Saints defensive position preview

Need a primer on who's at training camp and who will be battling for the New Orleans Saints' 53 roster spots? Here's your chance to get the overview you need as the Saints head for Millsaps college. Today, take a look at the Saints' defensive candidates, plus links to our most popular articles.

How exactly will Jeremy Shockey help the New Orleans offense? asked senior NFL reporter Adam Caplan to weigh in on the subject in this exclusive feature. Just click here to check out why Caplan things the Saints got the better end of the deal.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Charles Grant, DT Sedrick Ellis, DT Brian Young, DE Will Smith. Backups -- E Bobby McCray, T Hollis Thomas, T Kendrick Clancy, T Antwan Lake, T DeMario Pressley, E Josh Savage, T Orien Harris, E Marcus Pittman.

After last season, when Smith and Grant combined for just 6.5 sacks, the Saints went to work on upgrading their front four to get more pressure on the quarterback and take pressure off the secondary. Grant played the second half of the season on one leg, so the Saints signed McCray to help generate more of a pass rush and moved up in the first round of the draft to grab Ellis with the seventh overall pick. Those additions will give them flexibility in the rotation at both positions, helping Grant, Smith, Young and Thomas stay fresh. Ellis could be poised to win a starting job in camp considering he worked extensively with the first-team defense in minicamp and OTAs. Veterans Clancy and Lake will also help in the rotation inside.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Scott Fujita, MLB Jonathan Vilma, WLB Scott Shanle. Backups -- MLB Mark Simoneau, WLB Troy Evans, MLB Marvin Mitchell, SLB William Kershaw, WLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

Getting an athletic linebacker to plug the middle and make plays was what the Saints had in mind when they traded for Vilma, the 2004 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Even though he's coming off knee surgery that sidelined him for the second half of last season, the Saints believe Vilma can be the player he was with the Jets. Fujita has had two big seasons and he led the team last year in tackles (119) to go with three sacks and three forced fumbles. Shanle tied for third in tackles with 96, but wasn't as effective as he was the year before. Simoneau, who is expected to move into a backup role, and Evans are the only two experienced linebackers on the roster as Mitchell played mostly on special teams as a rookie in 2007.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Randall Gay, FS Josh Bullocks, SS Roman Harper, RCB Tracy Porter. Backups -- LCB Mike McKenzie, FS Kevin Kaesviharn, RCB Jason David, LCB Jason Craft, LCB Aaron Glenn, LCB Usama Young, SS Chris Reis, RCB Jerametrius Butler, RCB Anwar Phillips, RCB Greg Fassitt, FS Tuff Harris, SS David Roach.

This unit has a new look, which was predictable after a long 2007 season in which the Saints ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and also gave up 32 TD passes -- tying for the most in the league. They also were hit for 54 pass plays of 20 yards or longer. They brought in Gay as a free agent and chose Porter in the second round of the draft and both played extensively with the first team during minicamp and the team's OTAs because McKenzie is recovering from ACL surgery in late December. David, Craft, Glenn and Young will vie -- along with Porter -- for playing time in the nickel and dime packages if McKenzie is ready for the regular season. Bullocks and Harper return for their third straight seasons as starters, but Kaesviharn will push for a starting job. Reis was a solid special teams performer a year ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Martin Gramatica, P Steve Weatherford, LS Kevin Houser, KR Pierre Thomas, PR Reggie Bush, PK Taylor Mehlhaff, P Waylon Prather, LS Ryan Senser.

Gramatica hit all five of his field-goal attempts in the final three games after replacing an injured Olindo Mare, who was released in the offseason. While they liked what Gramatica did, the Saints drafted the strong-legged Mehlhaff in the sixth round to offer a challenge in camp. Weatherford averaged 43.8 yards a punt with a net of 37.2 and dropped 20 kicks inside the 20. Houser was solid again as the long snapper. Thomas averaged a team-high 24.0 yards a kickoff return and Bush is expected to return more punts if McAllister is able to share the load in the running game.'s Matthew Postins asked's Ken Palmer to give his assessment of New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey. Palmer's views on Shockey's talent, locker room mentality and dealings with the media shed more light on the player the Saints dealt two draft picks for on Monday. Get the exclusive right here.

Which five Saints have the most to gain — and the most to lose — at training camp? has the scoop for you in this exclusive analysis. Just click here to check it out.

Get the scoop on the Saints at Read our recent Mailbag feature, with answers to questions on Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister and the secondary. Just click here to check it out.

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