METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Marshon Lattimore is preparing to take on greater responsibility for, and leadership of, the New Orleans Saints secondary — even as he awaits word on whether the NFL will suspend him for an offseason arrest.
The uncertain playing status for the Saints' top man-to-man pass defender — brought on by allegations he had a stolen gun in his possession — is among several questions surrounding New Orleans at the cornerback spot.
Another is who will take over the other starting job vacated by Janoris Jenkins when the Saints were virtually forced to let him enter free agency in an effort to get under the NFL’s shrunken 2021 salary cap.
“When you look at some of the talent that walked out of our building, you’re going to have to replace that, but that’s the nature of the NFL," Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said after practice Monday. “Maybe we got a little bit spoiled last year with the talent that we did have.”
Through four training camp practices — albeit without full pads — the Saints defense has not intercepted one pass thrown by any of the four quarterbacks who've taken snaps so far: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and rookie Ian Book.
While Allen said he wants to see “interceptions every day,” he added: “Certainly, we’re way too early in camp to hit the panic button on anything.”
“I feel like there’s been a lot of balls that we’ve been able to punch out,” Allen said. "So, all those things matter and I’m not going to get too high or too low until we really kind get toward the end of training camp.”
Added Lattimore: “It’s early. The pads are not on yet, nothing. Football is played with pads on, so I’m not really worried about that.”
So far, Patrick Robinson, a nearly 34-year-old, 2010 first-round Saints draft choice in his second stint with the club, has lined up as the first-team cornerback on the other side of the field from Lattimore.
But Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear when training camp opened that there will be competition at that spot. And on Monday, two newly signed cornerbacks —- Prince Amukamara and KeiVarae Russell — were at their first practice with New Orleans.
The 6-foot, 206-pound Amukamara is a nine-year NFL veteran who has played for the New York Giants, Jacksonville and Chicago.
“We felt like we needed to add a corner to the group,” Payton said Monday. "He’s long. He fits kind of what we’re looking for relative to his size and good makeup — tough.”
The 5-11, 194-pound Russell was drafted in the third round by Kansas City in 2016 and has played in 21 games with Cincinnati and Green Bay.
Other options include Ken Crawley, a five-year veteran who started 13 games for New Orleans in 2017 and was brought back as a reserve for six games in 2020.
The Saints are also hoping third-round draft choice Pauslon Adebo, who looks the part at 6-1, 192-pounds, can carve out a productive role as a rookie.
“When you take a guy in the third round, you’re expecting him to be a contributor,” Allen said. “He’s smart and he’s got talent. So now it’s just a matter of how quickly can he assimilate.”
Two defensive backs who are not currently in the mix, but could be in a pinch, are veterans P.J. Williams and Brian Poole. Allen said he wants Williams, who was drafted by New Orleans as a cornerback in 2015, to focus on playing safety. Poole has played the bulk of his career in the slot, guarding receivers lined up inside the wideouts, is expected to remain there.
Lattimore said he hasn't heard anything from the NFL yet on whether his arrest will bring a suspension, but stressed he's focused on being ready to play immediately.
“I just know I've got to step up more as far as being a leader all the way around," Lattimore said. "It’s not going to be hard with the vets we got here. I ain’t really worried about it too much. I’m just worried about the whole team getting better.”
Lattimore also expressed confidence that whomever the Saints play at cornerback won't be a liability.
“We’re going to see,” he said. “Nothing’s going to fall out of the sky. So, it is what it is. We’re going to work with what we got. I got faith in everybody here. So, I ain’t too worried about it.”
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