Saints offseason overview: Defensive line

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Saints: Malcolm Brown, Shy Tuttle, Cam Jordan
(Photo: Parker Waters).

METAIRIE – The defensive line was one of the deepest positions on the New Orleans Saints last season.

That depth came in handy as two of the team’s top linemen – tackle Sheldon Rankins and end Marcus Davenport – suffered season-ending injuries.

Five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan also was injured for the last five games, but kept playing on his way to finishing the season with a career-high 15.5 sacks. Jordan revealed after the season that he was plagued by a core muscle injury down the stretch and underwent surgery in February.

Despite the limitations, the Saints line was the strongest unit on the defense.

New Orleans ensured that all the key pieces would return when it re-signed tackle David Onyemata, who started all 15 games in which in played, at the outset of free agency.

Onyemata said he received “a pretty decent amount of interest” from other teams, but was eager to return to the Saints, signing a three-year deal with the organization that drafted him in 2016.

“There were a lot of teams out there, but just being here, knowing the culture around here, the foundation here is what pretty much kept me here with the Saints,” he said. “I’m happy to still be here with the Saints organization. That’s something that’s dear to me.”

New Orleans has won three consecutive NFC South titles and will enter next season as a favorite to return to the playoffs.

“The main goal is to win the Super Bowl and we’ve come up short the last couple of years,” Onyemata said. “(We have) that mindset to actually achieve this goal of winning a Super Bowl.”

Onyemata’s emergence last season was important because Rankins missed the start of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in the playoffs after the 2018 season.

New Orleans drafted Onyemata in the fourth round after they had taken Rankins in the first round of the 1996 draft. Onyemata was born in Lagos, Nigeria and didn’t play football until enrolling at ManitobaUniversity in Canada.

“I go into every season with the same mindset,” Onyemata said. “That’s to improve on everything. I’m talking about the run game, the pass game and my effectiveness on the field. Every year you keep growing and growing and the older you get, the more understanding you get. There’s always something you can learn.”

Rankins returned for the fourth game of last season and played in five before suffering another foot injury.

Davenport, the No. 1 draft choice in 2018 who as a rookie played through a toe injury that required offseason surgery, started 13 games last season before suffering a foot injury that required surgery.

But two veteran free agents signed last season – Malcolm Brown and Mario Edwards Jr. – helped bolster the line as did a bounce-back season from third-year end Trey Hendrickson.

Brown started all 16 games at tackle, Edwards played in 14 games as a reserve and Hendrickson started three of the 13 games in which he played.

The Saints also received valuable contributions from Taylor Stallworth, Noah Spence, and two undrafted rookies in Shy Tuttle and Carl Granderson.

Spence was signed with three games left in the regular season to provide depth amid the injuries. The four-year pro recently re-signed with New Orleans.

The handful of line acquisitions prior to last season left New Orleans with a deep and effective rotation so that unit is not a priority for the draft or free agency, though as last season proved, a team cannot have too many defensive linemen. So perhaps the depth could be addressed at some point.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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