'Sleeping giant' Cameron Jordan is wide awake at Saints camp

METAIRIE, La. – When Cameron Jordan was snubbed from the NFL Network’s top 100 players list this summer, he tweeted, “Wake up a sleeping giant this yr! That is all.”

And my first thought was, “Cameron Jordan’s been sleeping?! How much better can he be?”

Well, the New Orleans Saints defensive end has been living up to his words this summer. The seven-year veteran has been flashing more in training camp than I can ever remember – maybe more than any single player in Saints camp.

Jordan has loaded up on a consistent amount of sacks and batted passes. And the 6-foot-4, 287-pounder provided the play of the month over the weekend when he caught a tipped ball for an interception and then turned the corner and ran 50-plus yards for a touchdown in full-team drills.

“I think Cam’s gotten better every year. I think this is the best camp he’s ever had,” said Saints right tackle Zach Strief, who faces Jordan on a daily basis.

“He gave me a move yesterday that in the practice, man, I was frustrated with myself. Then when I saw it on tape I was like …” said Strief, who followed with a shrug and some sort of moan that sounded like, eeeaaahhhh.

“‘I don’t know what to do. Survive it,’” Strief continued. “Everything about it looked like power long-arm, everything throughout the entire rush was power long-arm. And then he outside swipes and is completely clean. Listen, I’m glad he’s on my team. I’ve thought about it numerous times during training camp. I’m like, ‘Man, at least I don’t have to deal with that in real life.’”

Jordan also got snubbed from making his third Pro Bowl appearance last year – even though he was rated as the third-best edge rusher in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.

His two problems were that he played for a 7-9 team and had only 7.5 sacks. But sacks have never been the defining part of Jordan’s game. His greatest talent is his versatility. With his size and athleticism, he is a terrific pass-rusher and run defender who can play both outside and inside.

Jordan tied for the NFL lead last year with 17 tackles for loss and ranked in the top seven with 24 quarterback hits and five batted passes. Since 2012, Jordan ranks in the top nine in the NFL with 45.5 sacks and 19 batted passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only J.J. Watt has more of each. Plus, Jordan is on the field for almost every snap – which is impressive for a big man. His 926 snaps last year ranked third among all NFL defensive linemen.

“I think Cam is very unique as a rusher,” Strief said when asked how often he faces a guy with a similar skill set. “He is, first of all, very powerful. … He’s one of the few guys that I play in a year that I have a legitimate concern of being pushed into the quarterback against. That’s hard …

“He pairs that with a very kind of unorthodox set of moves that come off of power that look a lot like power. Even after all these years playing him, there’ll be two or three times a practice where I set my feet for a bull and he does some swim-move jump, and I miss. And that’s not a real common thing that I see. That’s not something I get a lot of. And he’s also got a motor that’s absolutely relentless. For a guy that size to be able to go as hard as he does throughout an entire practice and game is very impressive.”

Saints coach Sean Payton noted Jordan’s “ability to play 55, 60 snaps at the same energy level” as one of his great strengths. Payton also mentioned how Jordan’s leadership has improved as he has become the longest-tenured player on the Saints defense over the last couple years.

Jordan, who was drafted in the first round in 2011, said he takes that leadership role to heart.

“The way I play has to set a tone. I mean, if I come out soft and I’m supposed to be the voice of our defense, how can anyone else come out and be better?” Jordan said. “You come out with that mentality of, ‘Hey, I set the tone and raise the level just a little bit higher, everyone else is gonna reach that level, too.’ At an individual rate, I want to be the best that I can be so I can rally everyone else to be the best they can be.

“How can I be sorry and expect somebody to be great?”

Jordan said the area where he can improve most is “to shed and make more plays in the backfield.”

“I don’t know where I was last year. I did OK. I think I can always improve,” Jordan said. “You can’t say that maybe last year was my best year, because this year hasn’t happened yet.”