Brian Allee-Walsh

Knee injury may put an end to the Saints' Kikaha Project this season

New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha (45) runs onto the field beforean NFL preseason football game against the Houston Texansin New Orleans, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha (45) runs onto the field beforean NFL preseason football game against the Houston Texansin New Orleans, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman) AP

It seemed like a natural fit to move New Orleans Saints second-year outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha into a role as end/pass rusher in the team's 4-3 scheme. He had excelled in a similar position at the University of Washington before being picked up by the Black and Gold in the second-round of the 2015 draft.

And heaven knows, the Saints need to apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks going forward, not to mention dramatically reducing the number of points and yards yielded in a given game (413.4 yards, 29.8 points last season).

Now it appears the Kikaha Project might be put on hold, at least for this coming season.

Kikaha tore an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during non-contact work at an Organized Team Activity (OTA) earlier this week, according to FOX Sports. The knee injury and subsequent surgery typically sidelines players upwards of nine months and beyond. Word leaked out to reporters after the team went through its final OTA of the offseason Thursday at its practice facility.

Which knee and how the injury occurred is unknown. Efforts to confirm the story with Saints coach Sean Payton via text were unsuccessful.

It's difficult to put a loss of this nature in perspective since Kikaha was in the early stages of playing the position under Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen and pass rush coach Brian Young. Suffice to say Payton and Allen saw enough potential in the player to make the move after he recorded four sacks and four forced fumbles as a strongside linebacker during his rookie season.

Kikaha (6-3, 249) finished third on the team in sacks last season, trailing only Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan (10) and linebacker Kasim Edebali (five).

Allen has been quick to remind reporters this offseason that he intends to put the best players/athletes on the field and put them in positions whereby they can maximize their talents.

Coming off the edge as a defensive end/outside linebacker seemed to make perfect sense for Kikaha, a win-win situation for him and the team.

The transition apparently had been going along swimmingly for Kikaha, a gifted athlete who had overcome two torn ACLs at UW to compile 31.5 sacks during his junior (12.5) and senior (19) seasons.

But again, the Kikaha Project had miles to go before being deemed a finished product. There was much work still to be done before the start of the regular season, continuing next week at a mandatory three-day minicamp and training camp at The Greenbrier later this summer.

Thus, life goes on for an injured player and a football team on the mend.

For Kikaha, it's months of tedious and painful rehab.

For the Saints, it's the daunting task of fixing what ails a historically bad defense and perhaps seeking additional pass rush-help from outside the organization.

Time will tell if player and team get back to where they want to be.

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

  Comments