its offense. Without a doubt the signing of Vilma has proved to be a great move. He played in every game and led the entire team in tackles. Fujita was solid as usual and Shanle actually played better than most people give him credit for. On the whole this was the best and most consistent unit on the entire Saints defense. Could we make an improvement at linebacker? Definitely. Do we absolutely need it? I don't think so.
All eyes were on these guys this year after their infamous performance last season and I'm happy to report that the Saints secondary actually improved in 2008. Unfortunately it was still nothing to write home about, hence the grade. To be fair, injuries were a huge problem and definitely played a part in the continued failures of the Saints pass defense. Starting cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter both suffered season ending injuries early, leaving Randall Gay and (ugh) Jason David to pick up the slack. The situation at safety wasn't any better. Harper can't catch a ball, Kaesviharn is mediocre and Bullocks is...well...Bullocks. Popular opinion has the Saints looking to improve in this area with their first pick in the draft. All eyes will continue to be on this entire unit this off-season.
The overall special teams play of the Saints in 2008 was made up of both forgettable and memorable moments. Most forgettable was the kicking game during the first half of the season with Gramatica and Mehlhaff. Following the International Series game and Taylor Mehlhaff's missed extra point the Saints picked up K Garrett Hartley and P Glenn Pakulak. They haven't looked back since. As far as the punt return game is concerned, Reggie Bush's performance was electrifying in the first half of the season. On kickoffs, Courtney Roby was a hair away from running one back before an injury ended his season. All these factors taken into consideration and the Saints special teams unit gets an average grade of C for the entire year. Next year looks much more promising.