Kenny Vaccaro intends to add to Saints’ new-look defense

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- New Orleans Saints first- round pick Kenny Vaccaro, right, runs through drills at the team practice facility in Metairie on Thursday. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- New Orleans Saints first- round pick Kenny Vaccaro, right, runs through drills at the team practice facility in Metairie on Thursday.

METAIRIE — First things first: He’s rookie Kenny Vaccaro, not Colin Kaepernick.

Similar haircut, skin tone, age, but their similarities end there. Folks around town, Vaccaro said, have confused him with Kaepernick, the quarterback who led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

OK, back to Thursday’s news. Vaccaro is looking forward to getting after quarterbacks in the fall, a skill he rarely utilized last season at the University of Texas.

Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan calls it, “Let it Eat,” Vaccaro said. And the rookie who will play either free safety, strong safety or nickelback has a big appetite. One which matches Ryan’s hunger of returning Saints safeties to their sacking selves of the past.

“Oh yeah;I’m ready to blitz,” Vaccaro said. “I’m ready for everything.”

Already, the new-look defense has earned style points against the Saints offense.

“It’s a challenge for us, offensively, because we’re seeing some things that we haven’t seen in a while, or ever,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “You’ve always got to find ways to combat that.”

But to see middle linebacker Curtis Lofton rushing up the middle?

Certainly not predictable.

In 2011, strong safety Roman Harper spent as much time in backfields as secondaries, finishing with 71/2 sacks, tops for defensive backs in the NFL.

Last season’s defense, under former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, placed Harper and free safety Malcolm Jenkins in different roles — roles they and their defensive teammates never quite figured out en route to a disastrous campaign.

Ryan, though, plans to bring back the pressure defense. This starts with veterans like Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Harper — all of whom made financial concessions to stay on the roster this offseason.

“I’ve been so impressed with their work ethic, their attention to detail and (them) being students of the game,” Ryan said. “So it’s going really well.

“It really doesn’t matter what happened last year. I went back and watched all the tape. ... It’s a work in progress. We’re all in this together. We’re working hard; we’re trying to get better every day.”

That effort continues with Vaccaro, whom the Saints selected 15th overall in April’s NFL Draft.

As a junior, Vaccaro collected the only two sacks of his college career. He spent most of last season defending slot receivers.

“I think I’m a relentless player,” he said. “That’s what you need when you’re blitzing to make plays and change momentum of the game.”

He’ll continue to pick up tips from Harper and Jenkins, both of whom have been a mainstay in the Saints secondary since 2010.

“An important element when you bring in a rookie is who’s in front of them,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “When you have guys like a Roman Harper, a Malcolm Jenkins — guys that have experience, but are also solid guys — I think that helps the transition.”