METAIRIE, Louisiana (AP) – As defensive tackles from Saints Malcolm Roach and Shy Tuttle looked to pass inexperienced reserves last season to the starters in the opener this year, they discussed how their humble beginnings in as long as undrafted pros could help them.
It’s “something he and me talk about a lot, just knowing we had to come here the hard way,” Roach said after recent training at training camp. “You had to win everything. … If something were easy, I don’t think you would cherish the position you find yourself in so much.
The Saints will enter the regular season without their top three inside defensive linemen of 2020. Malcom Brown was traded to Jacksonville, Sheldon Rankins left for the New York Jets in free agency and top inside defensive lineman David Onyemata faces a six-game suspension for violating NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
This brought to light during training camp the young players who are looking to fill the void.
“Well, I see this as an opportunity,” said defensive line coach Ryan Neilsen. “There’s a bunch of shots out there and we’ll see when we sort it all out at the end of the camp who gets these shots.”
Roach, entering his third NFL season in Texas, and Tuttle, entering his fourth professional season in Tennessee, are considered the most likely starters when New Orleans host Green Bay on September 12 to open the regular season.
Tuttle, who made his NFL debut with New Orleans in 2019, has played 29 games with four starts. He has two sacks among 45 career total tackles and even intercepted a pass.
Last season, Roach made his NFL debut and appeared in nine games, making 16 total tackles without a sack.
“When I came here last year, I was believed. I was just outside playing football. I really didn’t understand the defense, ”Roach said. “Now I know little things like why I’m filling this gap and where the linebacker is going, things like that. Just this development process has taken me a long way. I’m able to go out there, play fast and really understand what I’m doing.
The Saints trust the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Tuttle and the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Roach because of their “effort, energy, tenacity – the intangibles,” Nielsen said. “These guys got it all. They are running soccer. They are tough in the middle. You know, any good defense you’re up against, it’s good in the middle. These two guys were good in the middle. And look, they’re still young players. … So I always want to see an improvement.
Also competing along the interior: Jalen Dalton, a third year pro from North Carolina; Ryan Glasgow, a fifth year pro from Michigan; Albert Huggins, who is in his third pro season away from Clemson; Washington recruit Josiah Bronson; and former Louisiana-Lafayette player Christian Ringo, who is now in his sixth professional season.
The Glasgow 6-3, 300-pounder played in two games for New Orleans last season after appearing in 24 games with Cincinnati since 2017. The 6-6, 300-pound Dalton spent last season on the team. training in New Orleans and has stood out in recent practices. The 6-3, 305-pound Huggins have played in five NFL games with Philadelphia and Detroit since 2019. The 6-1, 300-pound Ringo has played in 20 games with Green Bay, Detroit and Cincinnati since 2016, but no didn’t see any action last season.
Roach said he learned a lot last year from Brown, Rankins and Onyemata, and now tries to pass it on to newly acquired or less experienced players in his position group.
“Now we have more undrafted players in this room and I’m trying to do a great job of showing them the way,” Roach said, adding that he “makes sure these guys come in and know they are welcome here, just know that we are going to work, compete and just know that they have to win it all.
NOTES: Receiver and returner Deonte Harris returned to practice Friday after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. … Receiver Tre’Quan Smith missed his third straight full training session since leaving Tuesday’s practice with an apparent illness in his leg. … Linebacker Kwon Alexander described his physical condition as “legendary,” having rehabilitated his Achilles injury in late December well enough to be re-signed by New Orleans this week.
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