At Senior Bowl, Saints brass gets early look

MOBILE, Ala. — Monday was a bittersweet day for members of the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff — as well as 29 other NFL staffs.

While they would rather have been preparing for Super Bowl XLVII, like the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, coaches and scouts from 30 teams — including the Saints — were trying to find the players they hope will help take them where they wanted to be.

“I don’t want to be here. … I would rather be where we should be — in the playoffs — right now,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said Monday as workouts for the 64th annual Senior Bowl began. “You don’t want to be here.

“Why we’re here means we’re not good enough to be in the playoffs, and we’ve got to get better personnel. We’ve got to make sure we grade these guys properly and evaluate them properly — and we will.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knew where Vitt was coming from, but he also knew how vital it was to get a good look at some talented young players who could help the Saints rebound from a 7-9 season.

That’s especially true on defense, which likely will be the focus of team officials this week after the Saints set an NFL single-season record for yards allowed and finished last against the run — just two of a number of categories in which they struggled.

“I’ve been fortunate in a lot of ways to not have been there, to have something else going on,” Spagnuolo said of being in the Super Bowl twice in his career. “Yet, and I’m sure Joe feels the same way, the juices get flowing, and you’re on the football field. Guys are practicing; you’re evaluating. So that part we like.”

With 106 players on the practice field Monday, the Saints were able to get a close look at some future members of their team.

While they just finished a two-week evaluation of last season’s team, the Saints weren’t talking about what areas they may be looking to bolster. But it’s safe to say they could use some help at defensive end, outside linebacker and possibly cornerback.

While four of the top five defensive ends ranked by NFLDraftScout.com are underclassmen and aren’t here, the crop is plentiful and solid.

BYU’s Ezekial Ansah should go in the first round, while UCLA’s Datone Jones and Texas’ Alex Okafor are rated first- or second-round picks by NFLDraftScout.com. SMU’s Margus Hunt is another possible second-rounder.

While the top two outside linebacker prospects are juniors, three players projected as second-round picks are here: Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown and Ohio State’s John Simon. Texas A&M’s Sean Porter and Stanford’s Chase Thomas are rated as second- or third-round picks.

Three projected second-round cornerbacks — Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor and Washington’s Desmond Trufant — also could be on the Saints’ radar.

The Saints have the 15th pick in the first round as well as a third-rounder, which could help upgrade the defense if they can’t get some things done in free agency because of a tight salary cap.

“It depends on the guy,” Spagnuolo said when asked whether the Saints can get a player at No. 15 who will quickly make a difference. “We’ve seen around the league where guys have done that. ... But sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit patient.”