Saints linebacker settling in to squad

Published 8:09 pm Sunday, August 27, 2023

By John DeShazier

New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS —It’s no stretch to suggest that linebacker Jaylon Smith didn’t hit the ground running in New Orleans, so much as he landed amid a dead sprint.

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He signed on Aug. 11; practiced that morning in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans; sat out the preseason opener two days later against Kansas City in the Superdome because he still was learning the system; practiced two days later, Tuesday, and then took first- and second-team defensive snaps in the joint practices against the Chargers on Thursday and Friday in Costa Mesa, Calif.; and started the preseason game against Los Angeles last Sunday and made an immediate, noticeable impact in the first quarter of the 22-17 Saints victory at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

Smith had three tackles and a pass defended against the Chargers, including two stops on third down – a combined tackle with defensive end Payton Turner on third-and-6 on Los Angeles’ first drive, and a pass defended on third-and-5 on the Chargers’ third drive.

Add in that the 6-foot-2, 240-pound, seven-year veteran has been working at every linebacker position, and it’s possible that New Orleans found exactly what it needed to bolster the position.

“I’m here with the guys, I’m a competitor, I’m a baller,” Smith said. “Mike, Sam, Will (linebacker position) – whatever Coach needs from me, I’m going to get the job done.”

That hasn’t been an issue in the past for Smith, a Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. He had 88 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits in 13 games for the Giants last season.

Jaylon Smith talks Demario Davis, special teams | Saints Training Camp 2023

He opened his career with 54 starts in 64 games for the Cowboys and after Dallas, played two games with the Packers and 17 with the Giants.

“The biggest thing is opportunity,” Smith said. “Any time I’ve had an opportunity, I’ve produced here in this National Football League. That’s the only thing I can control.”

With the Saints, Coach Dennis Allen suggested that Smith likely will have to contribute on special teams. Though it’s an unfamiliar scenario for him, he’s ready to embrace it.

“I think the biggest thing is, with D.A. and all the coaches, is making sure that I’m ready, for whatever position that is,” Smith said. “Mike, Will, Sam – I’ll make sure I’m ready. If Coach needs me on special teams, never played special teams before, but I’m a football player. I’m going to find a way to get the job done.

“I’ve kind of always been the guy, the starter or the leader of the defense or the captain. When you’re in that role, you don’t have to worry about teams as much. That’s just kind of always been my realm, but I’m a football player and I’m about doing whatever it takes to help the team win.”

QB ROTATION: Starting quarterback Derek Carr will be an observer for Sunday’s preseason finale against Houston in the Caesars Superdome. Allen said Carr will be one of several starters that will not play – “I don’t expect to see (Carr) this weekend,” Allen said – but the quarterback rotation is set.

“Jameis (Winston) will start it out and then Jake (Haener) will come in,” Allen said.

SWAG MAN: Linebacker Demario Davis said Thursday that Allen appears to have a bit of swagger to him as he enters his second season as head coach of the Saints.

“When you feel like you’ve got a pretty good team, you feel pretty confident about it,” Allen said. “Call it what you will, but I like our team.”

CALLING THE SHOTS: Quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry will call the offense in Sunday’s preseason game, and defensive coordinator Joe Woods will call the defense.

LAST CALL: For the players who are on the bubble for making the 53-man roster or practice squad, Sunday night will offer a final dress rehearsal and opportunity to impress.

“I think it’s really important,” Allen said. “There’s still a lot of decisions to be made, there’s still a good opportunity for guys to make a good impression so I think it’s important for a lot of guys.”

OFFICIALLY OFFICIAL: Officials attended Saints practice Thursday at the Saints’ indoor practice facility and Friday in the Superdome, and Allen said there was a benefit to having them present. “You’re trying to put guys in a real live game situation as much as you possibly can,” he said. “The officials are out here, I told them to throw the flag on anything they saw. I thought it was fairly clean in the practices, I thought it was fairly clean in the practices last week. Hopefully that carries over to game day.”