METAIRIE, La. -- Kenny Vaccaro said the best way to describe the versatile role he is now back to playing in Rob Ryan’s system is "ADD" -- which is fitting since the New Orleans Saints safety said people have often used that term to describe his personality, as well.
But Vaccaro admits it took him a while to realize that this hybrid/nickel role is the best one for both him and the Saints’ defense.
The second-year pro said he wanted to move into a true strong safety role this season, thinking he might become "great" at one thing. Instead, he went through growing pains all season before switching back this past week.
"I took it wrong in the offseason," said Vaccaro, who admitted that he looked at someone like fellow 2013 rookie Eric Reid making the Pro Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers and thought that could have been him. "Eric Reid, for instance, he plays free safety, he’s sitting back there and that’s all he’s doing. He went to the Pro Bowl last year. And I was like, 'Dang, maybe if I played one position, I could ...'
"I thought that might help me make more plays, I guess. But not really though. Not in Rob’s scheme. The position I was in last year, that’s where you want to be. You want to be that guy that he designs the whole thing around."
Vaccaro was widely praised by analysts last season because he was so valuable in that versatile role -- drawing many comparisons to the way the Pittsburgh Steelers use Troy Polamalu. Vaccaro said that’s the model he’d like to follow.
"I was getting caught up trying to be a strong safety. When I watch Polamalu, that’s what I can do, and that’s how I can impact the game. And I think that suits me better, and Rob thinks that, too," Vaccaro said. "And there’s nothing wrong with that, and I think I took it kind of for granted what he believes in me."
Ryan certainly agrees. Known as one of the NFL’s more creative defensive coordinators, Ryan has always loved the idea of using Vaccaro as that versatile chess piece to both attack defenses and keep them guessing.
"I just think to utilize him, he’s got all these abilities, I think it’s better to be able to put him in different spots," Ryan said. "They have to be able to identify him as an offense. I think if he’s playing one spot, that strong safety, if you’re just playing a true strong safety, those guys make some tackles, but it’s not ... I think he’s a better player, he can affect the game more in different spots. So I think you’ll see him do that, and I think it’s better for our team."
The Saints have made some other tweaks to their defense, too.
Corey White has been moved from cornerback to safety -- admitting that it’s more of a steep adjustment for him both physically and mentally at this stage of the season, even though he did play safety in college.
The Saints moved cornerback Terrence Frederick into a starting role and Patrick Robinson into a dime role last week. They moved Jamarca Sanford into the starting strong safety role -- though Sanford’s hamstring injury might force another tweak this week.
And partly due to outside linebacker Junior Galette's knee injury, the Saints used Galette in a limited role as a pass-rush specialist last week while playing more of a base 3-4 run defense than they ever have, with Parys Haralson and Ramon Humber on the edges. Galette said he expects to play a similar role Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
"I think our guys have always been multiple," Ryan said of some of the tweaks. "And look, we need to get some juice going on defense. And I think what we’ve done has helped. I think we get guys in some familiar roles, some guys in the roles that they maybe are built for. But at the end of the day we have guys that play multiple positions, and that’s a good thing to do."