When the New Orleans Saints landed pass rusher Alex Okafor, they envisioned someone who would be a force on the opposite side of Cameron Jordan.
On Saturday night, during the Saints’ practice, they saw a glimpse of how disruptive Okafor can be when he racked up at least two fill sacks during full-team drills.
“Well, that’s why I came here. I knew there’d be an opportunity to play right away. … So, I’m doing all I can to be that guy opposite [Cameron Jordan],” said Okafor.
Kafor, 26, has battled a range of injuries during his career but has a very promising 2014 campaign when he notched 8 sacks. Since then Okafor has struggled with only 5.5 sacks in that 2-year span.
“I came from a place in Arizona [Cardinals] where we already had two great edge-rushers, and I kind of added towards that,” Okafor said. “So, now I’m ready to come within my own and be that guy for this team.”
Saints’ head coach Sean Payton likes the versatility Okafor brings to the table.
“He got some outside rush [snaps on Sunday night], but we’ve worked him [inside] in the NASCAR or the nickel rush. He’s healthy, and I think you’re seeing some real good signs,” Payton said.
“I’m just excited to play within this defense, play with these guys in a live-game situation,” said Okafor, who signed a one-year “prove it” deal with the Saints this offseason.
“I think I’m picking things up pretty well, [but] I still got a lot to learn,” Okafor said.
“I just gotta most importantly get comfortable within the defense, and I think I’m making good strides doing that.”
Saints Acquire Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater, 25, signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Jets, who are going with Sam Darnold as their likely starter and veteran Josh McCown as the probable backup, and posted a solid preseason in which he registered a 104.7 passing rating, 316 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, completing 74% of his passes.
New Orleans may have found their successor to starter Drew Brees, if Bridgewater is willing to wait until Brees retires, which would require him re-signing with the Saints. It’s more likely that Bridgewater tests the free agent market next season.
Saints Cut De’Vante Harris
The New Orleans Saints have cut cornerback De’Vante Harris, according to The New Orleans Advocate’s Nick Underhill.
Harris joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M back in 2016 and played in 10 games as a rookie, following that with 11 appearances, including once start, for the Saints in the 2017 season.
Midway through the 2017 season, Harris was relegated to special teams, a reduced role.
Saints Taking High Expectations Head On
New Orleans knows that many expect them to make a big jump in 2018, with the amount of talent they have on the roster, and an improved defense.
Saints head coach is using the high expectations to motivate his team, telling them to “Prove ’em right.”
“It’s a great question, because I think you can go two ways with it, and we’ve been in this position before, and maybe not had the success we had hoped to have when we were picked in 2014 to be one of those teams.” Payton said during an appearance on ESPN.
“We’ve kind of embraced it and looked at it — first as a division, and understanding how competitive the South is right now, with Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay. But at the very first meeting, we talked about, ‘Prove ’em right.’ Oftentimes you hear that saying, ‘Prove ’em wrong,’ when you’re not getting maybe picked to where you think.
“But that means a complete commitment by everyone, when it’s 105 degrees like (the heat index at Sunday’s practice). And that’s challenging. But I do think that leadership, the type of guys we have in the locker room, will be ready for that challenge.”
With young standout players such as Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, and Alvin Kamara, among others, poised to continue their impressive development in 2018, the Saints seem poised for a run at the Super Bowl.
“Well, [there was] similar talk [back in 2014]. And yet, completely different locker room, completely different circumstances,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said, according to ESPN’s Mike Triplett.
“We felt like we were there and ready to take the next step. And yet, that offseason we lost [some] pretty incredible leaders and highly productive players out of the locker room on both sides of the ball. And it just changed the culture a little bit, and it changed the dynamics a little bit. And looking back on it, we realized that. At the time we felt like, ‘We’re young, we’re talented, guys are ready to step up.’ And unfortunately that just wasn’t the case.
“I’d say the difference this year is we haven’t lost veteran guys, but we’ve actually gone out and acquired some more veteran leadership and guys that are great in the locker room, and we’ve got this young talent that is continuing to develop.
“But it is about making sure that you have the cultural foundation — which we did not have in 2014, but I feel like we have this year. But we have to continue to cultivate it.”
Saints center Max Unger says that the brutal heat is helping to keep the Saints to rein in the high expectations.
“I mean, this is tough, it’s almost 100 degrees out here. This is no joke right now. And I think that is a pretty good way to kind of rein those expectations in, to be honest with you,” Unger said. “It’s funny, because right now we’re at the bottom of the mountain, right? It’s hard to look straight back up there after what we did last year. There is momentum in the sense that we know what we have the capability to do. The hard part is not letting that cloud the work that you have to do in training camp.
“[But] this is the situation that you want to be in. You want the expectations to be high. For an organization and a fan base and a city, the expectation is to win games. We’re having this conversation now — as we should have it every year. We would like to think that this is how you’re supposed to operate as a team, with these expectations in mind.”
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