Being a coach's son pays off in smart play for Saints' Vinnie Sunseri

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Saints tight end Jiimmy Graham is brought down by safety Vinnie Sunseri after a first down gain during the Saints scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Saints tight end Jiimmy Graham is brought down by safety Vinnie Sunseri after a first down gain during the Saints scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The first thing anyone will tell you about Vinnie Sunseri is that he is the son of a football coach.

It seems like a throwaway line, something uttered when there is nothing better to say, but it’s an important detail when discussing the Saints rookie safety.

It’s not his makeup. Sunseri is listed generously at 6-foot and 210 pounds but looks much smaller on the field. He isn’t the fastest player out there. He also isn’t the strongest. It would be hard to know what, exactly, made him a fifth-round pick if you were to only watch him in glimpses.

Stick around for a few minutes, though, and it starts to become more clear. He’s smart. Maybe one of the smartest guys on the field. And for that, he can thank his father, Sal, defensive ends coach at Florida State.

“Oh, yeah, he’s a smart player. His dad’s a coach,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “He knows what to do already.”

Sunseri’s football IQ is what has stood out most to coaches and teammates throughout the early portion of camp. Standing deep at his perch at safety, he seems always to know how to properly direct traffic in front of him, react to the offense and make the right play.

Those are traits that all safeties must have, but the thing that has most impressed secondary coach Wesley McGriff is that Sunseri is able to read the defense the same way a linebacker would from his post at safety.

“Our offense does a great job of running multiple formations, and he does such a great job of identifying the formations and closing the defense the way a linebacker would do it, but he’s doing it from the safety position,” McGriff said. “His ability to identify the formation and process it when it moves is really good, especially for a rookie to do it.”

“Ever since I was little, I was taught how to learn formations and what receiver splits mean,” Sunseri said. “Just learning receiver recognition has really helped me out a lot with everything.”

Sunseri has been receiving snaps with the second-team defense and has started working with the starters during the pre-practice walkthrough this week. He has played both deep and in the box.

But even though it appears he is beginning to solidify his standing within the defense, he still has an uphill battle to make the roster. Sunseri realizes he’s going to have to focus on taking small steps if he hopes to scale the mountain.

The best way for him to go about that is to set his sights on earning a role on special teams.

“The thing with these young guys — guys like Sunseri — they have to be contributors on special teams unless they’re starters,” special teams coach Greg McMahon said. “Our two starting safeties, we know who they are.”

To this point, Sunseri has been receiving work on all four special teams units and has performed well enough to create buzz among his teammates and coaches. How Sunseri performs on those units is one of the things coach Sean Payton is looking to seeing Friday at St. Louis.

“One of the comments I made to him during the special teams drill was that I am anxious, we are all anxious to see a handful of these guys in the kicking game,” Payton said. “They are progressing on defense. Some of those players are on offense, but the reps they get in the kicking game when they are live and in the preseason will be important.”

Sunseri, like all other players, would prefer to earn his roster spot on defense, but he’s fine with the alternative. Being on the team in some capacity is better than not being on the team at all.

“I’ll do whatever the coaches ask me to do,” he said. “If they want me to hold for field goals, I’ll hold for field goals.”

One of the things Payton often tells his team is that if they can make it on a bus, they will be on the team. It just so happens that the bus for special teams happens to have the most seats.

“I’m just trying to make a bus — any bus,” Sunseri said. “If you make a bus, you’re on the team. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Spoken just like a coach’s son.