Will the Saints try to get through T Donald Penn and the Bucs' front line with an aggressive blitz scheme?
The New Orleans Saints' defense finished the month of August with 12 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the league and just two off the top total. You are free to dismiss those stats as meaningless preseason numbers, and it's certainly true that five of those 12 sacks were turned in by players who are no longer on the team.
However, it's also fair to say that the Saints are intent on spicing up their pass rush after finishing 19th in the league in sacks last year, and perhaps their preseason results are a harbinger of things to come. Note that five of those 12 sacks, including four of the eight by players who made it through to the 53-man roster, were turned in by safeties or linebackers.
Are the Saints going to expand their blitz package to create more pressure this year. Count the Tampa Bay Buccaneers among those opponents expecting just that.
"This is a team that's going to miss two-deep zone with four-deep, and they're going to blitz you," said Head Coach Gruden, whose team finished two days of game-plan installation on Thursday. "We're expecting a very creative blitz. Everybody's [copying] the Giants and all the other teams that have had success blitzing, and the Saints are good blitzers themselves. They've had a nice blitz package the last couple years. They've got a marquis corner here in [Mike] McKenzie and they've added some players to really help the pass rush. They're going to mix it up, and we're preparing for the blitz."
Indeed, while McKenzie has long been a player who has drawn Gruden's attention, the Saints' defense now has several more notable playmakers for whom the Bucs must account. Perhaps most importantly, the Saints strengthened the middle of their defense by trading for former New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma and drafting USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.
The Saints were able to pry Vilma away from the Jets because he never seemed like the right fit in the 3-4 defensive front New York has been running the last two seasons. Gruden, however, would gladly take Vilma for any scheme he was going to use.
"He's a hell of a linebacker," said the Bucs' coach. "His career speaks for itself. He's a ringleader, he's a real leader, he's an inspiring guy, he's instinctive, a sure tackler, he's got coverage ability. I don't think they want him off the field, ever. Jonny Vilma fits on anybody's team. He's a great player."
The 6-1, 307-pound Ellis will be a handful for the Bucs' interior linemen, and while Tampa Bay has great confidence in that particular crew, the team is running a man short on the inside this week. With right guard Davin Joseph almost sure to miss the season opener due to a foot injury, rookie Jeremy Zuttah is stepping into the starting lineup. The Bucs are confident that Zuttah can hold his own.
"We expect him to not play like a rookie," said Gruden. "We expect him to play like a seasoned veteran; he's going to have to for us to win this game and I think we all understand that. He's going to see some really good players. They have Sedrick Ellis and [Brian] Young, they're very talented. They're going to put [Charles] Grant in there in the nickel. We're just counting on him going out there and playing the way he's been playing and doing the best that he can. But we're real confident in him and he's had a good week of practice."
Talib Added to Injury Report
The Buccaneers made only one change to their injury report on Thursday; unfortunately, it was an addition.
Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib, projected to be the nickel cornerback to start the season, was put on the "limited participation in practice" list, but he should be ready by the weekend. Talib isn't hurt; he went on the report because he missed some of the day's snaps due to "illness."
Joseph did not practice for the second straight day and hasn't played since suffering his injury against New England on August 17. However, he is making steady progress towards his return.
"He's getting better," said Gruden. "His status for this game is obviously very doubtful at best, but hopefully he's back on the field soon."
Wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin) practiced without incident again on Thursday but was still one of 10 Bucs who were on the "limited" list. In addition to Galloway and Talib, the rest of the list is fullback B.J. Askew (foot), wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), wide receiver Michael Clayton (chest), defensive tackle Jovan Haye (groin), center/guard Sean Mahan (team decision), linebacker Matt McCoy (groin), safety Sabby Piscitelli (knee) and defensive tackle Ryan Sims (thigh).
The Saints removed one player from Wednesday's "did not participate" list but added another. Linebacker Troy Evans (ankle) was able to participate in a limited fashion in practice on Thursday, but running back Aaron Stecker was added with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas (triceps) has not yet practiced this week.
Taking a Look
Flight problems kept veteran offensive tackle Willie Anderson from meeting with the Buccaneers on Thursday, but the team still hopes to get the sudden free agent into town on Friday.
Anderson was released by the Cincinnati Bengals on August 30 but is visiting with several teams to see where his career will pick up next. Anderson played 12 seasons for the Bengals after being drafted in the first round in 1996 and was voted into four Pro Bowls.
The Buccaneers are simply following through on their oft-stated plan to look into every possible way to improve their roster.
"We'd like to work him out; we'd like to look into his situation," said Gruden. "Not to start another Favre saga here, but we're going to look into anybody we think is good and has any interest in playing for us. Whether or not we sign him or get him, that will all be determined after all the information is gathered."
Anderson's four Pro Bowl nods came recently, after the 2003-06 seasons. After appearing in 174 of a possible 176 games over the first 11 years of his career (with 168 starts), Anderson ran into a significant injury issue for the first time in his career last fall. A knee ailment cost him all but seven games and five starts in 2007.
Anderson played right tackle in Cincinnati but Gruden believes he could be an asset at either edge position.
"He's been in multiple Pro Bowls, and at this point in his career his experience, his vast experience, would allow him to play either side," said Gruden. "We're going to look at him. We look forward to hopefully meeting him. We've got a lot of respect for him. These guys that have played 10, 12 years and put this kind of career together, we're going to be interested in him. We're not the only team looking into Willie, and we'll see what happens."