Can Saints' Rob Ryan afford another down season?

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@MikeTriplett: It's definitely safe to assume that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can't survive another season like last year. But if it's that bad again, then there's no guarantee Dennis Allen automatically takes over since some of the blame would fall on him, too. They'll both have their fingerprints on this year's D.

Sean Payton decided to keep Ryan this year because he likes his passion, his work ethic and his ability to inspire players, among other qualities. But Payton made it clear that the scheme had to become more simplified so players are doing less thinking and more reacting. That's a critique that has followed Ryan throughout his career. As Payton recently told NOLA.com, "We've got to find ways to let them play, without splitting the atom on every snap. Let's go. Let's get them lined up and let them play fast. That starts with me as a point of emphasis with Rob."

Allen, meanwhile, is an extremely-detailed teacher and a calming influence who will help communicate Ryan's scheme to the players - especially in the secondary. I wrote about how they'll fit together in this "Odd Couple" feature earlier this summer. The Saints are intent on cutting down on all the mistakes that plagued them last year, such as assignment errors and missed tackles.

@MikeTriplett: I agree that veteran cornerback Brandon Browner isn't in the elite "shut-down" cornerback category. But he seems like a great fit for this team in a number of ways. He has a strong presence about him both on and off the field - and both were badly needed.

On the field, Browner is one of the NFL's most imposing physical press corners. He consistently disrupts receivers at the line of scrimmage, delaying their routes or closing them off completely. And when guys do get past him, there should usually be help waiting behind. More than anything, Browner will give the Saints an identity and a confidence at that position that was arguably the biggest weakness on the entire team last year.

Off the field, Browner has immediately embraced a vocal leadership role. You often hear players saying they prefer to "lead by example" and speak up only when needed. But Browner said he knows the Saints brought him here to be a strong veteran voice after did the same for past Super Bowl winners New England and Seattle. Players and coaches alike have repeatedly talked about the impact he's already making in that area.

@MikeTriplett: Judging by the wording of your question, I guess you anticipated my warning that it's way too early to tell after watching a total of six non-padded practices. But I can throw a few names out there of guys who saw some significant snaps with the first or second string because of injuries, etc.

I like the odds of at least one defensive lineman making the team because the Saints are fairly thin there, and they went out and signed four of them after the draft. Mississippi State's Kaleb Eulls, Indiana's Bobby Richardson and Clemson's Tavaris Barnes were among the Saints' most highly-rated UDFAs, and all three of them rotated in with the starters at some point. Eulls even reeled in a clutch punt return during a spirited practice competition between the big men on both sides of the ball. Their path to the roster got blocked a bit, however, when the Saints signed veteran defensive lineman Kevin Williams earlier this month.

Another thin position group is tight end, where the Saints didn't sign any free agents or draft any TEs after trading away Jimmy Graham, even though they kicked the tires on veteran Jermaine Gresham and put in a waiver claim on Tim Wright. If they don't add anyone, North Carolina's Jack Tabb has a chance to make it as a fourth tight end, especially if he shows some special teams ability. His bio suggests he's primarily a blocker, but he caught a handful of passes during team drills and seemed to move around well.

Syracuse offensive lineman Sean Hickey is another highly-rated UDFA who cross-trained at both tackle and guard while rotating in with the second string.

@MikeTriplett: Both guys really had nice performances during OTAs and minicamp. Second-year pro Brandon Coleman made some "flash plays" early and looked a lot more comfortable and confident out there, compared to some of last summer's struggles. Veteran Josh Morgan, meanwhile, might have been the most under-the-radar standout, catching two or three passes during team drills each day. Morgan is experienced, a strong blocker, and he has new receivers coach John Morton in his corner after their time together with the San Francisco 49ers.

The problem is that if Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston and Nick Toon lock down the top three jobs, those guys are fighting for just one active spot on game days, since the Saints typically only use four receivers on game days. And you can't ignore Seantavius Jones or Joe Morgan, either. This battle will go deep into training camp and the preseason.