Brian Allee-Walsh

Dennis Allen in midst of delivering culture shock to dismal Saints D

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen instructs players during drills at NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen instructs players during drills at NFL football practice in Metairie, La., Thursday, May 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP

A morning shower forced the New Orleans Saints to go indoors Thursday for their sixth organized team activity (OTA) of the offseason.

It served as a welcome relief for players from the sauna-like conditions on the second day of June and provided a perfect backdrop for a NFL franchise trying to return to relevancy.

There on the walls of the indoor facility hang ginormous pictures of the Super Bowl XLIV championship season of 2009 -- owner Tom Benson hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after the 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Feb. 7, 2010; defensive end Will Smith in hot pursuit of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning; the successful onside kick (a.k.a. "Ambush") recovered at the bottom of a scrum by safety Chris Reis to open the second half, and the names of every Saints player who made it happen that fateful night at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Only three players from that roster remain employed by the Saints today -- quarterback Drew Brees, right tackle Zach Strief and punter/kicker Thomas Morstead.

But Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is still around after productive coaching stints in Denver (defensive coordinator) and the Oakland Raiders (head coach). In '09, he oversaw the secondary for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, whose ball-hawking unit compiled 39 takeaways and scored eight touchdowns while finishing 26th in overall defense (357.8 YPG).

Next up

Now after several historically bad seasons (2012 under DC Steve Spagnuolo, '14 under DC Rob Ryan and '15 under the DC tag team of Ryan/Allen), the task of making the Saints' defense respectable once again rests solely with Allen.

Respectable as in getting 11 players on the field every play getting them lined up correctly. That doesn't sound like much to ask but the Saints failed to achieve both time and again under Ryan.

"This is a totally new group of guys -- new players, new coaches -- so we're starting from ground zero," Allen said after the 90-minute workout in shorts, jerseys and helmets. "We are trying to incorporate a culture and the way we want to go about doing things.

"We're going to play hard. We're going to play physical. Football is a violent game and you got to play violently to play defense. We're going to play fast. We're going to play physical. We're going to play within the rules. I think we got to develop a mentality of setting the tempo a little but more than reacting to a tempo."

Aggressive D

The Saints defense played overly aggressive for Williams from 2009 through 2011 until his exit under the cloud of Bounty gate after the '11 season. His defense forced the issue. It pushed the envelope. It produced quick results and ultimately led to his downfall in the Big Easy and unprecedented sanctions from the league office.

That said, the Saints' defense provided the impetus for a championship season in '09.

"I learned a lot of how we go about doing things defensively from Gregg," Allen said. "I think Gregg is a really good defensive coach. So, I've taken parts of that and incorporated that into my personality and that's kind of what we're trying to get the players to believe in.

"If you don't put an emphasis on taking the ball away, it's not just going to happen on game day. Back in '09 we lived it, we believed in it. Therefore, I don't think takeaways happens because of luck. I think you make them happen. That's why you call them takeaways, not turnovers. That's a point of emphasis for us."

Points allowed

Allen emphasized the only defensive statistic that truly matters is points allowed, though it goes hand in hand with third down defense and red zone defense. He will employ multiple schemes and put the best players on the field.

How the numbers add up -- 3-4 or 4-3 -- is not nearly important as how the players perform.

"We want to be an effective defense," he said. "We want to be an attacking, aggressive style of defense. We want to put pressure on the offense as much as we possibly can. You can make up for a lot of mistakes by playing hard and physical. Our defense is not as much about what we call but more about how we play.

"My job and our job as a staff is to put the best players on the field. So, if we got more good players that play linebacker, we'll play with more linebackers on the field. If we got more good D linemen, we'll play with more D linemen on the field. Again, it's about the culture. It's about the way that you play."

Based on the past few seasons, the Saints defense needs a culture shock.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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