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Five Saints defenders who won't go away without a fight

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These Saints players aren't about to give up their roster spots quietly.

NFL: New Orleans Saints-Training Camp Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Football season is back, and the New Orleans Saints are about one week into training camp. After just a handful of practices, some of us are already making final roster decisions for the team before a preseason game has even been played. Talk of the impact of rookies and free agent newcomers, unheralded players who could steal a roster spot, and veteran players who are on the roster bubble will dominate conversation until the official NFL roster limits are met. What sometimes gets lost in these conversations are players that have made contributions on past team successes, but perhaps go a bit under the radar this time of year. These are sometimes "bubble" players, but more often than not may have their spots on the team fairly secure, and are overshadowed by a bigger name player ahead of them on the depth chart.

George Johnson, DE

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Most talk regarding the Saints defensive line this offseason has been focused around number one draft choice Marcus Davenport, the return to health of Alex Okafor, or if second year Trey Hendrickson can stay healthy. When the Saints line was ravaged by injury late last season, the team signed veteran journeyman George Johnson. Just days after joining his new team, Johnson recorded a sack against the New York Jets, and one week later had another 1.5 sacks against division rival Atlanta. Johnson provided both a solid pass rush, along with setting the edge well against the run down the stretch of last season, and deflected a punt in the team's narrow playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The 6'4, 265-lb. defensive end has played for six teams since entering the league in 2010, but New Orleans felt strongly enough about his play to re-sign the 30-yr old to a 1-year contract this offseason. A crowded New Orleans defensive end position looks loaded. Cameron Jordan is one of the best defensive players in the league. Okafor, Davenport, and Hendrickson will combine to provide a disruptive presence on the opposite side, while second year end Al-Quadin Muhammad is a potential breakout candidate. A player like George Johnson may not be a splashy name, but is the type of player who can provide the kind of versatile depth that can knock a more popular name off an NFL roster.

Hau'oli Kikaha, EDGE

NFL: Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Kikaha is one of just four players remaining from the Saints 2015 draft. The injury-prone former 2nd round pick has played in just 27 of 98 games since joining the team, has yet to finish a season, and missed all of 2016 with a knee injury. Kikaha has seen the bulk of his snaps at outside linebacker early so far in camp, but is a liability in pass coverage, so his best bet to stick around may be as a situational pass rusher. Kikaha has shown good burst around the edge, and has 8 career sacks and 4 forced fumbles, along with being an underrated run defender. Although definitely considered among the veterans on the bubble, if Kikaha can remain healthy and provide additional pass rush, he would be difficult to overlook for a roster spot.

Nate Stupar, LB

Seattle Seahawks v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A retooled and improved Saints linebacking unit finally looks like it can match up athletically with opposing offenses. Craig Robertson, Alex Anzalone, A.J. Klein, and free agent newcomer Demario Davis are fast, versatile, every down defenders who may give New Orleans it's best squad in over a decade. Manti Te'o stepped up last season to provide solid depth, especially against the run, and Jayrone Elliott, Colton Jumper, and Keshun Freeman will compete with Kikaha for spots at a suddenly deep position. Not mentioned a great deal is the return of Nate Stupar. The 30-yr old Stupar missed all but 4 games in 2017 due to injury, but adds both starting experience and versatility. He is capable of playing either inside or outside, plays tough against the run, and is smart in pass coverage. Stupar is also a standout special teams performer, something that may further cement his roster position.

Chris Banjo, S

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans saw greatly improved play from their safeties a year ago. Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell inspired such confidence in fact, that the team elected not to pursue a new contract to former number one pick Kenny Vaccaro. The Saints did sign veteran free safety Kurt Coleman, giving them a potentially lethal 3-safety combination. Reserve Chris Banjo was able to give the defense some solid snaps at safety last season, intercepting one pass, and looks to be in the mix again this preseason. Banjo was one of the Saints top special team performers all season, a point of emphasis for the team this offseason. With the additions of young defensive backs like Natrell Jamerson, Linden Stephens, and Kamrin Moore providing competition for not only jobs in the secondary, but added athleticism on special teams, Banjo will need to make plays in the secondary to couple with his special teams ability to hold a roster spot in a talented secondary.

P.J. Williams, CB

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Much has been made of the young and extremely talented New Orleans secondary, particularly at cornerback. Ken Crawley and Marshon Lattimore, last season's defensive rookie of the year, formed one of the NFL's best duos at one of football's most important positions. The Saints added free agent Patrick Robinson this offseason, who has developed into one of the league's better slot corners. Competition for the other cornerback spots is expected to be fierce, between 2nd year players Justin Hardee and Arthur Maulet (who has been an early camp star), along with rookies Natrell Jamerson, Kamrin Moore, and Linden Stephens. One player who some have placed on the roster bubble perhaps prematurely is 3rd year defensive back P.J. Williams. Another 2015 draft pick (3rd round, 78th overall), Williams had just six quarters of regular season action prior to last season due to injury. Although his 2017 season was a bit inconsistent, Williams still intercepted two passes and was credited with nine passes defensed. Not quite the man-to-man defender that some of the other New Orleans defensive backs on the roster are, he is still solid in coverage and is an aggressive tackler. Williams has stood out early this training camp in his coverage duties, and one must not forget how relatively inexperienced he was last season. Despite that, the former Florida State star was still a very big part of what an improved Saints defense was able to accomplish in 2017, and is showing that it may be a mistake to discount him as a big part of a 2018 championship chase.

Poll

Which of these players are most likely to hold on to their roster spot in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Chris Banjo
    (395 votes)
  • 15%
    George Johnson
    (258 votes)
  • 11%
    Hau'oli Kikaha
    (192 votes)
  • 13%
    Nate Stupar
    (221 votes)
  • 35%
    P.J. Williams
    (588 votes)
1654 votes total Vote Now