Fixing secondary should be first priority for New Orleans Saints

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@MikeTriplett: Where do I begin? It’s hard to pinpoint just one biggest challenge for a defense that broke down against the run and pass and didn’t force enough sacks or turnovers last year. But you’re right, the talent and potential are there, as we saw in 2013.

To me, the key is the secondary. Just about everything that went wrong last year can be traced back to that unit.

They were plagued by assignment and alignment breakdowns that killed them late in close losses to Cleveland, Detroit and San Francisco, among others -- with many of the daggers coming on third-and-long or fourth-and-long. They missed too many tackles in run support. And quarterbacks unabashedly targeted their rotating crew of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks, often firing the ball before the pass rush had any chance to be disruptive.

Getting safety Jairus Byrd back healthy should help. Adding physical veteran corner Brandon Browner should help. Simplifying the defensive scheme should help. And being humbled and motivated by last season’s failures should help, as guys such as Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro have stressed.

If the Saints can do one thing better above all else, it’s what Vaccaro said new senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen has preached to the team while talking about the simplified scheme: “This is how we’re gonna play it, and if they beat us, they beat us. Just don’t let the ball get over your head, and we’ll play another down.”

@MikeTriplett: Not that I know of. I understand why you’re asking, since the Saints are now thinner at tight end after trading Jimmy Graham. But it’s kind of a moot point, since Coleman wouldn’t be a blocking specialist, and he’d primarily be lining up as a receiver from the tight end position anyway. (Wasn’t there some huge debate over that distinction this time last year?)

Coleman, who is a massive target at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, was just asked about that subject on Thursday, and he said it doesn’t really matter in the Saints’ versatile offense.

“With the different packages and formations that we have in this offense, we interchange between slot and inside,” Coleman said. “I'll end up inside sometimes, but it's how the formations and packages go.”

@MikeTriplett: The very first pass we saw Drew Brees throw during team drills this summer was a completion to receiver Nick Toon during OTAs two weeks ago. Other than that, Toon hasn’t had many highlights or lowlights, though it’s a very small sample size with only two practices having been open to the media so far.

I think Toon is still the strong front-runner to be the Saints’ No. 3 receiver, even though Jones and Coleman have been generating more buzz so far as the “hot, new things.” Toon has ample experience now heading into his fourth NFL season, and he finally seems to have a good opportunity for steady playing time.

As much as Toon seems to have earned a reputation as an underachiever in the regular season, it was really just one ugly game in his career that shaped that opinion (when he got a chance to fill in for an injured Marques Colston at the New York Jets two years ago and dropped two passes -- one of which got intercepted off the tip).

Toon did a better job last year when he got some steady playing time late in the season, catching 17 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown over the final six games. And the 6-4, 218-pounder always has had the build to be an asset as a blocker, which the Saints value.

@MikeTriplett: I broke down that very subject in detail a couple of months ago, going back and detailing how the Saints have split touches among their various types of running backs throughout the Sean Payton era.

It really depends on how much the Saints use C.J. Spiller as a runner. They rarely ran the ball with Darren Sproles when he was a dynamic dual threat for them, though Spiller is much bigger and better built for the pounding.

My prediction was 240 touches for Ingram (almost all rushes), 150 for Spiller (a pretty even split between rushes and catches) and 90 for Robinson -- with Ingram and Spiller both flirting with 1,000 yards from scrimmage.