Early in the offseason, following the promotion of Dennis Allen to full-time defensive coordinator, the Saints made another solid hire by bringing in Aaron Glenn to coach the secondary. It's a move that has largely flown under the radar.
Allen had formerly held that position himself from 2008-10 where he played an integral role in getting the most out of Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Roman Harper, and Darren Sharper (off the field issues aside) during the Saints' Super Bowl run.
As many of you probably recall, Glenn was a member of the secondary in 2008 - though he was in the twilight of a very successful 15-year career where he appeared in three Pro Bowls with the Jets.
As a coach, he spent the last two years working with the Cleveland Browns. In 2014, he had a hand in getting Tashaun Gipson, Joe Haden, and Donte Whitner to the Pro Bowl. He was also responsible for overseeing the development of Ibraheim Campbell, Jordan Poyer, and (even though he was just released) K'Waun Williams - all of whom are young, up-and-comers.
Glenn now has the opportunity to put his fingerprints on a young secondary; a group that had been utterly lacking talent, athleticism, and mere competence over the last four seasons.
In previous years, when the coaching staff and front office saw that the secondary needed bolstering, they would bring in veteran free agents - oftentimes spending big to get the player they wanted. The list includes Jairus Byrd, Jabari Greer, Keenan Lewis, Jason David, and Brandon Browner. The philosophy was very much boom-or-bust, and all too often the free agency splurge backfired.
Multiple poor free agent signings combined with an inability to draft and develop defensive backs crippled a Saints defense that ran out of attitude following the loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 Playoffs. Malcolm Jenkins, Johnny Patrick, Chip Vaughn, Patrick Robinson, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Vinnie Sunseri, Corey White, and Usama Young never found the kind of success expected from them in Saints uniforms.
Jenkins has since gone on to be one of the best safeties in the NFL while Robinson was a solid contributor for the Chargers last season.
This year, the Saints are very thin on experienced cornerbacks and behind Kenny Vaccaro and oft-injured Jairus Byrd are rookie Vonn Bell, aging Roman Harper, and Erik Harris of the CFL.
History would suggest that this group is in for yet another season of being torched for huge gains.
But for some reason, the unit's performance in training camp and preseason has suggested the contrary. Despite the lack of experience, the secondary might actually be... good.
Don't pay too much attention to last week's preseason 'tune up' where young defensive backs were torched by Antonio Brown. Call it a baptism by fire. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are elite players, expecting guys like De'Vante Harris and Ken Crawley to shut those two down is absurd even to the most optimistic.
On the handful of big plays in the passing game, the defensive backs were in good position, but their inexperience was even more apparent. P.J. Williams was running stride for stride with Markus Wheaton on a deep ball, but didn't get his head turned around. De'Vante Harris was trailing Antonio Brown on the long touchdown and decided to jump for a swat instead of closing out.
These are coaching moments that Aaron Glenn can take advantage of in the film room. So far, he has managed to get real production out of the inexperienced Crawley, Williams, Bell, De'Vante Harris, and Erik Harris. Delvin Breaux is blossoming into a true shutdown corner. Kenny Vaccaro is all over the field. Heck, even Jairus Byrd is having a good training camp.
Based on the way the offense has looked in preseason, it is difficult not to be pessimistic about the outlook into the regular season. At least fans can take some comfort in the fact that the defense is improving and young players are developing. Aaron Glenn is as much a part of that as any player.