New Orleans Saints

Nowhere to go but up hardly biggest reason to bet on New Orleans Saints’ defense

New Orleans Saints defensive back Erik Harris (30) in a blocking drill with a teammate during the NFL football teams training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Friday.
New Orleans Saints defensive back Erik Harris (30) in a blocking drill with a teammate during the NFL football teams training camp in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Friday. Associated Press

Aside from Drew Brees' contract situation—will he or won't he get a new deal — one question has hounded the New Orleans Saints all offseason and no one seems to have a good answer.

Exactly why will the defense be improved this season?

Yes, free agent linebacker James Laurinaitis, fan-favorite safety Roman Harper and promising rookie tackle Sheldon Rankins have joined the team, and trusted assistant coach Dennis Allen now oversees the daily operation. And rush end Cameron Jordan can be a handful coming off the edge.

But will that be enough to breathe life into the Walking Dead?

The most popular theory this offseason seems awfully weak: The defense has to be better because it can't get any worse than what we've seen the past several seasons.

That way of thinking is akin to Republicans believing GOP nominee Donald Trump should be president for no other reason than to keep Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

There has to be a better reason to cast your vote for The Donald.

Just like there has to be better reasons why the Saints' defense will be improved this season. The singular idea that there is "nowhere to go but up'' probably isn't very comforting for Who Dat Nation.

I have six thoughts that might ease the angst.

(1) On paper, the pieces appear to be on the roster for the much-maligned secondary to be a strength and not a weakness. Safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerback Delvin Breaux are solid players. Harper has been there and done that in New Orleans and Carolina for 10 seasons. The key is to keep oft-injured safety Jairus Byrd and suddenly brittle cornerback Keenan Lewis on the field.

(2) Others in the secondary show potential, most notably P.J. Williams, Damian Swann, second-round draft pick Vonn Bell and undrafted rookies Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris.

(3) Losing promising rush-end Hau'oli Kikaha to a season-ending knee injury in the offseason hurts. But perhaps Kasim Edebali, Obum Gwacham and Davis Tull -- one or all three -- will fill the void.

(4) Weakside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has played in seven games the past two years due to injuries, forcing him to take multiple paycuts to remain on the roster. When healthy, he can contribute and the unit plays at a more efficient rate. Free agent linebackers Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar also are in the mix.

(5) One of the more intriguing offseason additions is defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the former 2011 first-rounder who turned 28 in January. Perhaps he can turn that chip-on-his-shoulder into something positive before running out of opportunities.

(6) And, flag magnet defensive back Brandon Browner, mercifully, has taken his game to Seattle.

Not so sure I've eased the angst but it's the best I can do heading into Thursday night's opening pre-season game at New England (NFL Network, 6:30 p.m.).

If nothing else, "bottoms up'' will have to do.

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