METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As Saints defensive tackles Malcolm Roach and Shy Tuttle have sought to make the jump from inexperienced reserves last season to opening-game starters this year, they've discussed how their humble beginnings as undrafted pros could help them.
It's “something me and him talk about a lot, just knowing we had to come up here the hard way," Roach said after a recent training camp practice. "We had to earn everything. ... If something was easy, I feel like you wouldn’t cherish the position you’re in as much.”
The Saints will enter the regular season missing their top three interior defensive linemen from 2020. Malcom Brown was traded to Jacksonville, Sheldon Rankins left for the New York Jets in free agency and top returning interior defensive lineman David Onyemata is facing a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy.
That’s put a spotlight during training camp on the young players looking to fill the void.
“Well, I look at it as an opportunity,” defensive line coach Ryan Neilsen said. “There’s a bunch of snaps out there and we’ll see when we sort it all out at the end of camp who gets those snaps.”
Roach, entering his third NFL season out of Texas, and Tuttle, entering his fourth pro season out of Tennessee, are seen as the most likely starters when New Orleans hosts Green Bay on Sept. 12 to open the regular season.
Tuttle, who made his NFL debut with New Orleans in 2019, has played in 29 games with four starts. He has two sacks among 45 career total tackles and even intercepted one pass.
Last season, Roach made his NFL debut and saw action in nine games, making 16 total tackles without a sack.
“When I came in here last year, I was raw. I was just out here 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’s going, things like that. Just that development process has taken me a long way. I’m able to go out there and play fast and really understand what I’m doing.”
The Saints have confidence in 6-foot-3, 300-pound Tuttle and the 6-3, 290-pound Roach because of their “effort, energy, toughness — the intangibles,” Nielsen said. "Those guys got it all. They run to the football. They’re tough in the middle. You know, any good defense you’re up against, they’re good in the middle. Those two guys have been good in the middle. And look, they’re still young players. ... So, I still want to see improvement.”
Also competing along the interior include: Jalen Dalton, a third-year pro out of North Carolina; Ryan Glasgow, a fifth-year pro out of Michigan; Albert Huggins, who is in his third pro season out of Clemson; Rookie Josiah Bronson out of Washington; and former Louisiana-Lafayette player Christian Ringo, now in his sixth pro season.
The 6-3, 300-pound Glasgow 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 New Orleans' practice squad and has stood out in recent practices. The 6-3, 305-pound Huggins has 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 did not see action last season.
Roach said he learned a lot last year from Brown, Rankins and Onyemata, and now is trying to pay it forward to the newly acquired or less experienced players in his position group.
“Now we’ve got more undrafted players in that room and I’m trying to do a great job of showing them the way,” Roach said, adding that he's “making sure those guys come in and just know that they’re welcome here, just know that we’re going to work, going to compete and just know they got to earn everything.”
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 practice since leaving Tuesday's practice with an apparent leg ailment. ... Linebacker Kwon Alexander described his physical condition as “legendary,” after rehabilitating his late-December Achilles injury well enough that he was re-signed by New Orleans this week.
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