Rob Ryan: ‘On me’ to fix Saints’ defense

METAIRIE, La. — Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reiterated Friday that the New Orleans Saints’ early struggles are “on us” as a defense — and “on me” in particular.

“Hey, those are the facts,” Ryan said during his weekly visit with the media. “You don’t like to admit ‘em standing up here, but it’s the damn truth. …

“We want to be great on defense, we want to be a little tiny part of our success. And we’ve been a big part of our failure right now. It’s not how we’re going to roll.”

Ryan said that improvement will come through hard work and long hours of “looking for any kind of edge you can get.”

It’s unlikely that drastic changes will be called for, since the Saints thrived on defense last season with the same coordinator and most of the same players. But there will almost certainly be tweaks.

The most likely switch is at the No. 2 cornerback spot, where the Saints replaced starter Patrick Robinson with Corey White during last week’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Saints have not announced whether that will be a permanent change, but it’s obviously a possibility. Safety Rafael Bush could also see more snaps as the fifth defensive back in nickel packages — the role he played for most of last season.

Some scheme tweaks could also be in store.

Even though the secondary is loaded with experienced veterans, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they have struggled with communication and assignment errors after releasing three longtime starters in the offseason (safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, and cornerback Jabari Greer).

When asked if that takes time to develop with new guys working together (like new safety Jairus Byrd and Robinson returning from a year-long injury), Ryan said, “Obviously it does.”

“Those guys played with each other for a long time,” Ryan said of Jenkins, Harper and Greer. “They know the system inside and out. So the communication was obviously excellent. But obviously these guys will take a little bit of getting used to each other and getting on the right page and the same page.

“That can also be helped with our plan. Doing things one way instead of three ways, and things like that. But we have to improve, we know that, we’re working on it and we have to get there.”

When I asked Greer to scout the Saints’ secondary heading into this season, he agreed with the outside consensus that the Saints might be “as talented as they’ve been in a very long time.” But he quickly brought up the importance of things like communication and chemistry with new players.

“Talent doesn’t necessarily equal success,” Greer said at the time. “Communication and leadership and understanding each other’s roles, working together with each other’s strengths and safeties covering up the corners’ weaknesses, that equals success. And that is yet to be determined. …

“Because given the departure of the veteran leaders in the secondary, that was the big question coming into the season. So I’m interested in seeing who’s taking that leadership position, how they’re going to rally the troops, and really how they’re gonna communicate effectively.”

Greer said typically the safeties take over that leadership role because they are known as the “quarterbacks” of the defense, responsible for making calls and checks.

Kenny Vaccaro has talked often about embracing that type of leadership role, even though he is in just his second year. But he said this week that leadership should be a collaborative effort rather than a forced one.

“I think the worst thing that can happen is when you anoint a guy and not just let him prove himself,” Vaccaro said. “You don’t want to just give a guy that position. It’ll happen on its own, honestly. And I think we’ve got a lot of leaders in the secondary. So I don’t know if a guy will get kinged as a leader of the secondary.

“I think everybody has their own qualities, and we all just bring that together. … We gather each other together.”

Vaccaro said Jenkins (a former defensive captain) used to be known for his “powerful speeches” before games. He said that neither he nor Byrd is a “speech guy” and that they are both guys who prefer to lead by example.

“We talked about that (Wednesday),” Vaccaro said of him and Byrd. “We talked about we’re gonna have to just ride with each other and we’re gonna have to get out of our comfort zone. … Definitely, though, I think we work all together.”

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